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on teaching and learning and worthwhile work

maura @ 10:49 pm

It’s been quiet around here, I know. But it seems like the semester’s finally settling in so I hope to be more present here, to write more in general, really.

Anyway, back in late August (which it feels like right now because it’s about 75 humid degrees), I wrote something about school and homework and struggling. But things got busy and I never finished or posted it. It’s weird to reread it now — seems practically like another lifetime ago. But it also seems a shame to waste the words, since writing, even the most self-indulgent bloggy kinds of writing, is hard work. So let’s see what I can make of it. And the bonus, since it’s a month later, is that I can share the end of the story (so far), too!

As summer draws to a close I’m thinking about working and teaching and starting the new school year. Gus’s new year is starting soon, too, which means that I’m racking my brain to think of strategies we can use to get through this year’s homework.

Last year featured some epic homework battles, occasional storms that besmirched an otherwise pretty excellent 4th grade experience. Sometimes the battles were over work that he finds difficult. Other times there were no battles – the homework was just challenging enough, interesting, and, dare I say, even enjoyable.

The biggest battles (and most frustrating, at least for me) were over homework that was a straightforward review of stuff he’d already mastered, esp. if that review came in the form of a worksheet. It wasn’t engaging for him, and that stuck in his craw, hard. We had the same conversation repeatedly, trying to convince him to just sit down and do the homework and get it over with quickly so he could move on to something more fun, rather than raging against it and drawing out the entire process. Some nights we were all miserable.

As much as I find all of the homework theatrics annoying (and angering), I feel for the kid, too. No disrespect at all to the teachers, who perform heroic feats in crowded classrooms (30 kids last year, 1 teacher) over long hours every day. But some of the homework *is* boring. It’s unengaging. It’s busy-work. And I can sympathize with Gus’s inability to see that as worthwhile work (while occasionally feeling like maybe there’s value in learning to just do it and move on).

This knowledge doesn’t bring us any closer to a solution for the upcoming year, though we still have a few weeks to discuss strategies as a family. However, it does make me think about the students I work with in the library. Too many of them seem to treat their research assignments the same way, as boring busy work. Even worse, some seem to have given up on wanting to take advantage of creativity and choice in their assignments. I am admittedly a spazzy nerd, and I hope that my (genuine!) enjoyment of the research process helps make the inevitable boring one-shot library instruction sessions a little bit less dull.

And now I’m not sure how to end this, at least not the library part. I’m not teaching our 3-credit course this semester, in which we have the whole semester to work with students to draw them out and engage them over lots of interesting topics in information and research and libraries. I’m too busy to miss it, but I do.

On the bright side, so far things are okay with homework and Gus. Some is situational — a bus switch has him home a bit earlier each day. But we are also trying to convince him to set an amount of time in which he’ll do his homework, then not hover too much over it. Middle school is coming, so in some ways this is probably our homework for the year. (Poor kid, don’t tell him that homework never ends.)

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2 comments on “on teaching and learning and worthwhile work”

Anne (13 October 2011 at 8:44 pm)

Hmm, the boring homework sounds like a desk job. Maybe you can have him play Desk Job — do busy work, play solitaire, and start him on coffee (decaf). You can hand out promotions. Who knows, some day he might even get an intern!

maura (24 October 2011 at 10:12 pm)

The cats are his interns! They are so lazy, though, you wouldn’t believe it.

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