Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From Michael Thompson: A strategy to help boys do their best homework

"One of the most common complaints that parents have about their sons is that they rush through their homework and are careless about their school work I get a lot of questions about this tendency. Since this problem is seen so frequently in boys, you need to know that your son is perfectly normal. However, in order to know how to help a boy persevere in an unpleasant task, we have to try to understand it from a boy point of view.

While there are boys who are conscientious about homework right from the start, many, many boys regard homework as something illegitimate, burdensome and pointless. They feel that they have sat in school all day listening to adults talk; they have done their best to sit still and follow school rules. It has been hard for them because the average boy tends to be more physically restless and impulsive than girls. So, the idea that they have to come home and sit down to do work again is simply unacceptable, even unbearable to them. Boys talk among themselves and support each other in their resistance to homework. They will say, "Homework is stupid!" and, "I hate homework!"

When your son comes home to a house filled with fun things to do, like television or video games or playing with friends in the neighborhood, his approach to homework is almost certainly to get it over with as soon as possible so that he can turn to something more fun. He believes he is doing heroics just to do his homework in the first place. You are asking him to CARE ABOUT IT, and that's something he's unwilling to do. You may never be able to persuade him that homework is important and necessary, but you can create a structure in the household that will help him to do get it done right. You do that by paying more attention to him when he is doing his homework.

I suggest that you create a "study hall" atmosphere in the house for about forty-five minutes to an hour each night. That means no television (not for mom, not for dad), no video games, no music. After dinner, for example, you need to clear the table and sit down with him and his younger brother or sister, if he has siblings. Tell them that this is homework time and you are there to be of help, if they need you. Ask some organizing questions, "What's been assigned?" or "How long do you think this will take?" Just be a steady, calming presence. You should have something for you to read or otherwise occupy you-perhaps a newspaper, or paying the bills. Do not, however, talk on the phone or clean the kitchen. You should be doing the same thing he is doing: reading or writing Occasionally, just look up and watch his work rate and ask, "Do you have any questions?" or "How is it going?" or "Try to do your best work."

If you see him speeding through an assignment, you might ask, "May I see that?" or "Are you doing your best work?" That is, catch him in the act of rushing and gently slow him down in the moment. That will be far more effective than waiting until he has finished his work and trying to get him to go back. He'll resent that ("But it's completely done, Mom!")

Don't pin him down for hours and hours. Forty-five minutes should be plenty, and he should know from the start that it is going to last for a finite period of time. If he expresses anger or frustration, you can say, "Only twenty-seven minutes to go; you can do it." Some parents use a kitchen timer to give children both a sense of limits and a sense of hope.

I would be up front with your son by telling him that you are trying to teach him good work habits that will help him not only with homework, but with his future work as a man. "Homework," you can say to him, "Is sometimes dumb, and I understand that, but good work habits are important for life. You will need them when you are a man." It might help for you or his father to say that the one thing that employers require is an employee who knows how to do a good job." That is, make the stakes about his future, his life, his work as a man, not about homework, because if the truth be told. a lot of homework is really dumb (Whoops! That's the boy in me coming out!)

If you have never worked this way with him before, it may be tough to change the evening routine, but you should try. If he fights you, you can make his allowance depend on it, or make his ability to play video games conditional on working seriously during the "study hall." What I don't want you to do, however, is become his teacher. Think of yourself as his "homework aide" but don't get totally detail-oriented, don't go over everything, don't check it until it is perfect. It is his homework, not yours. Teach work habits; don't take responsibility for teaching the subject itself. Only give him help with the content when he asks.

Over time, he may find that he appreciates the structure you have put into place. He may find he likes being better prepared in class, or he likes getting better grades."

Friday, March 13, 2009

For Parents of Rising 5’s: Five Essential Books for the MPH Middle School Experience

For Parents of Rising 5’s: Five Essential Books for the MPH Middle School Experience

One way to ready yourself for the exciting yet challenging years ahead in grades 6 – 8 is to get some insight on what to expect. We are an independent school, and are independent thinkers. I think it makes sense to gain some of that understanding from books. Here is a little of what I think qualifies as essential reading for the MPH middle school parent:

Yardsticks, ChipWood
Written with warmth and humor, Yardsticks offers clear, straightforward descriptions of children's development. This book is a good, practical guide that focuses on honest social/emotional and cognitive development guidelines for parents. This would be useful to any parent wondering if their child is on target at a time when they seem to be distancing themselves from adults at warp speed.
The Mind of Boys, Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens

The hard reality: boys receive up to 70% of the Ds and Fs given to all students and they create 90% of classroom discipline problems. Gurian and Stevens spell out for parents how to understand and influence their own boy’s academic success. Two big ways is by understanding what motivates boys and what a correct learning environment looks like for the adolescent male.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogul

A clinical psychologist working in California independent schools, Mogel turned to her religious heritage for ways to help her clients and her own family "find grace and security in an increasingly complex world.” She writes from time-tested lessons of Judaism, to give all parents practical that help parents look at their children's anxieties and desires through a different lens.

The Paradox of the Anxious Parent, Michael Thompson
In his new book, Thompson is pretty blunt. His idea: Teachers are not trained to work with adults–they went into teaching to work with students. Today’s parents want to be informed and involved in the process more than ever before. Parents often have an “irrational belief in what a school can do for their child. Schools are deeply flawed institutions, just better than anything else that we have tried.” We, even here at MPH, understand that we are deeply flawed, but we also believe that we are working to do what will be best for our students. Thompson writes that parents are irrationally hurt when they see that the school that they have chosen somehow isn’t perfect. An interesting angle from a well-known independent school mind.
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv
From the author’s website, Last Child in the Woods is “the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.” This is no small issue, and we in the MS at MPH intentionally create opportunities for kids to be exposed to the natural world. Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond between nature and the “wired generation,” and many of his ideas are right in your own backyards and neighborhoods.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Video from TED; Can kids teach themselves?

A compleling argument here, made by education researcher Sugata Mitra. Where a teacher can be replaced by a computer, can it? Should it?