Parents On Remote Learning, Part 1: Worksheets Don’t Work – Forbes - Freelance Rack

Work from Home freelancing

Post Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Parents On Remote Learning, Part 1: Worksheets Don’t Work – Forbes

Parents have struggled to motivate kids to do schoolwork during Covid-related closures. The experience of the one parent I spoke with who found it easy reveals what can work—and not just for remote learning.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with ten parents of young children in six different states about their experiences after schools closed in mid-March. While it’s not a scientific survey—the sample was skewed towards those with higher incomes and a background in education—the conversations yielded insights into much of what has gone wrong with our involuntary experiment in homeschooling.

Like more representative samples, the parents I spoke with—with one significant exception—were concerned their kids were falling behind academically and struggled to get them to complete assignments. They believed teachers were trying their best in a difficult situation. But all (again, with one exception) were deeply dissatisfied with what schools were providing.

Some school systems were slow to offer anything. But even when assignments came home, the situation continued to be stressful. Instructions kept changing, there was little coordination between the district and individual schools, and—at least initially—some teachers were bound by directives to focus on children’s social and emotional well-being and not introduce any new material. Kids lost interest.

When schools did try to move on academically, there was often little connection between the assignments and what kids had been doing before the shutdown. In Memphis, Kristy Sullivan’s second-grader was disappointed by a lesson on antonyms broadcast on public television. “We did this at the beginning of the year,” she complained. What teachers provided could also vary widely. One survey of 82 districts found that even two months after school closures, 27 had not set consistent expectations for remote instruction.

Activities were generally limited to reading and math worksheets. In some cases, they were so easy that a whole week of assignments could be done in twenty minutes. Several parents referred to them as “busywork,” with tasks like cutting up the word “caterpillar” to form new words with the letters, or writing a story about a puppy. Lori Sappington, who lives in Baltimore County, said her eight-year-old got reading assignments followed by comprehension questions that didn’t require information from the text. A passage on baseball might be followed by the question, “If you swing a bat, what happens?”

Even if assignments were easy, parents had to help younger children—possibly several at once—navigate online or understand directions. They also had to cajole kids into doing them; some just gave up. While the parents I spoke with were at the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, some at the lower end were similarly dismayed to discover that assignments seriously underestimated their children’s capabilities—and bored them. School administrators may have been trying to alleviate stress by sending home easy assignments, but for many families, the effort had the opposite effect.

Other worksheets were ridiculously hard, also requiring parent involvement. Suzi Kachura’s third-grader got a passage about the U.S. Constitution along with a series of questions. Kachura, who lives in Frederick County, Maryland, asked him if he’d learned anything about the Constitution. He said no. She needed to explain almost every single word, she says.

This kind of assignment—a passage on a random topic, followed by “comprehension” questions—reflects a standard approach to teaching reading comprehension that has baffled parents, including some with backgrounds in education. Rosy Reed, a former teacher who lives in Arkansas and works for an education nonprofit, was stumped by one of the “essential questions” that accompanied her kindergartner’s reading assignment: “How do readers identify literacy text?”

Sometimes, the questions were more straightforward—like “What’s the main idea?” But answering them could still be hard. In some cases, the passages were so disjointed or thin that there was no main idea. Amanda Clair, a parent in Dallas, said her eight-year-old would complain, “Why am I reading this? I don’t even understand it.”

It was hard for kids to get interested in brief texts on topics they knew nothing about. Even when there was a more sustained focus, the questions on the worksheets didn’t delve into content. Reed’s daughter got a couple of books to read on gardening, but, Reed says, “the questions weren’t about gardening—like, ‘What do plants need to grow?’” Whether the worksheets were too easy, too hard, or just baffling, kids didn’t want to do them.

The theory behind those worksheets is that in order for children to learn to understand what they read, they need to master a set of comprehension “skills,” like “making inferences.” The goal in the elementary years is not for kids to acquire any particular information but rather to master the skills through practice on a random variety of texts. One reason is that standardized reading tests appear to measure those skills. Another is the assumption is that later on, students will be able to use the skills to acquire knowledge through their own reading. Yet another common assumption is that there’s no point in dwelling on facts, because kids aren’t interested in them. Teacher training is premised on these assumptions, as are the materials that most elementary schools use.

But research has established that the most important factor in reading comprehension isn’t abstract skill—it’s how much you already know about the topic. So the way to boost comprehension is to expand kids’ knowledge. And kids can get really interested in learning facts about the world, if they’re presented in an engaging way.

That was borne out by the one exception to the litany of parental woes I heard. Kristen McQuillan told me that her son Brooks, who just finished kindergarten at a Baltimore public school, had a remote learning experience that worked remarkably well for both him and his parents. Two years ago, Baltimore adopted a new kind of elementary literacy curriculum that focuses on building kids’ knowledge, spending two or more weeks on the same topic. Shortly after schools closed, the creator of the curriculum—Wit & Wisdom—began recording videos of its staff reading aloud books included in the curriculum and posing questions focused on their content. In some places, including Baltimore, the videos were available on public television as well as online.

Watching the videos became part of Brooks’ morning routine. When the pandemic started, the class was finishing up a unit on “America Then and Now,” after which they moved on to one about the continents, with a book about each one. Brooks took a keen interest in the subject, writing about Mt. Everest and Antarctica. McQuillan’s three-year-old daughter became fascinated as well, declaring that she wanted to visit the Burj Khalifa—a skyscraper in Dubai that is the tallest building in the world. The plan had been for McQuillan, who has a background in literacy instruction, to take prime responsibility for homeschooling. But her non-educator husband ended up taking over, helping Brooks satisfy his curiosity by Googling information about Asia or Africa. “He enjoyed it,” McQuillan says.

Brooks’ kindergarten teacher, Jenn Wendler, says other students and their parents were equally engaged—and the curriculum made remote teaching a lot easier. “I can’t even imagine doing this without a curriculum like that,” she says. During her online meetings with students, she could just lead discussions on what the kids had learned from the videos and give feedback on their ideas. She could also help parents find additional resources about different topics in the curriculum that intrigued their children. True, in her socioeconomically diverse classroom, some kids had less access to the material than others, for various reasons. But, Wendler says, those students still got much more out of the curriculum than they would if it had been focused on comprehension skills.

Most parents I spoke with whose children weren’t getting meaty assignments from school tried to provide something more engaging at home. In the next part of this post, I’ll describe what they did, and what their experiences tell us about how to make remote learning—and all learning—work better.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad