Friday, October 8, 2010

Views: Should Parents Do Their Children's Assignments?

Hi All,

This article looks at the parental side of the coin when teachers assign projects, English and otherwise.

We know teachers would assign projects and homework for their students. However, what normally happens is the parents end up doing the whole thing for their kids.

As a result, the kids do not learn anything accept to be proud of a work that is not done by them. Worse still, these parents done assignments become a competition between parents to see whose is the best (shades of "kiasu-ism").

Rodney Tan


Model behavior

How did school projects assigned to children to do at home turn into competitions among the parents?

By Limor Gal

"Once again we were assigned a project worthy of Martha Stewart, to build a model of a biblical-era settlement." Many of the postings to the parents' forums of a popular homework website are in the first person, whether plural or singular: "My son has to create a game for English class. How can I make a memory game?" Or, "I need help, we have to build something for science." Usually the postings refer to big projects, like constructing a model of a power station, the human digestive system or a public building. For some parents it's clear that some of the learning process must take place at home, with their participation. Others feel their children are often given assignments that are beyond their age level and require parental involvement.

Dana, a teacher from the center of the country, describes working with her 10-year-old son on one of his assignments. "The project demanded skills that hadn't been addressed in class at all," Dana says, "like searching for and summarizing information. The kids didn't have a clue. Who did the work? I, of course. But I used the opportunity to teach my son how to approach a project. It's not the first time. They also have to build all kinds of miniature models," Dana said.

"What if I don't feel like building a model?" wrote one mother in a forum for parents of elementary-school students. "I've had it with all these assignments. Why do they give the children assignments that in the end the parents have to do?" She's not alone. Many parents feel trapped: They don't want to do their children's work for them but end up pitching in because they assume - or know - that other children will bring in models built by their own parents.

"Sometimes my kids were assigned to create projects that I ended up doing," reports Riki Cohen. The Herzliya mother of a four-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy started a website called Lost Mothers. "It was completely out of my skill set, but I improvised," she recalls. "And the result was comparable with that of other, talented parents."

"I always get a pang when I see the projects brought by other children, that are obviously the result of much work," says Sarit Cohen Hakham of Givat Ada, the sports coordinator of Akim, which provides services to people with developmental disabilities. Her children are Gal (fifth grade ), Yael (first grade ) and Gilad (nursery school ).

"When I get home after a busy day, I want to shift into low gear. If the children are home I'd rather take them to the playground or a park than spend hours working on assignments and projects. The problem is that some parents take every assignment their children get and plunge in as if they themselves are the students and will be graded on it. The difference between the work of parents and that of children is always obvious. I think parents who do their children's homework for them don't realize it teaches the children to accept credit for something they didn't do. It's like giving a kid a gold medal even if he didn't compete and then teaching him to be proud of it," Cohen Hakham said.

"Stop the forced labor for parents immediately! Enough!" Yael, a mother of three from the Sharon region, wrote. "When my eldest daughter was in fifth grade she had to keep a reading journal, in English, for a high-school-level book. The parents had to work with the children or hire a private tutor," Yael relates. The situation reached a level of absurdity when some fifth-graders in her neighborhood asked their parents for money and hired a graphic artist to prepare a slide presentation they were assigned to create but didn't know how.

Poster girl

Some parents refuse to join the competition. "There is no value to work that I do for the children, and I am not willing to do it," says Nira, a secretary from the Haifa area with four children. In a parent-teacher meeting when one of her younger children was in fourth grade, Nira announced that in light of her experience with her older children she would not help their younger siblings to make models and the like. "I said I did my share of homework when I was in school and refused to do even one more project," Nira said.

Doesn't that bother her kids? "I help with proofreading. There have been times when I've suggested ideas to improve a project, but my son did the work and he got extra credit for it."

Tamar, a teacher who lives in the north, thinks that up to a point parents should be involved in their children's homework. "Sometimes kids turn in really bad papers, and I'm surprised," she says. "Why don't parents help, or at least proofread? It's hard to believe some of the things the children hand in: torn pages, things rubbed out, less than minimal punctuation. It's a disgrace. Parents don't have to do the assignment - but not to check what their child is handing in?"

Eran, a father of three from the south of the country who works in high-tech, agrees. "I don't see a problem," he says. "Children need help with all kinds of things, including schoolwork. That's part of my job as a parent."

Merav, a science teacher from the north, says that while she has her students build models that illustrate what is being taught in the classroom, she understands the problem surrounding such assignments. "I explain the stages of the project to the children and emphasize that they have to participate share in the process and not farm out the job to subcontractors. They also have to explain their models to the class. I make a point of praising the projects that children really make themselves, even if they are less impressive. Still, I know that if there is an exhibition and important people from the Education Ministry or the municipality come to see it, the projects done by the parents might be placed in front," Merav said.

There are parents for whom these projects spur a genuine desire to create something together with their children, but many seem motivated mainly by a desire to meet the standards set by other parents.

"We were told to make a poster for the kindergarten, for Independence Day," the writer and editor Yemima Evron writes frankly in her blog. "It's obvious that this is homework for the parents, not the children, but as soon as I turned my head away she put an orange line in the middle of the poster that had nothing to do with anything and stuck on a few flags and drew a few blue circles in illogical places. Now, I know it's her poster. Call me a narcissistic mom - that's all right, I know - but show me one brave parent - one! - who will show up with the poster his kid made, without any guidance on his part, and hang it on the wall. Isn't it terrible what I'm saying? But with all my regret, it's also very true. So I am unable to hold back, and I tell her so; not everything, only that she must wait for me and we'll do something together. And she, who is four and a half, understands exactly what I'm not saying. She gets insulted just as she should, doesn't get confused and looks up at me and says explicitly: 'But Mommy, if it was a poster that you were supposed to bring to your kindergarten, then you would do it, but it's the poster I am supposed to bring to my kindergarten, so I do it.' How simple. Then go explain to the teacher why our poster looks the way it does."

Role reversal

So where is the line between legitimate help and guidance on one hand and a situation in which the kid watches television while his parents meticulously paint the project that's due tomorrow? According to Tali Heiman, head of the Department of Education and Psychology at the Open University of Israel, while it's important for parents to be involved in their children's school activities, particularly in the lower grades, the parents' role is to assist and guide, not to become schoolchildren themselves. "A girl told me once," she recalls, "that it wasn't worth her while to spend a lot of time on model projects for school because there was a girl in her class who always won in this area. Her mother was an architect and did all the work for her. That is a problematic situation. I am against competition between parents over who will make the best Hanukkah menorah or the snappiest Noah's ark. The teacher has to make this clear to the children and to the parents, to say explicitly that assignments done by parents will not be part of the competition. You can't judge a project by adults and a project by children with the same criteria."

Parents can help with written assignments, too, Heiman says, but they have to stop short of doing the assignments for the child. "If the child does sloppy work or the work needs correction, the teacher should return it to the child with comments. The student is responsible for the content and design of the project. Naturally the teacher must explain and maybe hand out guidelines for writing the paper. Parents can guide the child and make comments in order to teach and improve things, but from a young age the student must learn to cope with assignments, to plan them in terms of content and design, to organize their time. In short, to take responsibility. A parent should not be the student, and the teacher has to make that clear to the parents," Heiman said.

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