I read this and just had to react.
This is the key. “His teachers were wonderful, and thankfully, they made it very clear at the beginning of the year that homework was not supposed to give kids anxiety.” So why was the kid anxious? Did the “mommy” insist that the kid had to do the homework because she didn’t want the kid to fall behind others doing the homework?
Firstly this kid is primary, and I don’t know how important homework is to primary kids. For me homework was essential for reinforcement of classwork skills, occasional problem-solving to see if there were kids capable, and generally providing academic discipline. Because of collusion or other factors, not all of these goals were achieved but our education system is far from perfect.
I do not know how important my goals are for primary kids. What mattered to me with the homework was never achievement but effort, however what mattered for the kids and the parents who cared was achievement. Both kids and parents wanted the exam results so they would push – possibly creating anxiety. Now if primary school “mommy” did not care whether the kid passed exams, then there would be no concerns about homework – if you look at the teachers’ attitudes.
The issue is not anxiety about homework but anxiety about success. Mommy wants the success without the anxiety. Mommy says her kid is good – “Most of the time, it wasn’t that he didn’t know how to complete his work”, yet there is a contradiction “I have sat with all of my kids through excruciating evenings of trying to help them figure out long division and fractions.” In the article there is no assessment of the ability of the kid concerned – for obvious reasons.
Teachers have to provide opportunities. The bright kids in the class pick up the skills in the class and do not need any reinforcement. Hard workers struggle with the skills in class and through determination, whether with outside help – parents or otherwise, and can achieve the same standard. Homework gives them that opportunity. Because I worked in an exam factory, as do secondary school teachers, my rationale was always to give the students the best opportunities to pass their exams, it was up to them if they took the opportunity. Mommies also wanted those opportunities for their kids, would have been angry with me if I hadn’t provided those opportunities, and accepted with regret that anxiety over homework was par for the course especially if the kid was a “hard worker”.
I could imagine schools caving into pressure from the “scary mommy” brigade, but should they? All kids are competing for the same exams. Scary Mommy did not discuss the achievement of the school without homework – just quote dthe PR of the head. That would be my first question but I would just get flannel answers – they would have to lie. They cannot say “the standards of our school are falling compared with pay school down the road yet our kids are not anxious about homework”.
Schools are exam factories – except for a few private schools with different objectives. To pass exams you have to study because exams as they stand are just regurgitation. You need discipline to study, and that discipline needs to be built up, and starting with homework in primary school helps create that discipline.
We have an appalling education system that is just based on exams because that is what the employers want. The employers don’t say we will give you a job even though you get anxious. They say get over it or leave. For revision you either do it or fail, students have to learn how much they have to do to pass. Homework is not the issue, it is a small part of the stress that is caused by a pass/fail competitive system that has little to do with education.
Scary Mommy has a right to complain about her anxious kids but this is maternal emotional protectiveness without apparent consideration for exam consequences.
However if primary school teachers were to advise me that the discipline of homework does not help their kids with exams I might be prepared to listen. If they tell me exams don’t matter in terms of education I would agree but we are not in an education system we are in an exam system.
Change from exams to education and all the appalling misery (that leads to suicides in some cases) will disappear. A quality portfolio would make such a change.
The relationship with parents has been severely damaged by politics especially in the state system, I am writing this in response to this. Essentially in education there needs to be an alliance between teachers, parents and students. The teacher is the professional who guides the content. Parents and students provide the motivation (that includes nurture) that is essential for the student to learn, the teacher reinforces that motivation, and if necessary informs the parent with regards to that motivation. If the parent feels there are extenuating circumstances that the teacher should know about affecting that motivation, the teacher should be advised and should choose as the professional how they respond to the information.
Especially in the UK this relationship was politically undermined. Back in the 80s manipulating electoral demographics Thatcher gave parents excessive power in schools. Because this power was given to support divisions in the state sector, involvement of interfering parents became a problem. Instead of accepting the professionalism of the teacher these parents were encouraged to tell teachers what to do, and this brought the professionalism of the teachers into question. Teachers became the brunt of parent criticism, and teachers were increasingly used as an escapist buffer for the failure of education policy – a policy teachers had no control over.
I left this cauldron of negativity in 1993 but returned for one year in 2003 and felt it was no better. Maybe it has changed now.
Personally I always welcomed parental involvement, and never found parents’ meetings a chore. It was always good to work with parents to improve student motivation. When I was in Africa I helped introduce parents’ day, it had benefits but unfortunately it was introduced as additional work for the teachers – although few seemed to object. I was amused by one teacher who used the opportunity to hit on the parents!!
I was never really happy with parents’ contact in private education because the parents saw they were paying for the teachers rather than paying for a professional service. Very often adminstrators colluded with this inappropriate approach because they were more interested in fee-paying parents than they were in supporting teachers. This was a particular problem in the Middle East where wealthy parents saw teachers as high-paid workers rather than professionals, and the administration did little to assuage this because they had teachers on two-year contracts and could replace them. This led to whimsical sackings based on personality clashes between children of influential parents and the teachers – with teachers usually being chastised by the administration. Here teachers were a different form of scapegoat, this time the fees being the driving force.
I welcome what I called “Quality Portfolios” but note here they do take time to prepare; I have discussed quality portfolios in detail throughout Matriellez. At one school in the late 80s when Thatcher policies were leading to increased parental interference, portfolios were introduced by a headmaster who was weak and allowed himself to be manipulated by this interference. Whilst a big PR number was made of presenting such portfolios to the parents, in my view it had limited success because the content of the portfolios was shallow eg honour marks and so on. I have always felt parents were participants in the qualifications game, and deluding shams seemed not to be of interest – weak students would buy into it.
I have never used online systems that effectively show parents the markbook, my only objection would be the amount of time it takes to complete such an exercise. Over my later teaching years I saw an increasing amount of time being used for computer systems, systems that were never usually designed with teacher time as a valuable resource. I suspect over the last 10 years more of such systems have been introduced. I enjoyed the student response in the article about parents getting on their case but would be concerned if such online monitoring led to increased parent-response that used teacher time, time the teacher does not usually have. I would also note that a significant part of assessing a test is teacher judgement, I regularly took a long time discussing test results – such judgement cannot be reflected in online figures.
I have a feeling PR portfolios have become increasingly used. I have seen one in a private school where photos of student participation in events are taken and comprise a portfolio at the end of term. This portfolio can be used by parents in a constructive way, those who wish to be involved in their child’s work but I hate to think how much time they took to prepare. In my view such time would be better used in actual education.
I do not believe the portfolios are in any way conneced to the Quality Portfolios I discussed – as they were an improvement to an inappropriate exam system.
When I first started thinking about the four components of Matriellez education:-
…. then initially I feel there is little to be altered when considering democratic empowerment; but then I began to think:-
“Why did the realisation of the changing approach to democracy at Occupy affect me?”
And the answer is clear I needed a change in mindset. I was the teacher in the classroom leading the students to knowledge. Typically as a maths teacher I would put an example on the board, use inclusive techniques to get the students to follow, then help them practise. In terms of exam results this tended to work for those who wanted to pass. But it is all leadership, it all revolved around my telling them stuff they should learn to pass an exam, I was the leader of knowledge, they accepted this, and they tried to pass or fail. But they just accepted. Isn’t this the current failing in democracy? Some people pass by participating in the so-called democracy as some form of representative, others get what they want from the government by voting – and if they don’t they maybe try to do something about it, but most people just accept that nothing can be done. What happens in the classroom is mirrored in daily life.
Change the teacher’s mindset. Whilst the teacher has more knowledge this is not the theoretical purpose of education, the original purpose of education is to bring out from within – educare – latin. How can that happen if knowledge is imposed from outside? Mindsets need to change to bringing out, and the key to this is student confidence. Students need the confidence to genuinely express themselves – not the false expression that comes with fear and territory. Give them the confidence to express from the heart.
This problem is seriously difficult for the teachers. At present there are a significant proportion of teachers who believe that once the material has been taught that is the end of the process. If students then fail tests it is because they have failed to learn or consolidate the material. More enlightened teachers begin to consider ongoing assessment as a means of recognising whether students have learnt and adjust their teaching strategy accordingly – evaluation from assessment. But these approaches lie within the exam ambit, they are approaches that lead up to exams, what is taught is governed by those exams, and how much of what is learnt depends on the understanding of the students and the qualities of the teacher.
All is fixed by the exam and delivered by the teacher, and little is left to the innovation of the student. This is not usually a bone of contention with the students. Most accept that they have to pass exams, many will blame the teacher as not being “good” – or worse adjectives, equally many will blame themselves, but few will blame the test and almost none would say that the test is designed for them to fail. The nearest expression concerning the content is expressing the sentiment “what is the point? I’m bound to fail.” The teacher mutters encouraging platitudes and life goes on.
But what if we attempted to change these mindsets? What if the teacher did not have to deliver a set curriculum, and what if the student were judged on knowledge or understanding they have obtained independent of any curriculum?
Previously I have not discussed curriculum as it matters little when you consider the problems the corporatocracy creates. The curriculum is an adjunct to the testing. Take my subject maths – a subject that most curricula globally consider core. The corporatocracy is not concerned whether students learn maths, the maths that the CEOs need is carried out by computers and analysts, it is the mindset that is the result of the education process that is needed. And that mindset comes from accepting the education system as it is delivered in all its aspects and conforming to it with top marks – no matter what is delivered. Once you have been inculcated into the school system, then the next step is to be inculcated into the business system conforming to all its aspects – including its heartlessness – in order to gain top positions. Every business is different and therefore a curriculum learnt at school is not important except as a structure for providing conformity.
In school the measure of conformity is the testing. Everything is geared towards the tests, and the essence of testing is that a few pass and most fail. Suppose all these appalling carrot and stick impositions currently being placed on teachers’ salaries actually worked and they were able to get blood from the stone – exam successes, the authorities would simply move the goalposts – they do not want everyone to pass especially those who have not been oriented to accepting the prevailing system – the status quo. The exoteric curriculum is just a statement of attainments vaguely connected to the tests mattering little, the esoteric curriculum of creating failure and conformity is the essential curriculum that the corporatocracy is interested in.
Once you introduce the quality portfolio the issue of testing is not a problem – there are no measures connected to failure. But in terms of empowerment it is essential to consider the value of the curriculum. For democratic empowerment we want students to learn and be confident in their learning. Firstly this means the removal of testing, testing empowers only a few. Now the quality portfolio assesses educational aspects such as critical thinking, insight and whatever other value-orientated criteria is placed on the QP. Such a QP will not reference knowledge attainments, and knowledge attainment is what is essentially contained in a syllabus. So this empowerment, or autonomous mastery, removes the need for syllabi. What other aspects of the curriculum is there? Once you go beyond the basic skills of early years education such reading and writing – as discussed earlier as WARC (in Chapter 9), there is the accepted balance of subjects, arts, science and social science – as well as a certain amount of physical development. Then there is an acculturalisation element, not usually much, what might be contained in civics. Now how much of these components relate to autonomous mastery – empowerment?
In a sense that question is completely rhetorical – almost irrelevant. If the student is determining their own learning through their own autonomous mastery, then curricular knowledge attainment is irrelevant. In terms of this mastery what matters is the process, the determination, the level of innovation, and their methodology of learning, all of these demonstrate mastery and can be evaluated on the QP.
Curriculum and testing become a thing of the past as the student seeks their own knowledge – and their own empowerment through attainment of that knowledge and the mastery thereof. Evaluation of that knowledge becomes an essential vehicle for empowerment. If the learning approach is able to deliver an environment to enable autonomous mastery, the evaluation thereof is the essence of the empowerment. There are two aspects to this empowerment. The first aspect is the autonomous mastery, the student empowers themselves through the attainment of knoweldge by their own mastery gaining a confidence in their own abilities. This is very important but empowerment doesn’t stop there, this mastery needs also to be recognised by society, that recognition eseentially cones from the teacher at the moment. So despite a better educational method we are still stuck with the leader complex – the teacher.
Much of this leader complex that exists in our current education system has been obviated by Matriellez as the teacher is not seen as the deliverer of knowledge but the student is seen as the discoverer of knowledge – the master of their own learning. This is not as ridiculous as perhaps it might first seem. What about those first drawings of mummy and daddy? Objectively compared to Turner or Picasso they are pathetic, but they are mastery for that stage of development. Parents have no trouble in empowering that mastery. Imagine if at that stage the child were asked to pass a test on whether that drawing could pass Art 101 (or an appropriate level) how disillusioned and unmotivated those children would become. At home parental love encourages the students, in many cases in primary classrooms the teacher’s love adds encouragement, but in the end the student’s mastery is put to the sword by the testing system and they become failures.
For the QP the evaluation of that “drawing” or any piece of work needs to reflect their process, personal mastery and an objective mastery. This is very difficult. For this evaluation to be democratically empowering it needs to be democratically done – peer evaluation. Aaagh! To me that sounds gross for something as important as the QP being taken into the world of work, yet from all accounts peer evaluation works. It is not something I have tried as I am old school leading as teacher. Peer assessment with teacher arbitration, can that work?
I must reflect on it. It is certainly democratic. My first reflection is the appalling cliques that exist in school in which the biggest jock is the most popular and this might lead to “jock” favouritism or “cheerleader” favouritism. At the same time the most intelligent in our current system often become outcasts, an image they often choose to cultivate – geeks. If such were the criteria of peer evaluation for the QP then that would lead to a dumbing-down of education – even lower than it already is. But if the education model were changed and these popular students were not failures and therefore envious of the academically successful, perhaps peer evaluation could work. If the teacher provides the sole evaluation then there is no democracy, if the evaluation is solely peer the wrong attributes might be the criteria – not on paper but a downgrading based on emotion, with the teacher as arbitrator there might be a balance.
I need to look into this peer evaluation as a genuine form of democratic empowerment.