Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Homework

My older kids are 8 and 5, and have recently had their first encounter with the phenomenon known as homework. It's been an interesting experience, and one I've been thinking about quite a lot.

Now, I myself was one of those annoying Hermione Granger types who enjoyed homework--and yes, sometimes even requested more homework. In elementary school, I'd usually complete my work in class. But if I had any to bring home, I'd finish it up and move on with my life. I don't remember too many battles with my parents over homework apart from the occasional procrastination-induced-panic-attack which resulted in some "I told you so" comments from my parents. And even those incidents happened only when I was older, say, 8th grade and up.

I haven't specifically asked Brendan about his homework experience, but I suspect he didn't enjoy homework much (if at all), and probably didn't worry too much about turning it in. I don't know if he was involved in homework battles though.

Talking to neighbors who have kids the same ages as my own in government school, homework is common and voluminous. Yes, even for Kindergarteners, Morgan-y aged kids. And the battles! Oh, the battles over homework start from a very young age, and more than once the kids next door have had to go inside early to get their homework done.

I am really happy not to have this battle-over-homework issue, because we don't really do homework at all. Any work they do is, by definition, homework, and I really don't feel the need to add more work on to what they already do. They also generally pursue things at their own pace and choose their own work to do, so they are pretty self-motivated about the work they do accomplish.

But the opportunity for genuine homework has come. They both take chess through our homeschool co-op, which is a great program for the most part. They teach chess not only at co-op, but after school at schools around Atlanta, and at their location, too. The thing I dislike about the program is the trophies. Every kid gets a trophy! they advertise. And it's true. Every kid gets a trophy--we've got about 10 of them to show for it.

It's not entirely "just show up and put your butt in a seat and receive a trophy" though. Kids can earn an extra trophy by being extra helpful and kind to other kids in the class--Ryan has earned that one twice. They can earn an extra trophy if they beat a coach in a chess game--Ryan has earned that once. And kids can get extra points toward a larger trophy by answering questions in class, winning games, and turning in homework.

This is the first session in which Ryan has ever shown an interest in turning in homework for extra points. I printed out a page--which has four chess puzzles to solve and notate--and he breezed through it for an extra 5 points toward a trophy. The first time he asked me to write down the chess notation for him. He was SO tired, you see.

"Nope!" I said, cheerfully. "This is your homework, so if you want the extra points, then you have to write it down. I'll double check it for you if you'd like, but I'm not going to do it for you."

So, no arguing, he did it. I waited for a battle, but there was none to be had because the decision to turn in this homework was entirely his, and of course, it is entirely optional for this class. So no battling for us. He turned in four more pages of homework yesterday, and Morgan turned in one homework page yesterday, too.

So while our homework experience has been pretty good, I'm of two minds about the value of it. On one hand, it's optional, so the fact that they both completed some homework is a result of their own desires, self-motivation. However, I really hate that the only reason they were motivated to complete the homework in the first place is so that they can get bigger trophies. Before we realized that you can earn a bigger trophy, Ryan used to do the puzzles for the fun of solving them. Now, he's pretty focused on the trophy size. (This is Morgan's first chess session, so she never really did them for fun.)

No, I'm not exactly thrilled about that at all, but I know that it's something that will probably become more common as he takes extracurricular classes. I just asked him whether he'd still do the puzzles even if he didn't think he'd get a bigger trophy, and he said "Yeah, probably."

Next week is Trophy Week. I have no idea if the extra work they did will result in a bigger trophy. I suspect that if someone gets a regular-sized trophy then it will be, for the first time, a defeat instead of a mere prize for taking the class. Would receiving a regular-sized trophy motivate them to turn in even MORE homework sheets next time, or will they give up on the idea entirely? Will it be harder to remember that the puzzles are there for free, for fun, for practice and improving one's understanding and enjoyment of the game? No idea. I wonder if we'll find out.

I think the things they are learning in class are enjoyable to them, and brain-stretching fun. The teachers are wonderful. Ryan and Morgan both enjoy chess a great deal. But so far, even though we were spared Homework Battles, I find that I'm not such a fan of homework after all.


AprilS said...

I am so frustrated with this "everyone gets a trophy" mentality. I love seeing kids succeed and win a trophy, but there is a difference between competing and earning a trophy and being handed one just for participation. It does not prepare them for the real world in any way. I have never earned recognition for just participating, only when I went above and beyond.
I feel your frustrations. You want your kids to do their homework for the sake of learning and the trophy situation definitely messes that up.
Good luck with Trophy Week. It sounds like your kids actually went above and beyond in an attempt to win.

Jenn Casey said...

Hi April! Thanks for stopping by!

It's one of those situations where I'm really impressed with my kids for deciding to do this homework, while being less-than-impressed with the reasons they did it.

Not that I blame them, for I was similarly motivated throughout my childhood (weren't we all?). I know how easily the focus can switch from "this is a neat thing to learn" to "I'm going to get a certain grade" or "I'm going to get a better grade than so-and-so" or "I have no idea why I'm learning this, but I want the grade."

We don't grade in our homeschool but I was grade-focused as a kid. And gold-star-focused. And snotty about it. :/

But I also know that this is how classes like this work these days. It's enough of a value to all of us that it's worth it even though I don't really care about the trophies. And it's a good jumping off point for good conversations with my kids about what they are learning, and WHY.

Thanks for your comment!

SmallWorld at Home said...

Great post. Thanks for submitting it to this week's Carnival of Homeschooling. Personally, the whole trophy mentality makes me crazy! My kids once took a class at our co-op at which half the class time was spent handing out prizes to the kids who did extra work at home. I think my son was in 1st grade then--maybe even kindergarten. It was so silly.