Tag Archives: child study

One Problem with Homework, and a Solution

I’ve been working my way slowly through Ross Greene’s  books, If you teach struggling learners, I encourage you to take a look at his work. At the moment I’m reading The Explosive Child (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), in which Dr. Greene has this to say about homework (I prefer to use the term “independent practice”) and the inflexible child:

“Many parents, teachers, and school administrators believe that homework is an essential component of a child’s education. Which is fine, except that many inflexible-explosive children find homework to be incredibly frustrating because they don’t have any brain energy left after a long day at school, their medication has worn off, they have learning problems that make completing homework an agonizing task, or because homework–especially long-term assignments–requires a lot of organization and planning. Thus, it’s no accident that these children often exhibit some of their most extreme inflexibility and explosiveness when they are trying to do homework.

Do these difficulties render some children incapable of completing the same homework assignments as their classmates? Yes. Is it always possible to address these difficulties effectively? No. Does having a child melt down routinely over homework help him feel more successful about doing homework? No. Are these difficulties a good reason to alter or adjust homework assignments? Yes. I’ve yet to be convinced that the best way to instill a good work ethic in a child–or to help his parents become actively or productively involved in his education–is by inducing and enduring five hours of meltdowns every school night. The best way to instill a good work ethic is to assign homework that is both sufficiently challenging and doable in terms of quantity and content. Achieving this goal, of course, takes a little extra effort by the adults who are overseeing the assigning and completing of homework.”

The Weekly Text, July 1, 2016

Are you done with the 2015-2016 school year? I gather that our school year here in New York City goes much later than other districts in the United States. Our last day was Tuesday the 28th.

So it’s summer break! I always schedule my share of fun for these months, but I also work some–because I want to. You can continue to look for the Weekly Text at Mark’s Text Terminal, because I only plan to miss three Fridays during the summer.

Over the years, as an employee of the New York City Department of Education, I’ve experienced a mixed bag of professional development sessions. A few years ago, at least in the school in which I presently serve, teachers were responsible for performing professional inquiry groups, which selected its own topic for, well, inquiry, and analysis, germane to the work we do, but obviously for improving pedagogy. For this week, then, here are–in three separate links–the raw materials for a professional development presentation on executive skills and function I wrote for the group I joined in the 2011-2012 school year.

First up are the the proposal for this inquiry group, and a learning support for teachers, which are the teacher’s materials for this presentation; first up is the proposal for this inquiry group, and a learning support for teachers; second, here are four student surveys to assess executive skills; third, and finally, here is a letter explaining these surveys to students. I adapted the student surveys from Ellen Galinsky’s excellent book Mind in the Making.

I hope these documents are in some way useful to you. I’d like to hear how, if you are so inclined.

Until next week….

Addendum, July 27, 2016: Here is the scoring criteria for the surveys that this professional development asks students to complete.

Meeting Fundamental Needs

“Children and adults alike share needs to be safe and secure; to belong and to be loved; to experience self-esteem through achievement, mastery, recognition, and respect; to be autonomous; and to experience self-actualization by pursuing one’s inner abilities and finding intrinsic meaning and satisfaction in what one does.”

Thomas J. Sergiovanni Building Community in Schools (1994)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

Learning Outside the Lines

Reading Jonathan Mooney and David Cole’s book Learning Outside the Lines offers the special education teacher both a disturbing and an edifying look at special educational theory and practice as students experience them. This is  particularly true for these authors, both of whom struggled in special ed classrooms. Their book also tells a distressing story about the hell on earth school can be for students with diverse learning styles. Both Mr. Mooney and Mr. Coles are quite candid about their struggles in their lives at school.

Mr. Mooney, I suspect, is the dominant prose stylist in this book’s composition; he went on to write the entertaining and enlightening travelogue (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), The Short Bus. That said, both of the authors contribute a great deal to this useful and heartfelt manual.

For those of us who seek to assist struggling learners, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that many of our charges don’t appreciate their roles as the objects of our efforts. Who better than our students themselves to aid us, and thereby become the co-subjects of our teaching? Who better understands the needs of a struggling learner than that learner him or herself? This book, which was really written for students, makes a powerful case for the teacher’s role as that of facilitator, and therefore as cooperating agent in the project to raise our students’ (nascent?) awareness of their own way of learning and understanding the content we are obliged to teach them. For me, the strength of this book rests in what it offers people who are not necessarily its intended audience, i.e. teachers. As the book’s graphic design indicates, Messrs. Mooney and Cole wrote it for students who want to learn with their own  “…purpose in mind–not your parents’, not your teacher’s, not your school’s.”

Dr, Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who specializes in issues of focus, concentration and attention, supplies a thoughtful forward. A self-described “stupid kid,” Dr. Hallowell is a widely published author and served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for 21 years. Given these bona fides, and given the fact that Jonathan Mooney and David Coles both graduated near the top of their class at Brown, the thoughtful reader will pause to wonder just what it is people mean when they speak of “stupid kids.”

This insiders’ perspective on education in general and “special education” in particular is simply invaluable. Those of us working in the field will recognize an unhappy aspect of our work: we are trained, whether we care to admit it or not, to recognize learning struggles and differences as disabilities and deficits. Within this epistemological framework, recognizing and assessing potential is by definition a challenge. This is unfortunate indeed, as it is almost inevitably an outlook that will diminish goals and reinforce the status quo.

Until special education teachers (and I confess I am increasingly uncomfortable with the term “special education”) are trained to recognize and nurture potential, and not plan for deficits and disabilities, we condemn ourselves–and more tragically our students–to an endless cycle of tedious remediation and rote work. We will miss the very rich possibility of helping our students develop potential and talents they may not even know they have. We should seek to be discoverers of potential, not describers of deficits.

I bid Jonathan Mooney and David Cole long and productive careers. We teachers need their counsel on how to do our jobs.

Teaching the Whole Child

“Anxiety checks learning. An overall feeling of inferiority, a temporary humiliation, a fit of depression, defiance or anger, a sense of being rejected, and many other emotional disturbances affect the learning process. The reverse is true; a feeling of well-being and of being respected by others stimulates the alert mind, willingness to participate, and an attitude conducive to learning.”

Eda LeShan The Conspiracy against Childhood (1967)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.