Today it is the rare educator who is brave enough to question whether first graders really need to fill out worksheets at home.
Data always can be cited selectively to support the conclusion that the homework burden really isn’t so onerous and that students could be doing more. But it may not be so easy to sell this argument to parents who have a front-row seat every evening from which to watch their kids toiling away.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that researchers may be so committed to a given agenda that they ignore (or at least minimize the importance of) what their investigations have turned up if it wasn’t the outcome they apparently had been hoping for. Their conclusions and prescriptions, in other words, are sometimes strikingly at variance with their results.
Grades and tests, at best, will predict future grades and tests. There is good evidence that grades don't predict later-life success, in occupational or intellectual terms.
I want new teachers to see progressive education at its best. I want them to spend as much time as possible in a place where they can watch seasoned educators work with children rather than doing things to them, helping those children to make sense of ideas and create opportunities to discover answers to their own questions, striving to shield them from stultifying mandates handed down from on high.
The trick is to start not with facts to be taught or disciplines to be mastered, but with questions to be answered. That may sound straightforward, but it's actually quite rare for learning to be organized around questions. In fact, it's even rare for classroom questions to reflect a commitment to real learning. What we find instead are those fact-based questions that Old School teachers are so fond of putting to the class: "Who can tell me...?"—or the practice of "guiding children to answers by [asking] carefully chosen leading questions," which isn't much different "from just telling them the answers in the first place."
…giving the impression that we value children only when they’re good doesn’t promote goodness any more than giving the impression that we value children only when they succeed promotes success.
There's a disconnect between our goals and our practices, a clash between what we ultimately desire for our kids and the kind of education they actually receive. We say we want one thing, but we're really doing another—or at least allowing another to be done.
Our children are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in our history and unparalleled anywhere else in the world. While previous generations of American students have had to sit through tests, never have the tests been given so frequently, and never have they played such a prominent role in schooling. The current situation is also unusual from an international perspective: Few countries use standardized tests for children below high school age-or multiple-choice tests for students of any age.
What kids really need is love without strings attached. But if all that’s offered— the only alternative to criticism or neglect— is approval based on what they’ve done, they’ll lap that up and then, perhaps vaguely unsatisfied, come back for more. Sadly, some parents who received too little unconditional love when they were children end up misdiagnosing the problem and assume that it was praise they lacked. Then they “Good job!” their own children to death, ensuring that another generation fails to get what’s really needed.
Nothing contributes to a student’s interest in (and proficiency at) reading more than the opportunity to read books that he or she has chosen. But it’s easy to undermine the benefits of free reading. All you need to do is stipulate that students must read a certain number of pages, or for a certain number of minutes, each evening.
An Oregon teacher in her fifties once summarized her professional growth to me in one short sentence: "The longer I teach, the less I talk." She'd come to realize that only by making sure she didn't monopolize the classroom was there a real chance for her students to talk— and therefore to learn.