20 November 2006

The Dreaded School Project

An Op-Ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor is "A Mom's Plea: Don't Make Me Do School Projects." I admit that I was a bit put off by the title. My initial reaction was "Who asked you to?" As a teacher, I've seen more than enough projects that were obviously not done by students. At least one elementary school in my district has a policy that kids can bring the "stuff" for their projects, but work must be done at school. It has kept the parental interference to a minimum.

Delving further into the Monitor article, it appears that the mom is upset by a few different things. One is the sheer diversity of projects ("What ever happened to the written word?"). I support the need for differentiation, but at some point, teachers need to offer some options. Not everyone needs to make a puppet. Another complaint is the tendency for teachers to give group grades. I fully support her here. It is not fair to a student to be held accountable for the learning of others. If you must, give a part of the grade for how well kids work as a group. Outcomes need to be individual.

Mom's biggest rant however, is firmly in her own backyard to solve. This woman is a serious enabler. If the kid waits until 10:30 on a Sunday night to tell you that they need a Big Mac box to take to school in the morning, you know what? It doesn't mean that you need to drive over to Mickey D's right that minute. You need to go to Walgreens at the last moment to pick up a box of sugar cubes? Why didn't you look at your child's planner when s/he got home from school...or check the teacher's letter or website...to see what the upcoming assignments were? Is there no real communication expected on the part of the student to the parent. Granted, no parent wants to see their kid fail, but at some point, you need to put the problem-solving back on the student's shoulders. "You need a small box for tomorrow? What can you do about that?"

I don't begrudge the frustrated mom that projects take time and that there can be quite a few over the course of the year and across the curriculum. Teachers and schools would do well to think about that. However, most teachers provide extended timelines for these assignments. Maybe there would be a lot less frustration at home if time management and personal responsibility played a larger role in completing homework.


Anonymous said...

Amen to your last point about responsibility. I get so aggravated when I get an irate phone call from a parent about the short notice given on a project, when in fact it has been posted on my website, written daily in the planner, and even sent home in a an assignment sheet WEEKS in advance. What I want to say is: "Short of writing it on your kid's forehead with a sharpie," I'm not sure what else I can do. I agree that we need to be sure to coordinate due dates and the number of projects, especially on the secondary level, unless we're planning to devote a lot of class time.

La Maestra said...

I saw that article and prayed that it was satire... Alas, it's apparently not.

I hate enabling parents like that.

EHT said...

Great response to the CSM article. As a parent I have been told at the last minute about posterboard, or crayons, or popsicle sticks. My response, "Too bad, take your lumps."

Turning something in late is better than not at all, and sometimes learning a responsibility lesson is more important than a great grade in the long run.

Anonymous said...

My dad was in the military, and as a result his response to "last-minute" project announcements were met with the 7Ps: proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance.

I knew better than to wait until the last minute and when, despite knowing better, I waited until the last minute anyway, I certainly didn't involve my parents.

Most of the projects done at our school are done at school. This way I know what the student knows, I can correct misunderstandings before they're too far down the line, and I can be sure who's done the work.

I keep the number of projects to a minimum in my classroom. Students tend to see them as a time to play around, rather than a learning experience. Worse, I've found that rubrics or no - students spend more time on creating the "gimmick" than worrying about the content. A few weeks ago, students did a biography project for me. One group of students turned in a very amusing pop-up book on their subject. The gimmick was great, the content - not so much, despite repeated warnings.