Last week someone very near and dear to me reached out for some advice. Her son has just begun High School and is adjusting to the new workload. He hadn’t experienced much with regards to homework in elementary school so this was a bit of a shift, among everything else.
The homework assignment he was given included identifying parts of speech. The first part contained a large paragraph of text and he was to identify all the verbs. A neat little activity which reminded me of Mad Libs.
As the assignment went on, the level of difficulty increased. Eventually he would hit a road block so he asked his mom for some help. She admitted to me that this caused some tension because she didn’t know the answers he was looking for.
“Why don’t you search the internet?” she asked him.
“We were told to do this assignment without relying on technology,” her son replied.
As I was listening to how the story unfolded, I could sense sadness in her voice. She had indicated feeling slightly embarrassed not knowing how to help and not knowing where to turn.
“It’s been a long time since I studied parts of speech,” she told me.
I should mention that she didn’t reach out to me during the moment, but rather the next day. She had taken the night to sleep and reflect on what had happened. I will do my best to paraphrase what she said afterwards.
Brian, it isn’t so much the assignment he was given but the fact that he was told to not use technology. He didn’t know where to turn for help and neither did I. He ended up frustrated and upset and quit the activity altogether. I am worried he may be in trouble for not completing his homework. I am more worried that this incident has caused him to hate parts of speech and cringe whenever he comes across it from now on. He shut down, got upset and went to his room without finishing.
I sat on this for a moment and considered why technology was not to be used. My first instinct was that the internet contained all the answers but I am not entirely sure as I didn’t see the assignment. From an educator’s perspective my next assumption is the teacher was trying to make a point about technology access, equity, etc. Valid.
Considering all points of view, what would have been the proper solution?
I think this example provides insight into pedagogy and best practice. I question the validity of the assignment and the nature of it’s richness. Again, I never saw it but based on the fact he had to count verbs in a passage and circle them, I’m confident there were fill in the blanks as well. Having a frustrated student who dislikes school activities is not the solution.
Unfortunately, this incident is counter-productive to what I am trying to accomplish.
As educators, how can we ensure we are doing our best for students when planning activities?
I’m anti-homework, from a traditional lens, for a variety of reasons with equity being the largest. What if technology were to be allowed on this task? What if other students weren’t able to look up clues because of a lack of access? And so on and so forth.
As I finish up writing this, I am considering what it might feel like to be this student. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to go back to that class and that certainly was not the teacher’s intention!