Free voluntary (math) homework

I engaged in an act of (semi) academic dishonesty again last night.  It was a case of more of the “busy work” type math homework that resulted in repetitive plotting of co-ordinates on an x-y plane and then only on the positive parts of the plane in order to end up with a snoopy dog that then could be coloured. I’m not a cut and paste and colour type of mother. I also hate board games, Monopoly being my worst, so I don’t play them (and it turns out I’m right about that type of board games – great graphic by the way). So after my child had done the first 50 or so of the points, I told him to go and have a shower and get to bed to read his FVR (free voluntary reading) book. And I finished off the last 10 points and coloured it in.

I then tipped out the schoolbag and its assorted jumble of loose bits of paper. Yes ditch the textbook(s) (great blog by the way) but the result is a godawful bunch of loose bits of paper torn and tattered at the bottom of a schoolbag – if they make their way home at all ever. Scratching through my archeological dig of the last 2 weeks since term commenced yielded two interesting pieces.  The first was a reflection on a test.  The question “How could you have performed better?”  The answer “Make less careless mistakes and reduce stress as I was stressed out” (sic).  The response: “less” corrected to “fewer” and “you should refer to the work you did not your feelings”

Ah, learning and stress. Despite what the rats did or didn’t do in their maze, I can attest for the fact that when it comes to mathematics and stress, a certain young human in my life tends to shut down all cortical matter in order to be able to just breathe. So yes, his observation was right on the point, and the teacher was either naive or misguided or both. Small moment of positive affirmation that stress did not enhance the output during a test and that we needed to work on the emotional control as much as the preparation of the work to be assessed.

Next piece of paper, a “check-up” on co-ordinate planes. Except for the first quadrant, things didn’t bode well for the understanding, particularly when it progressed to manipulating co-ordinates (i.e. plot a triangle and then move it 5 spaces on the y axis and -3 spaces on the x axis type of thing).  Why the freakingflowers were we drawing snoopy for 30 minutes when there was more interesting stuff at stake?

All this detail goes to my thought now on math homework. Actually it’s thought that’s long time coming starting when a certain child was failing miserably in a Chinese school and we had all this homework to do that kept us incredibly busy but never got us one step closer to helping him learn what he needed to learn to be able to participate at all. I think the academic term is “self paced learning”  but I wouldn’t go so far, since I don’t think that’s really necessary anymore. And the self-paced thing is more geared to adult learning anyway.

I’d advocate for FV(M)H (free voluntary (math) homework). Within the context of a certain topic or module, there should be the option to do homework (or not) according to your needs and difficulties, rather than whatever has been set.  We are on one end of the continuum on math, and I know enough kids on the other end of the continuum.  But math is a wonderful thing that way – within any topic there is a huge variation and potential of what someone could spend 30 minutes working on!  (By the way, has anyone been following this discussion – it’s absolutely wonderful – the comments being as excellent as the post itself). So this evening that is what we did.  We actually took 2 steps back, since before co-ordinates was substitution, and substitution was still a rather confused mess.  We spent more than 30 minutes on it, and I wrote a note to that effect. I hope it will be positively received…
Small steps.  I’m wondering how far one can take ownership and control over learning in the school setting despite all the talk of differentiation etc. before the system feels threatened gets mad at you.

I’m still thinking a partnership is possible, that triangle of child, teacher and parent/tutor. My husband did say – “Isn’t that what Kahn academy is for”, but I think not. Kahn can help once you know what you don’t know. There is a meta-cognitive step necessary, a diagnosis, either through self-insight or observation. Who assumes that role?


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