Friday, July 20, 2012

The Homework Trap for GAT

I've been reviewing The Homework Trap, see

This looks like must reading for the average parent, and dives into some extreme cases of bright students falling way behind, into C or D range, and how to get them back to A's.

I think main thesis of the of this is very useful to GAT students.  In the CPS system, these kids are identified as having high abilities at age 4 or 5, and then thrown into an accelerated program with lots of projects and field trips.   At some point which varies by program, they get hit with lots of homework.  My son got hit in the 1st grade, 1 to 2 hours a night, and projects on Saturday morning.  I hear this drops off in 2nd and 3rd grade.  Other programs have their designated "trial by fire" year.

The Homework Trap notes 3 things that I think are relevant here.  #1 Homework should be timed.  #2 The parent should control the workload within the home.   #3  Don't punish or discourage the child during the homework process or you will make things worse.   I learned this the hard way.

Of course, it's too late to do any of this when the child has to write 12 sentences (hell for certain first graders) and the work is due tomorrow.

What I accidentally stumbled upon solved this problem without having to resort to directly addressing school assigned homework.   The Homework Trap has explained to me why this worked.

Seeing my child struggle through Everyday math, I thought I knew the issue from other parents.   Everyday math teaches kids lots of things, and all the while, little by little, the kid forgets how to add and subtract.  So I created some worksheets, posted in one of my permanent pages here, and gave my son 10 minutes each night to see how many he could do.   The other thing I did was switch his piano practice from 5 times a song to 20 minutes.   I would vary the length and content based on how bad a day he was having.

According to the Homework Trap, what I was doing was changing his attitude toward assigned work according to their theory and methodology.

I did one more thing.   I assigned my son 1 or 2 pages out of the Everyday math journal workbooks for grade 2 from start to finish until all of book #1 and most of book #2 were complete.   We started Christmas of Kindergarten, and I let my son know up front I didn't expect him to know any of it because he hadn't seen any of it before.  Boy was that hell.  It was like Boot Camp for about 6 months.  Sometimes he got all of the answers incorrect.  We didn't have dramatic problems after that because any time he said "This is too hard" or "I am too tired" I would just pull out these completed books and ask him if there is another student in country who did every page in next year's math workbook, including the kids in the 2nd grade?

So now I've got four theories of how we survived the 1st grade with a student who had a great attitude and didn't get wiped out by up to 2 hours of homework a day, 5 days a week:

1)   I corrected the deficiencies in Everyday Math using calculation worksheets, ala Kumon.   (Homework trap would say that I used the timed homework method on content that I controlled as a parent in the home.)   I did not care about the results (addressing Homework Trap recommendations on incentives.)   I would say that I was merely helping him succeed in one academic area, and let the confidence and learned work ethic spill over into other subjects.

2)  I gave him timed work in math and more recently music.  This is classic Homework Trap methodology.   My thinking all along is that math is a great subject to tackle study habits with because the child can succeed at new challenges without maturity issues.  I wouldn't try this with Chemistry or Moby Dick.  So in effect, I was implementing the Homework Trap solution.

3)  Using math outside of academic work, I made him do 2 pages a day and we went through the hell until it worked. (Homework Trap would say I controlled the homework.)   If he got everything wrong on a given day, I would take him out for ice cream or some suitable reward for surviving material over his head. (Homework Trap would say this is the reverse incentive problem handled properly in my style).   I did not time this, and some days the 2 pages would take an hour.

4)  There's a forth possibility here, and that is the 1st grade teacher, with about 20 years experience, at the first GAT program in the CPS, knows what she is doing.   The kids have to do 100% of the homework with the parent, at least initially, and this puts the parent and the child in the game together.  The parent also has to make lots of decisions on what to do each week, and help the child choose which assignments to complete from the options.  Again, Homework Trap would say this puts the parent in the driver's seat, which is true somewhat.

So without some researcher volunteering a controlled experiment that has the possibility of scarring the control group for life, I can not conclude that the Homework Trap methodology worked, or if I was just teaching him to succeed by trial and error, or if I fixed the math problem using Kumon methods and this engendered confidence in other areas.

I think I can conclude that math is critically important to this whole endeavor.   Math is the go-to subject to fix not only the homework problem specifically but also a love for academics in general.  It builds character.  It builds confidence.  It creates attitude and study habits.   It does not matter whether or not he will become a math major, which is not likely.  It does not require intellectual, social or emotional maturity, like language arts might.  It just requires jumping in and sticking it out.

I know kids who are super readers, and I won't discount this method, but I don't think the wide variety of challenges that math provides.  Plus, math and science majors have a 98% employment rate coming out of college.  So there.

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