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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Homework hell

I am at the end of my rope. G2 has had a school writing assignment, a 1000 word composition, for over a month now. He didn't say a word about it. Apparently they have had more than ample class time at school to work on it. After brainstorming, thesis sentence development, etc etc etc, and multiple trips to the computer lab, he had a grand total of 5 sentences.

5 sentences.

He was summarizing (in his own words) an article from the internet.

And then deleted it in anger when I told him that that plagiarism was not the purpose of the assignment.

Needless to say, his composition was not finished and turned in on time. Or on time for the extension he negotiated under parental pressure. In fact, I don't think anything else has been added. He insists that the entire problem is that he doesn't know how to type quickly enough.

This makes me absolutely crazy. And I fully recognize that a crazy mama is not a good thing to be or to have.

I know that the frustration and even fury that I feel has something to do with my own academic history and spotty writing past. I didn't learn how to express my ideas in writing in an academic format until the first year of community college (which came several years after my non-graduation from high school). When I was a junior in high school, living with my dad for a year and attending an excellent suburban East Coast high school that tracked students academically, I tested into and voluntarily removed myself from an advanced placement English literature class because I didn't know how to write a composition and was too embarrassed to admit it.

I am the only child of a single mother who was living under the shadow of dysthmia ( a mild, functional yet debilitating form of depression). Let's just say that with everything else my mom was managing to do (work full time, run a household, put food on the table, grade papers), no-one was keeping track of what my homework was or whether it was done. I was always told that I was "smart", and fell into the trap of avoiding challenges that might contradict that label (new research is apparently showing that praising effort is much more motivating to kids). It also didn't help that I had a short fuse and would get frustrated and upset with my mom on the occasions when she did try to help me with homework. Probably to keep her sanity, at some point she just gave up.

Of course, I vowed when I had children that I would not give up on their academic growth. Although I did go on to obtain several degrees, and consider myself a perpetual student, I still harbor some deep insecurities about my abilities. I also did a lot of that schooling after having children, which I don't necessarily recommend. And now here I am, furious with a child who fights and argues with me when I try to help him. It's karma, I tell you!

Both my kids were fortunate to attend a partial-immerson French-language program offered  through our local public school system. Because it was a lottery system to enter, families were self-selecting and tended to be those who a) highly valued education and language learning and b) often had higher socioeconomic status (we were definately in the minority as recipients of the reduced-lunch program--though we offered native language skills!). Contributions from wealthier families allowed this elementary school to continue to offer art, music, and PE while these programs were being cut left and right from other public schools.  I know that both my boys had a strong, if not excellent, elementary education (though G2 did get off to a rocky start with a bizarrely strict Russian kindergarten teacher). G2's 4th grade teacher was a friend of mine, a fellow evening ESL instructor, and I know what a wonderful job she did introducing the format of the 5-paragraph essay.

Those kids did a lot of writing. How can he not know what an introduction is, or how to gather information? Or that the purpose of the assignment is to learn to organize ideas in writing, not to type quickly?

Am I being far too harsh? What do you think? Are there any suggestions for how to proceed from here?

I have turned into a mama that I would not want to have. This morning I put myself into a timeout after a yelling tantrum. G2 is downstairs "working" (from what I can hear, that means snacking at the kitchen table). I don't know if I can help without getting mad all over again. I don't know if I should keep trying, or just let him fail and suffer his consequences. Help!

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