Friday, October 1, 2010

Bring on the homework!



Yesterday evening I went to Back To School Night for Max, and something shocking and amazing happened: For the first time ever at one of these events, I didn't cry. It was inspirational, not depressing.

In previous years, the night would start off fine. I'd love to sit in Max's seat (happy I could still fit into a kiddie seat), look at photos of students and the pictures students they had made, hear from everyone how cute and awesome Max is (that, I can never get enough of). But as I'd sit there, listening to the teacher speak and staring at all the special-needs equipment, I'd inevitably choke up and end up sitting with my hands over my eyes so none of the parents could see the tears. The reality was too much.

Not last night.

First, I was thrilled to find out there were a bunch of other verbal kids in Max's class. I'd asked for him to be placed in a class like that because I thought chatty kids would encourage him to talk. I'd e-mailed back and forth with his teacher, who I thought was really nice and knowledgeable, but she was even better in person. The other parents in the class seemed on top of their game.

Max's obsession with purple is legendary at the school; I held a news conference and informed everyone brown is his new favorite color. "Ah, that's why he keeps wearing that I'm The Big Brother shirt," his teacher said, confirming my suspicion that while I was away at the conference Dave had, in fact, let him wear the same shirt three days in a row. Busted!

The only slightly disconcerting thing was that the teacher didn't bring up curriculum plans when she spoke to us; I had to raise my hand and ask what would be happening with reading and math. This year's goals include getting kids to recognize upper and lowercase letters, know the sounds letters make, and recognize sight words. For math, they want kids to be able to learn to sequence and, when they're ready, start on simple addition and subtraction. For a moment, my mind veered to "Wonder what other 7-year-olds in other schools are working on this year" but I yanked it back to the present. It's hard to believe I still do that comparison thing but sometimes, I do.

Last year, I had a long conversation with Max's then-teacher about how keeping parents informed about what was being taught in class, and what we could reinforce at home. I also asked for homework; there's no reason our kids shouldn't get it. I've seen a theme in this school (which I generally think is stellar) and Max's last school (which I didn't think was stellar) that's disconcerting: a tendency not to give homework, for kids or parents.

But by last year, at 6, Max was ready for it. Even more than other kids, ours need learning reinforced at home. Even more than other parents, we need to be in the loop on just how we can help our kids. One of the most important things I learned from Early Intervention is that therapy and education can only go so far; moms and dads have to carry on what the experts do. It's a hell of a responsibility, but it's part of being Chief Everything Officer, especially when you're parenting a kid with special powers. Too bad we don't get bonuses at the end of the year.

That teacher and I came up with a "Learning Link" page she'd send home every week, with info on what she was teaching, activities parents could do and, yes, homework (sorry, kids).


It's handed out on Monday or Tuesday and broken down by subject—Social Skill of the Week, Language Arts, Writing, Math, Science, and then What's happening this week?/Helpful tips for home. There's also a sheet of homework attached, to be returned by Friday.

I'm not saying I do every single thing on that page; I'm lucky if I get to a few. Last weekend, while I was away, Max's Learning Link page got lost in the shuffle and Max didn't do his homework. I am sure teachers get really frustrated by parents who want to engage, and then flake out. I just do the best I can.

Last night, I found out that a lot of the classrooms are doing Learning Link and damn, I was proud. Why didn't I patent it? He, he. As a working mom, I haven't had a lot of time to volunteer at Max's school, which I've felt awful about. But me and this teacher (who's no longer at the school) have left a lasting legacy.

What has your experience been with teachers and their engagement with you/learning at home? Would anyone want a template of the Learning Link page, to share at their school?

18 comments:

  1. Mikey is in class one at a tiny specialist school. The teacher is amazing. Amazing!!!! Every term we get a handout of what they will be doing and week by week explanations of when things will happen.

    They also do homework bags - these are colour coded, so red for speech, green for maths and problem solving, blue for pretend play etc. Each bag has a toy or activity with suggestions of how you could use it and tailor it to your child's abilities. At school they will focus on the learning skill you're working on at home.

    We have diaries too, which tell us how our child has been that day.

    I love it, my only reservation is that not all classes are like that - it seems to vary so much depending on the teacher.

    I agree, there is something so important about remaining included in their teaching and therapy - the time they spend at home is so important. After having great portage at home before he started school I was worried we wouldn't be included and equipped. So far, it's been ok though!

    Simply brilliant to hear what you've been able to achieve at Max's school. What s fab idea. You should definitely patent and share!!! Xxx

    ReplyDelete
  2. Alex is starting his preschool next week - so it's early for me to know if they do anything like the learning link paper.

    But, regardless, I'd love to have a copy of the template to share. Great idea!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I loved reading your post today. I've just recently started having the same issue at my daughter's preschool. She is completely nonverbal and they expected me to just drop her off and pick her up with absolutely no feedback about what went on during school! I was shocked. Now I insist on them at least sending home a sheet on the basics-what she ate, played with, therapy done etc. This still seems to be a huge task for the teacher!
    Thanks for giving me more confidence in my ability to insist on what is best for my girl:)
    I would love a copy of your template for future use!

    ReplyDelete
  4. My nonverbal son just started a special preschool this week. I love them! I'm not there for the 2 hours he's in school (they have a 30 day rule for kids being on their own, and then parents can come once a week, to cut down on too many parents in the room at once and kids not listening to their teachers), but I'm always kept in the loop.

    I meet with his aid briefly before class, and then after class she tells me what they worked on during the morning. Once a week I get a sheet with info on his daily performance and a reminder about the vocabulary words, signs, actions, concepts, etc. that they are working on for the month. Once a month we get a newsletter full of parental homework for the month. Personalized homework is added over the course of the month, depending on the specific child's development.

    I'm not perfect at doing everything all the time, but after 2 months of therapy at home we are already seeing improvements, so I definitely believe parental involvement is vital to a child's success.

    At 20 months I think M. is too young for learning link but I'd love a copy of the template anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm in a love-hate relationship with homework. I embraced it when the kids were little. I was new to school...everything was exciting.

    As the years have gone by, I hate homework just a little be more each year. I despise when kids come home with a new concept in their homework that parents are supposed to teach. Homework should reinforce learning done in class.

    I do think that all kids should have math and reading each night. Even if the math is going over math facts. Some kids read at the drop of the that while others need coaxing. We are fervent Pizza Hut book-It coupon types.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What grade is Max in? 1st? 2nd?

    My youngest is in his 3rd year of special needs preschool. He is in an integrated classroom, and there are 4-6 typical kids in the class.

    All the teachers he has had have had some sort of of newsletter they send home pretty much weekly letting us know the theme of the week, what books they are reading in class, etc.

    This is the first year that the teacher is not doing actual worksheets so far, and that bugs me. I liked seeing the worksheets that he brought home so I knew what concepts he was working on. They spend most of the year working on learning each letter of the alphabet and things associated with that letter ( site words, foods, etc).

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like the idea of the learning link!! Jackson is not old enough for school yet, but my older daughter (8) is in 2nd grade at a parent participation school.

    To be honest, I am morally opposed to homework for the sake of homework. I never learned anything filling in squares on a worksheet, and so have made sure my daughter will never have to. She doesn't get regular homework, although they do on occasion have "projects" to do at home, such as create a square for a quilt with 100 things on it for the 100th day of school, etc. And while I have no idea how I'll be with Jackson as he gets older, I'm guessing my views on homework won't have changed much. Communication about what the kids are doing at school though...I agree that that is VERY important!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. We get a precious weekly newsletter that lets us know what Charlie's class is working on each week. I love.

    I find homework to be a tricky topic. It's great if mom and dad are present and involved, but really not-great if mom and Dad are absentee. I worked in a Charter-style school where we had extended period which allowed kids to get their homework done in class.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'd like to pass the learning link on at our school district!
    cmh134@hotmail.com

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I couldv'e written Kristina's comment myself! YES, please send a link/template. I get a folder sent home every night with the generic homework instructions (do math worksheet) but then no communication about what to actually DO or what concepts are being covered. Where my son is the only one in his class with significant motor difficulties and cannot write, I get so frustrated by the "write your sight words three times" kind of homework with zero information about what they do to accommodate Nik's disabilities. (Sorry, ranting here...)

    I'd love some ideas on how to foster better daily communication from his teacher, for sure!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yes, I would love a Learning Link Template ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yes please. It was only this past summer after attending the Angelman Conference (which is what my daughter has) that I really woke up and realized that I could take control of what the teachers were focused on. Thanks Ellen

    ReplyDelete
  13. My family HATED when I had homework (all of them). After hours of school & an after school activity I was done! They tried to work with my teachers with mostly notes and calls but it did little good.I'm pretty sure a party was thrown when I went to college, it meant no one had to help me anymore :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Alice, I am glad Mikey is having such a great experience. You're right, not all classes are that way. Far from it.

    Kristina: YOU GO GIRL!!!

    Maya: That's awesome on the improvements. And let's ALL wipe that word "perfect" out of our heads. It doesn't exist. You do the best you can. I do the best I can . WE ALL DO THE BEST WE CAN!!!

    Jill: I can see hating homework, but so not there yet!!

    Jana: I get what you say about homework, especially excessive amounts of it, but right now I think it is important for me as a parent--it gets me focused on what Max learned at school, and opens up communication about it. Katy, I love the idea of sometimes doing homework in school, but I would miss out on the after-school exchange with Max (or more like the 7:00-p.m. exchange with Max, when I get home from school).

    sarah: There are no grades at Max's school. You should ask for worksheets!!!

    To everyone who asked for the template, please email me at lovethatmax [at] gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is a bugbear of mine. we get homework sheets, they're just not appropriate for Ashley. Inclusion's great if they tailor work for yours. Generic sheets without the suggestions for how you can adapt the work for your child aren't a lot of use. Your school seems very organised.
    I can feel a conference coming up.

    ReplyDelete
  16. As a teacher I am glad it went so well.

    THAT IS GREAT to hear.

    As a mom I understand.

    It is so hard for me to sit in the special education room and hear all that's going on then go back to my job teaching "regular" ed kids.

    How I wish my son could do some of what they do.

    Thanks again for another great blog.

    Is it OK to share on my blog site?

    Thanks
    Colleen

    http://keseosfight.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  17. I homeschool my kids but I really appreciated it when my son's speech therapist gave me a packet of activities to work on with him in between sessions. Some of them were common sense stuff that I had been doing already. But many of the others were things I probably wouldn't have thought to try but that turned out to be really beneficial.

    I do think a good partnership between parents and professionals is key to helping a child with special needs make the best progress he or she can.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing!