A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When reading to the children is too humiliating

We all know how important it is to read to your children. I alway close out each year with asking my students to read to their eventual children. But here's some news that may not surprise those of us who work with reluctant readers and learners. From our cousins with the BBC across the pond:
More than 10% of the 1,000 parents asked had struggled to understand some words in the stories they had read to their five to 10-year-old children.

Parents said that they made up words they could not read or missed out difficult passages, the survey said.

Even more parents - a third - struggled with their children's maths homework.

How many of us have encountered well-meaning parents who finally have to admit that they can't help their children with homework because they themselves were not literate enough to help with their kids' homework? I've even had parents break down in tears in shame.

Our school has an afterschool tutoring/homework help program which is free for all, and addresses all levels of classes. There is absolutely no stigma attached to this, as students of all abilities take advantage of it. Yet a couple of years ago, I had a mother who admitted she had limited ability or, frankly, time, to help her daughter with her studies, but she refused to allow her daughter to come for tutoring because, "My daughter is NOT stupid!"

People who have difficulty reading aren't "stupid," either. They should be able to get help for themselves when they need it.



At 7/24/07, 9:58 AM, Blogger Shan said...

I agree! I teach high school too, and I have had parents admit (in front of their kids) that they can't understand Shakespeare and (here's the kicker) they never needed it so they didn't bother. This sends a great message, right?

At 7/24/07, 10:12 AM, Blogger Andrew Pass said...

This makes complete sense to me. I'm personally not very good at math. When my girlfriend's twelve year old son needs help with math I send him to his mother. When he needs help with writing she sends him to me. She and I have developed a partnership. Today, with the world of Web 2.0 wouldn't it be nice for families to be able to establish relationships with each other in which they could help one another's children. I can't ever remember as a kid calling another parent for help. But, this doesn't sound like a half bad idea.

At 7/24/07, 12:20 PM, Blogger QuakerDave said...

As far as reading aloud goes, whether these folks understand the words or not, some of this may stem from the (in my opinion, half-baked) notion that asking students to read aloud from a text is "bad teaching" because if kids stumble, it "hurts their self-esteem." No, what hurts more is the INABILITY to be fluent in one's own language.

In our district, we have eliminated the ability grouping of classes for language & literacy, but have maintained it for math. That means less time for remmediation for the slower readers or the less proficient writers. The assumption is that the "smarter kids" will pull the slower kids up with them. What really happens is that the more advanced kids are bored stiff, the average kids don't make much progress, and the kids who need extra help frequently get left behind because most teachers have to teach to the middle to maintain test scores.

However, kids who struggle in math get smaller classes and all kinds of extra help.

At 7/24/07, 12:47 PM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

The real "stupidity" in any area of life is the failure to ask for help when you know you need it.

At 7/24/07, 3:55 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

We've worked ourselves into such an "I should be able to do it myself. Asking for help is a sign of weakness" frenzy that we back ourselves into these kinds of corners. I would have trouble with my daughter's maths homework if I weren't able to read the book and understand the instructions to the problems (and my daughter is going into fifth grade).

I think CTG is right on in his assessment. I'm smart not because I know a lot of stuff, but I know a lot of people who know a lot of stuff - and not only am I smart enough to know when I NEED help, I'm not afraid to ask it.

At 7/24/07, 10:57 PM, Blogger MsWhite said...

I stopped assigning homework in my self-contained classes because I knew my students' parents were unable to assist them with their work. Too many of their parents were not literate, not proficient in English, or simply not available to help their kids because they were working two and three jobs to put food on the table.

Sadly, many teachers, parents, and schools DO make these individuals feel stupid for their academic deficiencies - just as their children feel stupid for their learning disabilities. If we, as educators, are serious about helping our neediest students, we have to get our communities involved in reaching out to our disenfranchised families as well.

At 7/25/07, 9:33 AM, Blogger rebecca said...

The people who need the help are the ones who are embarrassed about it. They do not realize that people of all abilities use the service.

At 7/25/07, 9:46 AM, Blogger ms. whatsit said...

My experience has been that struggling readers and learners tend to be apples fallen fairly close to the tree.

At 7/25/07, 5:41 PM, Blogger DrPezz said...

As a high school English teacher, I hear parents often relay their frustrations about assisting their students with homework. The parents either feel their children have surpassed their abilities, or they express an ignorance of the new ways of accomplishing learning tasks. I feel for them.

At 7/26/07, 9:49 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Great commentary!

A terrible problem in our society is not being willing to ask for help because then we will appear "stupid." But removing all doubt by not being able to do something is better? I don't get it.

At 7/26/07, 2:03 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I was going to write something very similar to what California Teacher Guy did. It's all too common.

How many of us are foolish enough to ask our kids, "Do you understand?" and actually rely on the results?

Because participation is so key in teaching language, I raise grades of kids who ask questions and participate. Probably, though, that practice might lend itself to other subjects as well.

I once identified an illiterate student who'd developed participation, though, as a way to distract the teacher from the fact that he could not read.

At 7/28/07, 11:02 AM, Blogger EliRabett said...

We strongly encourage students to work together on homework. The stronger students get stronger because they have to explain concepts to the weaker ones. The weaker ones learn from the stronger ones in a less confrontational setting.

One possible idea would be to encourage parents and students who live near each other to get together once a week for homework parties, or even invite the parents in for the homework sessions at school. It would go best if there were someone who would lead the discussion.

At 7/30/07, 11:15 AM, Blogger george said...

We strongly encourage students to work together on homework. The stronger students get stronger because they have to explain concepts to the weaker ones. The weaker ones learn from the stronger ones in a less confrontational setting.

That's the theory, anyway.

Of course it's also possible that the stronger students just do all the work, while the weaker students "watch". I personally think that it's grossly unfair to expect the stronger students to not only do the work of learning the material but then of teaching it to their classmates.

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