Canadian survey of students and parents reveals disconnect
Earlier this year, when 18-year-old student trustee Nick Kennedy urged the Toronto DSB to impose a four-day ban on assignments before exams, he reignited the emotional, decades-old debate on homework. Is there too much? Is it the right kind? Is it even worthwhile? That debate can pit teachers against teachers, teachers against parents, and parents against their children.
In an attempt to deal with this highly charged issue, the Toronto board has launched a consultation process with experts, students and parents, and is expected to release its findings early in the new year.
In the background looms a substantive – and highly critical – survey of parental and student attitudes towards homework, conducted last winter by OISE professor Linda Cameron and her husband Lee Bartel, a music education specialist at the University of Toronto. They presented their findings in early October to the eighth annual Curriculum and Pedagogy Conference in Austin, Texas.
“Our most disturbing finding was a disconnect between teachers and parents,” says Cameron. “Teachers think parents are demanding more homework, while the parents think the teachers are piling it on. If our study can do anything, I hope it can spark a conversation between the two.”
More than 2,000 people across Canada, both students and parents, responded to the survey. Parents could reply on behalf of their children, and children could also respond. In Ontario, there were 900 responses representing the experiences of 1,800 students.
Some of the key findings:
Cameron, who put five children through the school system, has particular criticism for two of the three major types of homework: what she calls “skills-and-drills boot camp” and completion at home of classroom assignments. “Pages and pages of math are not necessary for those who find it easy – and not fair for those who are challenged,” she says.
“And if a teacher assigns homework for work not finished in class, I want to know why. Is it because the child is bored at school, doesn’t understand the material or knows that he/she will get help at home?”
Cameron, who is writing a book on homework based on the survey results, has a more positive attitude towards project-oriented assignments, especially for older students who are interested in the subject matter or can see its relevance.
While acknowledging that some parents, especially from certain ethnic groups, value homework highly, she says there is no empirical evidence that it has any significant benefit for students up to Grade 5. Even studies endorsing homework for older students back the so-called 10-minute rule and warn that too much can be counterproductive.
According to social critic and former teacher Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, “The idea that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits, such as self-discipline and independence, could be described as an urban myth except for the fact that it’s taken seriously in suburban and rural areas too.”
Cameron’s message to teachers: “Be true to yourselves and not to what you think parents expect. Also, remember that kids have learning lives outside school.”
The full survey report is expected to be posted soon on the OISE web site at www.oise.utoronto.ca
Visitors: Japan, pakistan, Jordan, UK
Delegations visit the College to share and gather information on a range of education issues, including accreditation, qualifications and standards of practice.
New Brunswick to revamp French instruction
New Brunswick has set a remarkably ambitious goal for its teachers and schools. The only officially bilingual province in Canada wants to build the best education system in the country. Part of the plan, called When Kids Come First, is to ensure that 70 per cent of all high school graduates function effectively in their second language.
Currently, that goal is far from being realized among English-speaking students. A mere two per cent of Core French students meet the proficiency test. While the number is higher (35 per cent) for French Immersion students, it is still far from good enough for the government.
James Croll, professor emeritus at the education faculty of the University of New Brunswick, and parent education activist Patricia Lee, who also heads the province’s curriculum advisory committee, have been appointed to study French-language education in the province.
Their mandate is to assess the French curriculum, resources and the supply of qualified teachers. Another question to be addressed: Are teaching methodologies too repetitive to fully engage students?
Their report is expected early in the new year.
For further information and updates, see www.gnb.ca/education.
2007 Atkinson Scholar
Megan Clifford, this year’s scholarship winner
Megan Hamilton Clifford, a teacher candidate at Lakehead University with a passion for the environment, feels “incredibly honoured” to be the fifth annual recipient of the Ontario College of Teachers Foundation’s Joseph W. Atkinson Scholarship for Excellence in Teacher Education.
“Being passionate for your subject material is really important when it comes to teaching kids,” says Clifford, 25, who chose Lakehead because it has an outdoor education program. “That spark of excitement and that spark of curiosity are things that you can share.”
For a long time, Clifford thought she was destined to be a scientist. She graduated with an Honours BSc from the University of Guelph, where she was prized as a researcher by her professors. But through her undergraduate years, many rewarding teaching experiences and outdoor experiential education projects fuelled her passion for teaching, and her career compass shifted. Now, Clifford hopes one day to design and operate an integrated outdoor education program that focuses on farming.
Clifford taught Grades 1 to 8 students how to cross-country ski and snowshoe at Hiawatha Highlands in Sault Ste. Marie. She also designed, managed and led a program for campers at a March Break Camp.
At the Everdale Environmental Learning Centre, a farm in Hillsburgh, Clifford hosted elementary groups, instructed in elementary classrooms and worked with secondary school at-risk youths.
In Guelph, as a member of the university’s junior naturalists’ program, she led an after-school group for Grades 3 to 6 students through outdoor activities and taught them about nature and conservancy.
She also worked as a teacher’s aide and tutor in Kingston, where she was born and raised, and where her mother still teaches high school.
Clifford acknowledges her mother as a role model. “She’s very energetic and compassionate. She really cares about her students and she shows them that.
“Something we talk about in teacher’s college is that teachers who inspire you and stick out in your mind tend to be the ones who do things a little differently from everyone else. My mom certainly falls into that category.”
As a child, Clifford was curious and spent time exploring the natural world. She has an emotional connection to the environment. Her family had a cabin and she also enjoyed many summers at her grandparents’ farm, which was a special place for her. She believes that access to wilderness and nature are key to getting students interested in the natural sciences.
“Because I was offered that opportunity, I moved beyond seeing nature as something I was taught about in the classroom to something I could feel, smell and touch.
“You don’t foster a sense of caring for the environment with just a few days in a classroom. It takes engagement with nature and being outside. That’s why so many of the projects I’ve been involved with are hands-on, outdoor, experiential.”
Clifford’s desire to teach is also emotional.
“I love learning and am enthusiastic about using education to create social and global change,” she wrote in her application to the Foundation for the Atkinson Scholarship.
“I believe in creating a space where students of all racial, ethnic and sexual identities can feel welcome, where education is not a tool of oppression, but an instrument of equality. Our school system is working more and more towards equality, and I hope to actively participate in creating classrooms that are accessible and accepting.”
The Eco-Action Kids Awards is the first national environmental program to recognize youth who are making an environmental difference in their communities.
Eco-minded applicants between six and 12 years of age can submit a letter that describes the actions they take to better the environment. The Ultimate Eco-Action Kid title is awarded to winners in three age groups: six to seven, eight to nine and 10 to 12 years. National winners receive $1,000 plus $1,000 to donate to the environmental charity of their choice.
Experts from key environmental organizations will act as judges.
The entry deadline is January 21, 2008. The six regional finalists will be selected by February 7, 2008 and the three national winners will be announced on March 27, 2008.
For more information visit www.sunlightecoactionkids.ca.
2 – International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
9 – International Children’s Day of Broadcasting
21–25 – No Name-Calling Week
27 – Family Literacy Day
Black History Month
15 – National Flag of Canada Day