The other day I was read an education blogger's post complaining about the silly homework assignments her child had been given. It reminded me of some of my own experiences before we started our charter school.
The entire time we were at the neighborhood school I never saw a textbook, instead there were numerous worksheets. There were no textbooks at the school and certainly none were ever sent home. Many of us, as adults, consider it pretty basic to know how to copy a math problem out of a textbook and work it on lined paper. Or even to fold a piece of lined paper in half lengthwise to use for the second column during a spelling test. These were the types of skills the teachers had to teach the first year at Jefferson Academy because almost none of the children knew how to do these basic things. They'd never had a textbook!
In Core Knowledge there's a saying: Everything on purpose. There are no cutesy craft projects. Every activity has a specific purpose. For example, third graders make a Roman road in a clear cup by layering ice cream and various toppings.
Before we opened Jefferson Academy, I had purchased the Core Knowledge grade level books and one afternoon sat with my kids and skimmed different topics they'd be studying at their new charter school. In the Civil War unit, I saw a section explaining the Underground Railroad, so I asked who knew what the Underground Railroad was. My fourth grade son piped up and proudly said, "The subway!"
Although humorous, my son's response was also indicative of my children's educations up until that point. They knew a lot about dinosaurs, the rain forest, China, and Native Americans. They'd never had basic anatomy. My son who had spent five years in a self-contained gifted classroom (which he tested to get into) knew nothing about the heart or other major organs.
Years later, in junior high at Jefferson Academy one class was given an assignment on Vietnam and students were given a variety of ways to demonstrate what they learned. My son, Aaron, chose to make a 3 ft by 3 ft diorama of a Vietnam POW camp. While very artistic and creative, Aaron wouldn't have been able to read a reference book and write a lengthy report due to learning disabilities. But the representation he made of the POW camp was remarkable. He showed it to a friend of ours who served in Vietnam and there were numerous details he was amazed Aaron even knew about.
Some teachers are very creative in providing homework assignments that stimulate learning in a variety of ways. Far too often, the old methods are used instead. For me, I've helped with more than my share of worksheets!