Typing Homework: The New Key to Success in Elementary School?

Homework.

Ask any teacher, student, or parent and they are certain to have an opinion about it.

Teachers:

  • “It’s necessary reinforcement of skills learned in class.”
  • “Oh really, your dog ate it? I have never heard that one before.”
  • “It gives students a chance to do what we don’t have time for in class.”
  • “It’s an easy way to raise your grades, if you do it on time!”

Students:

  • “It’s a waste of time.”
  • “I love fun projects.”
  • “I don’t have time because of my other after school activities.”
  • “It’s a good way to raise your average.”
  • “Wait! We had homework?!”

Parents:

  • “It keeps my kids busy and out of my hair.”
  • “The projects are more work for me than my kids.”
  • “It is a struggle to squeeze it in with everything else we have to do after school.”
  • “It’s busy work. I doubt the teacher even reads it!”

Having taught both elementary and middle school, I can say with confidence that homework is much more time-consuming and onerous in middle school. The fact that students have 6-8 different teachers makes it difficult for teachers to balance the amount of homework and projects due at once. Once you factor in quizzes and tests, it can get even more complicated.

I used to give tons of homework as a new middle school English teacher, but over the years I cut back considerably. I realized how many of my students were overbooked after school between religious commitments, sports practices, music lessons, tutoring, etc. I lived in town with my students and saw few of them riding bikes, raking leaves, playing games like I did as a kid.  Few were reading books or pleasure either, because they were just too busy with structured homework and activities.

I started limiting homework as much as I could and shifted to encourage independent reading as much as possible. My students kept journals and recorded their thoughts as they read on sticky notes. I created a culture of reading in a more relaxed way and found much more authentic learning and thinking was happening than when they were doing nightly vocabulary assignments, for example.

Now, with the new PARCC assessment coming in the spring, students will be tested completely on the computer starting in the 3rd grade (and as early as kindergarten next year). These tests come with stakes higher than ever as the schools will use the data to evaluate teachers and administrators and to determine funding and graduation. It has been said over and over that online testing will revolutionize education and they are right. But it won’t be in a good way.

An online test requires typing skills for the students to be able to complete the test in a reasonable time frame. (These time frames can be seen here: http://parcconline.org/update-session-times. The test duration is 60-75 minutes a day for each ELA and Math for 4 days TWICE a year.)

The demand for typing skills has led many districts to purchase typing programs and even to begin assigning weekly typing homework. I have even heard educators and administrators discuss ways to help your child build stamina for these long tests by playing online games or reading on a Kindle or other type of device.

Recently the Atlantic City Press ran an article about the new emphasis on typing classes and to be honest it made my stomach lurch. Particularly this section,

“While most students can text up a storm or race through video games, they rarely have to use more than two fingers to do it. Slusarski teaches keyboarding to show them how they can use all of their fingers to be more efficient. She said it can be difficult for younger students, whose hands may not yet be big enough to spread across the keyboard, but they try.”

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/education/teachers-hope-typing-classes-hold-keys-to-test-success/article_54ccaaf8-74ea-11e4-9bb3-0fa656cb1179.html

The article went on to praise the a child who was recognized for achieving the fastest typing record in his school. He attributes his success to playing computer games at home.

Why is it that a student’s typing speed is suddenly a marker of success in fifth grade,  as if school were a vocational school? Suddenly, instead of limiting screen time for my children as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, I should be worried that since my kids don’t play video games and stare at screens that they will be at a disadvantage in school? Should I start finger stretching exercises prior to kindergarten to help my children’s fingers “spread across the keyboard”?

This is insane. I send my children to school to learn, not to be trained. Not only will my children not take these developmentally inappropriate tests, but they will not be participating in typing homework as young as third grade. In fact, I am starting to wonder exactly how much screen time my children are getting in school.

The real question is why hasn’t the American Academy of Pediatrics come out against the national push toward online testing. Their stance on limiting screen time is clear.

“Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on                                entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and                            other electronic devices. …Studies have shown that excessive media use  can            lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders,                  and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can  provide platforms            for illicit and risky behaviors.”

– See more at: http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx#sthash.hAyoJto7.dpuf

But I can show you what my children were doing this week after school. You tell me if you think I should stop them and start typing practice and online games instead.

My oldest drew about 15 pictures and was teaching his brothers all he has been learning in school about Native Americans.

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My kindergartener made a painting for his Winter-themed Show-and-Tell.

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All three played with shaving cream, homemade play dough, and helped to paint a castle created from the recycling bin.

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It is time to start advocating for what is best for our children.