Three Things Cause A Child’s Disconnect To Schoolwork
Dear Dr. Fournier:
My 10-year-old son is in the fourth grade. He has an attitude problem and I can’t seem to get through to him. The teacher gave him two pages of rules to follow and he isn’t following them. Furthermore, he refuses to write down things she tells him to write down, which are important. He doesn’t want to study or do homework, especially his math homework. He’s currently on fractions in school and not doing well. I try to correct his homework but I can’t keep doing this or he won’t learn. What am I to do with this child?
When children fail to do what adults want them to do, they may be branded as having an attitude problem. It’s a very common complaint among parents who a generation ago would have termed it disobedience.
An attitude is a difficult thing to change.
Many parents and teachers try lecturing, moralizing, screaming, punishing or rewarding. Even when children are faced with being hurt, criticized or rejected, they usually continue to stand their ground and refuse to do their work.
In trying to understand a child with an “attitude problem,” think back to when these school-related problems began.
Most kindergarten students enter school expecting to be the best, eagerly waving their arms in the air to answer questions and to be recognized. As these children go through school, some begin to hold back and by fourth grade, they may literally hide under their chairs, chew on their fingernails or escape into daydreams in an effort to avoid being called on. The main change is that their actions – or lack of actions – cry out, “please don’t recognize me.”
Enter the attitude problem.
In today’s kindergarten, freedom of expressing ideas is gone. Older students view schoolwork as one or a combination of the following:
e Merely copying from a book what they are told is important for tests. (To whom is this important?)
e Memorizing facts long enough to spit them out on a test. (Memorizing yet not understanding them nor able to apply them to other things; in other words, not really learning.)
e Applying information to situations that have little or nothing to do with their own lives and ideas.
The freedom of a child to express himself or herself has been replaced with rules, which are the strings adults pull to make the students say or do what is desired. And this is not just about math (although I get a lot of letters which are about math issues).
Copying rules may be the obedient task but if this is all your child does, will fractions – or any other subject – ever come to life?
As parents, it is not your job to teach at home. But as the monitor of your child’s homework, you can set up a structure with your child’s teacher to bridge the communications gap between home and school, and to help your child rediscover the freedom of learning.
WHAT TO DO
Anne, start by talking to your child’s teacher.
Recognize that his attitude not to do schoolwork or follow the teacher’s directions about writing things down is often a child’s way of saying, “I don’t know how to do this,” or “I don’t understand how or why this has anything to do with me.”
Together, establish a strategy that your child will carry out in school and at home. The strategy must allow your child to discover and express his own ideas rather than just copying someone else’s rules or information.
Once you and the teacher decide on a home-and-school strategy, the teacher should explain it to your child. You should tell your child that you will monitor his progress at home to make sure he carries out the strategy.
As for his possible fractions and math problems, buy him a math notebook so he will always have his work in one place and can go back and see his progress. Have your son come up with a name for his notebook, such as “Fractions My Way,” and ask him to make a colorful cover for it. You can do this by purchasing the plain white notebooks that have the clear plastic front sleeve, which has an opening at the top for sliding in cover pages. This will allow him to change his cover art later to other artwork should he so desire.
At the beginning of each new assignment, class semester or grading period, have your child write the rules given in class, but in his own way (his own words). This ensures that your child thinks as he writes and is not just copying. In the notebook, make the left-hand page for your child to do his math problems. Have the right-hand page for him to make a drawing of one idea that he has from the school problems. For example, the fraction ¼ could be a big lollipop that lasts for four days, showing how much of the lollipop your child would eat in one day.
Have your child show you his math notebook each night. He should understand that homework is not complete until you have drawn a “happy face” or other symbol of approval on the work.
Your job is to recognize your child’s effort and responsibility and to make sure he is ready for school the next day. It’s the teacher’s job to correct his homework.
As your child fills in the notebook, he will end up with an album of his own fraction creations. He can proudly boast, “These are my fractions,” and his attitude should begin to shift to “I will do” because “I know how to do,” or “I know I can do.”
As your child progresses, he will not have to draw fractions on paper but will be able to visualize math concepts.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org.