My fourth grader had a homework assignment to read a detective book and then create a Most Wanted Poster for one of the characters. As part of the assignment, he had to respond to some questions:
• What was the reward?
• What was he wanted for?
• Where was he last seen?
• What did he look like?
Since we are working on independence and taking responsibility in your work so that you can take equal pride in it, I have been encouraging him to do his work on his own with only a quick check when he is done.
He has had a great attitude about it. He stops himself mid-sentence before blaming me when he gets something wrong. And after waking up too early one day last weekend, he sat down without a word from me, and completed the detective story project.
The problem? His responses looked incomplete to me, but I struggled to find the right questions to ask. He was confident he was done and would get a good grade.
So I skimmed the book yesterday while he glared at me, found the right questions to ask, and he fleshed out the assignment.
I really do not want to read all the books he chooses for his assignments. Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: The Caper of the Crown Jewels was one of the worst detective stories I have read. Why, when there are so many good books for fourth graders, this one is an option for a big school project, I wish I knew. My guess is the teachers want them to like what they are reading. My guess is also that he picked it because it looked pretty short, easy, and he’d read a Jack Stalwart book before. He likes to know what he is getting into.
When I read out loud to my kids, I tend to choose stories that push them intellectually, engage their imaginations and entertain me at least enough not to fall asleep before they do. I wish he would choose books for himself that did the same…
…especially if I am going to have read them all to make sure he is comprehending what he reads, and doing a better job on his assignments.
While I want to encourage him to be independent, I also believe it is my responsibility to teach him to work hard, think about what he reads, and flesh out his assignments in ways that will help him succeed in school as he grows up. He has a great teacher and goes to a good school, but I believe that many smart kids can skate by without learning as much if their parents are not checking their work and pushing them to do better at home, where the teaching can be one-on-one and specific to the child’s needs, strengths and developmental abilities.
I will continue to encourage him to do the work on his own, but I plan to be ready to help him stretch. In his parent-teacher conference this year, his teacher pointed out that he was not providing complete answers. I asked if she thought that was because his reading comprehension is not strong, and she said no. She thought he wasn’t trying. When I asked if she thought I should read the books he reads, I already knew that I was going to start no matter what she said.
Of course, I know fourth grade is about independence. And I don’t want to stand in the way of him developing that. A strong sense of independence will take him much further in life than a good grade on his Jack Stalwart book report.
Still, I do not want my kids to hit eighth grade without knowing how to absorb what they read (because then they won’t enjoy it) or to study or to know when they have really done a great job. By helping him see what he needs to do to create a good answer, I do not feel like I am standing in his way. Some kids get it instinctively. Some kids are driven internally. But if you know you have a smart kid who is not necessarily pushing himself to do well, who tends to take the easy way out, then it seems you have a role to play, even if it lasts longer than your friends or his teachers or parenting experts would like you to play it.
And even if you really don’t want to read his book.