Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Dreaded "Project"

Jack came home from school the other day and handed me a large piece of white drawing paper rolled up.  Paper-clipped to it were two pieces of 8 1/2-by-11 paper.  This could only mean one thing and it wasn't good.  He had been assigned a "project."  A poetry project to be exact.  Why, oh why, was his teacher doing this to me?

I guess I should be thankful it was only a poetry project.  When my older son Jared was in 2nd grade his assignment was a book float that needed to be attached to wheels so he could pull it around the playground during the "book parade."  Cute idea, but how many 2nd graders are capable of crafting something like that on their own?  Exactly.  It wasn't Jared's homework assignment, it was mine.  I hated that project so much that as soon as Jack started kindergarten I began plotting how I could get him to skip 2nd grade just so I wouldn't have to make another book float. 

In comparison, Jack's poetry project wasn't nearly as bad.  First, he had to find a book of poetry and read ten poems aloud to a parent, recording the titles and author on one of the sheets of paper.  No problem.  We went to the library and checked out a book of Jack Prelutsky poems.  Jack (my Jack, that is) loved them.  He read the entire book on his own, then easily selected ten poems to read to me.  No complaints, no hassle, just an enjoyable afternoon of poetry reading.  Great.  So far so good.

Next, he needed to select one of the poems to memorize and present to the class.  Again, this was something Jack could easily do.  This was the kid, after all, who could sing along to just about every song on Keith Urban's Fuse CD.   Memorize one little poem?  No sweat.  The directions said that the poem had to be at least six lines long.  Okay, now it was getting a little trickier.  See, all the Prelutsky poems were longer than six lines.  Quite a bit longer.  In fact, the poem Jack selected was 10 lines longer.  I was pretty sure he could do it, but what if on the day of the presentation he blanked, like sometimes happens?  Would he be marked down for bungling the recitation, even though it was ten lines longer than the requirement?  Further complicating the situation was the fact that he's too smart for his own good and read for himself that the poem only had to be six lines long.  No way was he going to do 16 lines.  I explained that the directions said at least 6 lines; it could be more.  Nope.  Still not going to memorize 16 lines.  (Did I say "smart"?  Maybe obstinate would be a better word.) What if, I suggested, he just memorized the first stanza?  It was still two extra lines, but he agreed to the compromise.  Nervously, I said a little prayer that his teacher would agree to this compromise as well.

It was the third requirement of this lovely project that sent me over the edge.  Jack had to create a poster for his poem.  Now we were in trouble.  Neither one of my boys is particularly artistic.  They really have no interest in being artistic.  I envisioned a cute poster with colorful pictures of candy surrounding his poem.  But it was not my project. It was his. I would offer suggestions and help when he needed it, but basically it was up to him to complete his assignment.

This is the point at which I end up feeling like a lousy parent.  I've been a teacher for almost 20 years, and I know that a good number of Jack's classmates are going to walk into class tomorrow morning with the most beautiful, creative posters you have ever seen.  Some will be borderline professional.  Jack is going to walk in with a poster that looks like it was made by. . .well, an 8-year-old boy actually.  One who likes to read poems, doesn't mind memorizing one, but sure as hell doesn't want to spend hours making a poster for one.  I can't say that I blame him.  Still, doubt continues to nag at me because, unlike some parents, I didn't spend hours working on his poster with him, making his decisions for him and directing his every move.  All I did was give some suggestions, hand him a package of colored pencils, and then leave him to do his thing.  When I checked on him a few minutes ago, he was already finished.  He proudly pointed to one drawing, saying, "I made a large Hershey's to show how much I like Hershey's."  There were a couple more hastily drawn scribbles of candy, but a whole lot of white space was left.  I tried gently persuading him to add more drawings.  "No, I like it the way it is," he said. 

And this is why I hate projects assigned as homework.  It turns into a showcase of parent control and creativity rather than a showcase of genuine learning.  Not only does it set my son up to look bad because his poster isn't as good as the adult-created ones, but I feel like it reflects poorly on me as well.  Because I didn't run to Michael's to buy art supplies.  Because I didn't color, cut, and paste.  Because I put my child in charge of his own assignment.

But isn't that the way it should be? 
 See the big Hershey bar?



7 comments:

  1. Yes! That is the way it should be. It is crazy that even though we know what the learning outcomes of a project like this should be, and Jack (your Jack :) checked every single one off, plus some, we still feel guilty. It is normal though. Normal to feel guilty. So feel guilty for a second and then pat yourself on the back for letting your son do his work. In college he will be an independent student, one who doesn't need you to do his work.

    I loved your story. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for reminding me that it isn't just about this one assignment, but that I am also preparing him for the future. :)

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  2. Amanda,
    You let Jack make his own poster. And you are right, it is about him learning, and not about you doing his project.
    I would take his poster over one a parent did any day. Actually, if a parent did the poster I would cry.
    And the book float? I would cry like a baby.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

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  3. Amanda,
    You let Jack make his own poster. And you are right, it is about him learning, and not about you doing his project.
    I would take his poster over one a parent did any day. Actually, if a parent did the poster I would cry.
    And the book float? I would cry like a baby.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

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  4. Amanda I so agree with you! Projects that are given to kids that clearly will become a parent project are ridiculous! If all the kids really did the projects by themselves it would be fine. But, kids will bring in projects that were clearly done by a parent and then those kids that did the project by themselves felt awful! I'm sorry don't mean to get on my soap box but as a teacher I never required "at home" parent projects.

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  5. Love that you wrote this from a parent's perspective, but with the knowledge of a teacher. As a teacher, I always loved the student made projects the most, but I also appreciated projects where the student and parent spent time together working on it. As a student, if it didn't bother Jack, then no worries for the Mama! As a parent, I think we all agree with your feelings!! Well said.

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  6. Yes! You did the right thing! My teaching partner and I arrange things so any projects are done during the school day, partly so parents can't do them for their kids. Many parents have thanked us for not assigning big at-home projects. It's better for everyone!

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