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Grade 3 student receives ‘catastrophe award’ for most homework excuses; sparks online debate

7:19 pm - 06/03/2012
Arizona third-grader Cassandra Garcia came home with an end-of-term award no parent wants their child to receive -- the "catastrophe award" for the most excuses for not having her homework done. The award was signed with a smiley face from her teacher.

Needless to say, Cassandra's mom, Christina Valdez, was not impressed:

"I was so ticked off," she tells the Toronto Star. "She said the teacher announced the award in front of the whole class and all the kids laughed at her."



Valdez insists she regularly checks her daughter's homework and that Cassandra even attends an after-school homework program.

"It's not the case that I was MIA. I am there 24-7 with my kids and they do have a routine that they follow with homework and things they have to do around the house," Valdez tells ABC news, defending herself against the criticism that surfaced when the story went viral.

"There are a few assignments that weren't turned in and I didn't know of because Cassandra didn't write them in the homework book," she adds.

The principal at Desert Springs Academy shrugged off the award as simply joking between teacher and student. Valdez says she's still waiting for an apology from the school.

The award sparked an online debate about the responsibilities of parents and teachers — and questioned whether the award could be considered a form of bullying.

Was the intent to humiliate? Was it to make Cassandra an example in order to motivate her peers?

"I think it's cruel and no child should be given an award like this," Valdez says. "It's disturbing."

Experts, bloggers, and parents nationwide are weighing in:

"That isn't an award. It doesn't fit the criteria," psychologist Sheri Bauman at the University of Arizona College of Education tells KGUN9, adding that negative awards — even ones made in jest — are inappropriate, especially for young students. "They feel less than, they feel fearful of authority of what might happen if they make a mistake."

The Stir's Julie Ryan Evans argues that Valdez's knee-jerk reaction is perhaps more damaging to Cassandra than the award itself:

"Look, while I don't think the award was the best move on the teacher's part, I think the mom's reaction will do a lot more damage to the girl in the long run. Instead of just telling her to brush it off as a bad joke, she's teaching the girl to take herself way too seriously," Evans writes.

Other commenters support the teacher for calling out lack of responsibility in a light-hearted manner. Others call the award passive-aggressive.

BabyCenter blogger Denise Cortes acknowledges that most teachers work with parents in the quest to see homework completed. Did Cassandra's teacher connect with Valdez throughout the year to address why Cassandra wasn't completing assignments on time?

Valdez is not planning to enroll Cassandra in the same school next year.

Source

harumi Re: /bitter anecdotes5th-Jun-2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
Is it always one or the other? It's entirely possible to develop understanding as you are working on it. For things like math and science (though it's certainly not limited to that), I firmly believe that homework is important. Just understanding the concepts is not enough. My problem has always been that I could never apply the concepts I understood to actual problems.

My parents are great at math and science. They understand numbers and its relations in a way I could never dream of, and the reason why was because they were given masses of problems to do as children, far more than anything any American student would do. The more you do them, the more it becomes automatic, and you start to see patterns that you wouldn't otherwise see with only four or five problems. I remember the one time I was doing logic problems for math class, and while I had started out not really getting it, in the middle of doing the problems there was a sudden *click* of understanding, and the other problems made sure that the *click* stayed. It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't done that homework assignment.

When I was learning how to write Chinese characters, my mom made me write rows upon rows upon rows. Did I hate it? Yes. But because of those rows and rows I now understand how the characters are formed, the patterns that cues that allow me to recognize and pronounce even the ones I have never seen before. It couldn't have happened with just teachers explaining. With my personality, I would forget it like a sieve.

I believe homework, good homework, allows the student to experience the concepts taught in class, and solidifies their understanding so that they don't just forget. My mother won't ever forget the math she learned because of all the problems she did. I avoided my math homework though, and while I got the concepts at the time, I've forgotten them now.

As a teacher, I know how you feel. At the moment I don't give homework to my students either. I teach an adult ESL class and they're already overburdened with work and trying to make ends meet, so I don't give homework.

One thing I do when I do give homework is explain why. I think if children as well as adults understand why they're given these mysterious assignments that might not seem to have a connection with what they're learning in class, they'd be more willing to do them. Of course, the teacher would then have to come up with a reason to justify their homework choice. In my opinion, that's a good thing for both parties.


Edited at 2012-06-05 05:37 pm (UTC)
keeni84 Re: /bitter anecdotes6th-Jun-2012 12:28 am (UTC)
It's entirely possible to develop understanding as you are working on it.



Longitudinal studies have shown that homework either reinforces already understood concepts, OR it reinforces mistakes and misunderstandings. Students who understand the general concept reinforce or build upon what they already figured out, while students who don't understand the concept create and continue errors without gaining knowledge of the concept.

A student who does 3 math problems who doesn't have the concept down will do the same as a student who does 30 math problems, and doesn't have the concept down.

A more effective measure would be to limit the amount of homework, or eliminate homework completely, while using in-class time to develop student understanding of concepts over a longer period of time. There is no reason why we can't spend a year or two on geometry instead of doing "units" each year over the same old thing. I believe this is the reason why so many students do not develop solid math skills. They spend 10 weeks on a topic, then move on, only to keep repeating it again each year with little added depth.

I have no problem with practicing a concept once it's learned or discovered. But assigning homework with the hopes that students will learn the concept is just not supported. With very few exceptions, it just does not happen.

When I was learning how to write Chinese characters, my mom made me write rows upon rows upon rows. But because of those rows and rows I now understand how the characters are formed, the patterns that cues that allow me to recognize and pronounce even the ones I have never seen before.


I need more explanation for this. Did your mother give you a list of Chinese characters you did not understand, and then ask you to learn them? Or did you understand the concept/meaning behind the character, and simply needed to commit these concepts/meanings to memory?

Forming relationships in later study means you understood the original concepts, and could build upon them.

I used to take kanji tests by simply memorizing the character. I did fine. One day, my professor asked me what something meant, and I had no idea. I had simply learned the characters to save time and energy. This is not learning. It is simply memorization. Being able relate what you've memorized to a concept is learning.

You can use rote memorization to learn your multiplication tables. 4^4=16. But what if you never learn the concept of multiplication? I see it with my students all the time. They have memorized that 4^4=16, but they can't figure out the relationship multiplication has with division and how to manipulate simple problems. Or they don't recognize that 4^4=16 is the same as 4+4+4+4=16. Or they can't figure out how to make a 4x4 grid. Why?

Some students intuitively understand these concepts. Based on what I've done with my students, I do not believe it is easy or even common for students to come across this on their own through homework problems, especially if such knowledge can be gleaned during class-time. I never had any homework until 4th grade, yet I learned my multiplication tables perhaps by 2nd grade, all in class.


I believe homework, good homework, allows the student to experience the concepts taught in class, and solidifies their understanding so that they don't just forget.


I just don't see why it needs to be done at home instead of in the presence of a qualified instructor, teacher or professor.

In my math courses in college, we never had to "memorize" anything. The concepts were more important than remembering formulas or certain equations. Even in high school, when we had to do proofs, we were given all the axioms and theorems we needed.


One thing I do when I do give homework is explain why.


Why would a student who already understands the concept want or need homework? None of the AP classes I took during high school required homework outside of projects or papers. I think my teachers then intuitively realized homework had no point.

As you can see, I am passionate about this subject, and want to learn as much as possible. I thank you (and everyone) who has listened to my long-winded answers and replies. :)
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