Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why I Never Took An Elective Art Class

I love homework. Or maybe I shouldn't say that I love homework, but I certainly understand it and appreciate its value - to an extent. I get that repeating on his own what he learned earlier in the day helps to cement it in Mister Man's brain. The independence and responsibility that completing his homework fosters is a good thing for him, as it is for Little Miss. I'm not in favor of multiple hours of homework a night - especially not at this age - but that's not what we get. We get a completely manageable half hour or less a night, and I'm good with it.

There is also a monthly book report, which I've so far convinced Mister Man should be done early so that we don't have to stress about it at the last minute. He loves to read, so getting him to read the book isn't a challenge. And the skills he gains by being able to explain the book and character traits shown in the book and finding ways to support his statements with examples from the book is awesome. I love how this builds on what he does in class.

What I don't love so much is the extra project associated with the book report. I'm one of the people who never had a problem with word counts or writing term papers or the like (can you tell?). When given the option, I would write to my heart's content. I still remember in high school having to do a project for To Kill a Mockingbird that had to be "something creative." I chose to write a journal from the perspective of Scout. The extra projects Mister Man gets are all artsy crafty things.

That's not so bad when you're given directions, and we are. The problem comes with the expectations that the teacher has. She wants projects that show "effort" from a child. Our last one was to create a mask that showed the character traits of a main character in the book. Mister Man carefully colored many different pictures on a paper before cutting it out and attaching twine to make a mask that would sit on his face. He then created a legend for each symbol to describe its meaning.

When we received his book report back, he got good grades on his content and knowledge demonstrated. On the creative part, he got the lowest grade possible, including the comment, "Was this really your best effort?" (her emphasis, not mine) Actually, we thought he did a pretty decent job. We'd stepped it up from the first book report because he'd gotten only a so-so grade. At conferences, we asked her about it. She explained that she didn't want kids to just draw on the masks. She wanted to see "effort" which is defined in her mind as "something glued to the paper." Why gluing a feather shows more effort than carefully drawing and coloring one, I'm not sure... but we learned our lesson. (It also turns out that she had somehow missed seeing the legend that was stapled to the book report, which was part of her issue with his in particular.)

This time around, we discussed the mobile he was to make for his favorite scene. We talked about creating three different scenes to show the progression of action within the scene. We discussed what the scene would include. And then my mom watched the wee ones over a weekend and did their homework with them. When we headed to her house the next day, we saw a completed book report.

Yeah. By the way, that's supposed to be a king cobra attacking two people with an elephant stomping on it to rescue them. You can tell, right?

I can tell you right now what the teacher is going to say about this. My mom protested that he'd spent a lot of time working on it and put a lot of effort into it. Unfortunately, it doesn't show. I absolutely don't believe in parents doing their kids' homework and projects (though I can see that not everyone at my school has the same belief), but there are times where I can say that something needs to be done to a certain standard - if only to protect him from disappointment down the road when he's otherwise crushed by his teacher's commentary on his project. I tried to convince him to recreate it, but it was a no go.

Or it was a no go. The other day, he left the mobile on the ground. Our cats discovered the ribbons attached to it and chewed them off, ripping the paper as they did so. He now had to recreate his project. Bummer. I did none of the work, but I showed him how to trace the snake to make it look more lifelike. We discussed what to include in each scene and how to create it. And I think it looks a whole lot better, and he's really proud of it.

It's December. I only have five more of these this year to do for him. And how many more years of school for these projects? Spending hours and hours cutting out figures and creating scenes that "show effort" is not helping him to learn more about the book. It's not helping him get excited about reading. It is helping him hate art projects almost as much as I do, however.


Tara R. December 8, 2011 at 2:54 PM  

Those 'creative' homework projects are the things I hated when my kids were younger. It's all so subjective. You know Mister Man worked hard and put a lot of effort into it. Because the teacher didn't see some thing bedazzled or papier mache doesn't mean it's not really his best effot.

Tami December 8, 2011 at 7:45 PM  

I am the opposite. I thrive on creativity! It's not for everyone. Some people like to read, some don't. Some people like sushi, some don't. Some like sports, some don't... It doesn't make it right or wrong. We were all made different. It would sure make a boring world if we all were the same. Don't you think?

Claudya Martinez December 8, 2011 at 11:27 PM  

I'm irritated with his teacher. I'm fine with creative homework, but then let the kid be creative and don't be all judgmental about it.

Sandra December 8, 2011 at 11:31 PM  

Creativity is such a subjective thing. You know, I think Mister Man is QUITE creative! Who shoveled the top of the garbage cans? Now THAT'S creative thinking. Plus, effort is measurable in a range of ways. I'm sorry this is frustrating you. I hope he doesn't get discouraged on these "creative projects." But what a great job on that second take of the mobile! Love that cobra!

Debbie December 9, 2011 at 4:33 PM  

I am sure this doesn't surprise you coming from me, Michelle, but I have used similar situations with A. to explain to her that two things are equally important - meeting the spirit of the assignment so that you actually learn and also conforming to what you know the vision of your audience is - in this case the teacher. A. had many protests about that when she was younger, but I told her that it is just the start of having to do things in a manner that persons in authority expect and she might as well learn now. Or be acccepting of a lower grade, which is sometimes OK too. And sometimes she makes another version of the project just for fun that reflects her own view on something. You have many years ahead of you of these projects, treat it like a marathon.

Pat December 13, 2011 at 1:36 PM  

My 3 sons were math nerds and definitely not creative, so they disliked having to do creative projects. In 9th-grade science, my youngest son had to do three big creative projects during the year. His first one had to be about the brain. They had to make something creative to show their own likes, personality, strengths, etc. So he used a pumpkin and stuck wooden shishkebab skewers into it with small paper flags taped to them with various words describing his likes, strengths, personality traits and so on. He got a C on it. I don't think one's grade in a science class should have anything to do with one's creativity!

Michelle December 13, 2011 at 2:40 PM  

Pat - I'm so glad it's not just me - or us. I am trying to imagine what I'd do for that science class and ... I'm drawing a complete blank. So what kinds of projects got As?

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