Meanderings

An excerpt from the Nurture Shock column at Newsweek … To vastly oversimplify the homework debate, just for a moment, the evidence suggests high schoolers school performance goes up, a lot, when they have to do homework. Middle school children, though, only get minor benefits from homework, and elementary school kids get no benefit. One theory as to the reason for these findings is that younger kids can’t correctly choose for themselves what to study. They simple perform homework in a rote way, rather than a targeted way. It turns out that kids are better at basic facts, like vocabulary. The metacognition for vocabulary in 3rd grade has a correlation of .90 – kids almost always know if they’re spelling words correctly on a spelling test. (They might misspell much more when they’re just writing and paying attention to the content not the spelling). By 5th grade, even as the vocabulary words get harder, metacognition accuracy is still very high. Here’s the catch: students at this age are not good at applying their metacognition, i.e. they don’t use their awareness to direct themselves to the right study facts to memorize. They’ll study everything equally, or many kids will in fact study mostly words and facts they already know (it makes them feel good). In 5th grade, this ability is still only getting started. They still need teachers and parents to help them focus on what to study. And kids are not nearly as good as having accurate metacognitions about their reading comprehension as they are for facts. They’re not really aware when they’ve understood a passage in a text. Their brains might have read every word, but comprehension is more than merely decoding text – it’s understanding the point. Even by 7th grade, most kids are not really aware if they’ve gotten the point. They’ve become so accustomed to not getting the point that they can no longer tell. Concept maps can help – this is where students draw a diagram of the main points and how they relate – and concept maps are better than merely reading the passage a second time – but neither makes a drastic contribution to metacognition. All of which is to say, most kids still need your help – less so with facts, more so with comprehension.