In which we teach DC1 how to bend the truth…. er I mean estimate

DC1 has a lot of homework at hir new school.  One of the homework things is that ze must read for at least 30 min/day at least 4 days a week.  Ze has a log that ze has to fill out that says how many pages and how many minutes and what the title of the book is and then we have to sign it.

Research on intrinsic motivation has found that with good readers, intrinsic motivation decreases when kids are paid to read.  With poor readers, their intrinsic motivation actually increases as they become better readers.

This regular homework assignment is not for people like DC1 who already read a lot and are already excellent readers.  This regular homework assignment, is, in fact, really irritating for everyone involved at home.  DC1 began by bringing a timer every time ze started to read and would try to remember to turn it off and the add the minutes etc.  Ze would get very frustrated when ze forgot.  Or when ze didn’t remember the page number count.  We kept not being able to find the timer when we needed it for say, cooking.

The final straw was at 3am when DH was gone on business and DC1 somehow rolled over the timer after falling asleep with it in bed and set it off.  This happened two nights in a row before I figured out where that @#$32ing beeping was coming from.

At that point I decided it was time for DC1 to learn that not all assignments have to be followed to the letter.  Sometimes you need to just get the spirit right and/or to show the minimal when you’ve checked off a box even when you’ve actually done more.

So we’re estimating.  Every time ze reads, ze puts down at least 30 min, that have been estimated.  Ze guesses (based on past reading) how many pages were read.  Ze puts down one of the book titles that ze read that day.  No need to be exact.  No need to record everything.  No need to put down a session less than 30 min.

I’m not sure if this is a good life lesson for DC1 or not, but it does fit in with our grand theme of lazy parenting and fixing things when they make our lives more difficult.  In an ideal world we would have checked with the teacher to make sure it’s ok, but we know this assignment really isn’t for DC1, so it’s just easiest to you know, bend the truth estimate than it is to explain why our kid is a special snowflake.

56 Responses to “In which we teach DC1 how to bend the truth…. er I mean estimate”

  1. AnonP Says:

    Wouldn’t this only be a problem if DC1 didn’t read enough and you were bending the truth to show that he/she did? Given he/she does much more than required, I don’t see how estimating rather than reporting exactly is at all an issue.

  2. Leah Says:

    Yes, those were the bane of my childhood existence as well. I was shocked to discover that there were people who read less than a half hour per day. How could books not be everyone’s best friend? The summer reading goals always seem laughably low.

    I often did similar to DC1 (tho not sure if my parents suggested that or not). I think DC1 will be okay.

    side note: the kids’ summer reading program in our town was reading 25 total hours over the summer. No need to record books, or thoughts on books, or anything other than putting a mark into 50 different circles to represent each 30 minutes of reading. We easily accomplished this with our 1 year old. I honestly kind of miss the logs from my childhood where we did have to write down book titles and info, because it was super exciting to see how many I could fill out. Unsure if the change is because writing all the info down is “too much work” or if the librarians are trying to equally reward people who read shorter versus longer books.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ours has them check off a day if they spent any amount of time reading. I’m sure it’s because they want to reward process rather than outcomes because that helps struggling readers.

      • Leah Says:

        Yes, it does occur to me that we are not the target audience for summer reading programs. I’ve waffled about whether or not I should even do them (especially with a kid too young to remember). I do decline a lot of the prizes, but I took the board book we got for finishing everything.

  3. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Due to the daily chorus of ‘please stop reading and put your pants on’ we have decided that Bug can skip his reading homework and do extra math practice instead. I can’t get him to stop reading the cereal box aloud every morning; I don’t need to time him for 20 minutes.

  4. Cardinal Says:

    My experience of being a student, a (university) teacher and a parent has led me to conclude that if a student is doing fine, the teacher does not care much about the rules. The rules really only matter for kids who are struggling. Sometimes this is because the teacher knows that the rules are there to help the kid get stronger at whatever s/he is struggling with. And sometimes this is because the teacher is biased against weaker kids and therefore enforces the rules more autocratically with those kids. But either way, this is a situation where you might as well work your (child’s) strong-student privilege to your advantage, since it makes life easier for you and for the teacher to engage in polite fiction.

  5. gwinne Says:

    Yup. I had the same issue with LG.

    Related, her math homework needed to have the TIME on it. She thought this meant it needed to be the exact clock time and would not hear it when I said, ‘it’s about 6:00, put 6:00’ ARGH.

  6. Rosa Says:

    We decided back in 2nd or 3rd grade that 30 was a perfectly good answer for “30 or more”, partly because in the annual Readathon we capped it at 30 minutes/day to spare grandma and grandpa’s wallets. I would just ignore the assignment – I did last year – but this year they’re getting graded on having parents fill out/sign off on all this junk and it’s not fair for him to lose points because I am noncompliant.

    We do sneakily use the reading log assignment to force the kid to expand his horizons: we have completely made up rules that the 30 minutes have to be chapter books he never read before. No rereading, no comics. He can (and does) do that with any other time than the set aside half hour for “assignment reading”, including all of summer. A lot of times he doesn’t want to try a new book/genre/author but the breadth is good for him and already this year he’s found several books he really likes because of the “you have to pick a book you’ve never read so you have one for school reading” rule when we’re at the library.

    Of course if he ever takes the time to read the teacher’s actual requirements himself, he’ll discover he could totally just be rereading his current favorite every night for weeks. But I guess “read the assignment” is a life skill he should probably pick up at some point anyway.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      30 makes a great 30 or more! DC1 also seems to believe zie has to read new stuff to count for the log.

      • Rosa Says:

        I really worry sometimes about the propensity of most of the kids I know to make each assignment as hard as humanly possible. “Everyone pick two words for the spelling list” and they all pick the longest, hardest words they can find. “Estimate to the nearest 100” and they add and then round. “Enlarge this shape 2 times by measuring the distances between points and doubling them” and kiddo is right this minute drawing a grid and painstakingly copying each part of the shape instead of eyeballing from the minimum required number of points.

        It’s like maybe we talked up the spirit of learning and intrinsic motivation a little bit too much and they need more dumb rote memorization to prove to them that sometimes it’s OK to follow the letter of the law and not the spirit.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’ve always admired my sister’s ability to do the minimum to get an A. :)

        I’m always giving myself unnecessary challenges. Sometimes they pay off.

    • Leah Says:

      My dad used to pay me to read books he wanted me to read. Something $1 a book, but he only requested this a few times a year. The most memorable was “Onion John,” which turned out to be good but was one I resisted long enough to up the pay for completing the book to $3.

      • Rosa Says:

        Hah. We had such limited choices, all a book had to be was available and eventually I’d run out of other things to read.

        The Kindle has ended boredom, I swear. We can go camping for a week and there are still unlimited books available.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        so long as you have a power source and remember your charger!

  7. Nanani Says:

    I remember that from childhood, too, though I don’t remember if my parents had to sign anything.
    Mostly, I remember it backfiring in that I had an excuse to spend all my homework time reading (“Look mom, it SAYS I have to read!”) instead of doing the rest of the homework.

    This might actually be a good life lesson, in the long run, in sorting out what part of information and instructions is relevant to your particular situation. Flat pack furniture, government forms, taxes, class scheduling… lots of things have instructions you can skip in some situations but not others. Good to know which early.

  8. oldmdgirl Says:

    Estimating! I like it!

    In my experience, teachers often care A LOT about whether the rules are followed (whether or not your kid actually needs them). Like…. a LOT. In particular when you ask for an exception to be made for your child. So, in not discussing this with the teacher and having your DC also not discuss it in school, you are also teaching hir to fly below the radar. A valuable life skill I wish my parents had taught me earlier!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, I don’t want to chance it. Not sure if that’s the lesson we want to provide to our kid, but hey, pragmatism.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yeah, so many teachers are so awesome. But some really like being dictators. And/or they like always being right.

        I definitely feel that I have had to be careful about what I say around my Spanish teachers. Even though they should know that different teaching strategies work better for different students, my first and third Spanish teachers have felt very confident about their ways and have loads of reasons why they would not change a thing about how they do stuff. (Just because you shouldn’t HAVE to do things with college students doesn’t mean you CAN’T and if it works, why not?)

        (Bizarrely, my current teacher thinks that assigning deadlines is teaching. Wrong, that’s motivating. He is certainly the king of assigning deadlines, though. And then standing back and admiring his work as we teach ourselves everything. Good thing I have a huge and good study group for this class.)

  9. First Gen American Says:

    Yes, we estimate that as well. I like the idea of reading regularly as an assignment, but yeah, the pages and book titles are tedious. My older one’s current teacher has a better system. The kids have a daily notebook with a homework log in it that they bring home with their various long term and short term projects in it. Once it’s done, the parents sign off it. Details not required.

    We also tend to give credit to the kids if they are particularly into a book and read a lot longer. The extra can count towards another day if life is particularly hectic. Estimating is ok.

  10. xykademiqz Says:

    Last year in 2nd grade, Middle Boy (MB) had no homework, which I didn’t think was a very good idea; a tiny bit of HW every day is a good thing. This year (3rd grade) he has reading and math homework. They have to read some number of minutes per week (was 100, now increased to 125 for 2nd quarter) and I have to put down the number of minutes and initial in a reading calendar. If they read more by some amount (I think over 110% of the 4-week allotment) they get a Pizza Hut coupon, which for MB is quite a motivator.
    For math, they have to do 5x per week practicing math facts, and we have to put down the time which is “how long of a time” (e.g. 5 min) and the operation he practiced (e.g. multiplication) and how (worksheets, math games, cards, etc.)

    We stick with the guidelines for the most part because it gives MB a nice structure and getting used to having daily homework. He knows he has this stuff that he needs to do and doesn’t grovel (did the first few weeks), but also when he’s done he knows he’s done. He is a very good reader (taught himself at 3-4 because he wanted to play older bro’s video games) but he’s not an enthusiastic reader (does not care for anything resembling fantasy and finds many books boring, so it’s not easy finding something he’d like; he is very much a nonfiction kid; I got him National Geographics subscription, that has been a hit, also likes goofy comic books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid; also, he likes to read to his younger brother, which is totally adorable and also means I can skip reading The Selfish Crocodile for the 1e6-th time). MB times himself with his bedroom clock (also doubles as mental math practice — notes when he started, calculates how much time he’s read from when he stopped).

    If the requirements are not too idiotic, we try to follow them as closely as possible on paper, as it enforces that we think school is important and the teacher is right; so if they want us to put down a time, we’ll put down a time, but it will be approximate. However, I honestly can’t understand the thing with putting down the number of pages (luckily we don’t have to) — the pages of Captain Underpants (essentially a comic book) or even Geronimo Stilton (amply illustrated) are not the pages of of Harry Potter or The Day My Butt Went Psycho (tiny print, no illustrations). You are then totally correct in just estimating the number of pages (also a good opportunity to teach about speed — pages per minute or hour for a given book type, then from approximating time they can approximate the number of pages).

  11. Cloud Says:

    We do a lot of estimating for our reading logs, too. Even the teachers at our school say to do that. They just want to see that the kids are reading. I do not remember doing this when I was in school, but it seems widespread now, so we’re rolling with it and just trying not to have it get in the way of enjoying reading.

    We’re more “party line” on the math stuff- trying to explain to our 3rd grader why she was marked wrong the estimation problem even though she wrote the exact answer, for example. But we also tell her not to worry about it too much.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I wish they’d given permission to estimate. A small part of me (the raised Catholic part) still feels guilty about it, even though the rest of me knows that’s ridiculous.

      • Debbie M Says:

        I also err in this direction. Once I applied for a state job (which I got) and the application said to fill out information for every job you’ve ever had. Starting with your first job and ending with your current or last job (just in case you’re wondering if they can really mean that). Then when you sign it you are promising that the application is complete.

        I described all of my 30+ jobs I’d had at the time, thinking a) they asked for it and b) they won’t have the excuse that I lied on my application if they want to fire me.

        My boss said, however, when discussing people’s applications for later jobs, that people should use “common sense” in deciding how many jobs to list. Yeah, I don’t have any common sense. I have to just use raw thinking to figure things out.

        So anyway, it strikes me that what you’re doing is the “common sense” response. I think they ask for pages and titles to make it more likely you’ll actually do something rather than lie. You have to at least find some book titles to lie, and once you do that, you might think some of those books need to be looked into!

  12. anandar Says:

    We have had similar frustrations with homework assignments, and when we talked to teachers about the (unwarranted) stress they cause to our family routine and our anxious DC, and her teachers have not only been fine with the estimating approach, they also said that they main purpose of these homework assignments, from their perspective, is to establish good habits of family/school engagement (parents are also required to sign every day, and the lawyer in me had a hard time doing that when we were not being very precise about the homework completion). Although the reading requirement is a PITA (for a child who is already an obsessive reader), the math games and writing assignments of the week do give us regular windows into the curriculum that we otherwise wouldn’t get consistently.

  13. Naptimewriting Says:

    Teaching critical thinking about what teachers ask for and what’s reasonable isn’t teaching your kid to bend the truth. It’s teaching hir to hear the spirit of the work and roll with hir instinct. Much better lesson than a book log.

    (None of the following railing against book logs is aimed at you…it’s soapboxing toward teachers.)
    I have told teachers every year for five years “we read every night, we understand the importance of reading, and there’s no way we’re filling out a log.” They haven’t fought us yet. And if they did, I’d tell them why I’d rather have my kid read than watch a clock or a page count.
    To me, the busywork of filling out a log is mind-numbing. And forcing a parent to sign suggests teachers don’t trust families. But mostly, it teaches kids that reading is about how much, not about getting lost in words. So pedagogically, I aim for love of reading, not page count.
    Logistically, I’m already forgetting about 10 things a day, and frustrated with what I don’t get done. The full two minutes it takes to find the book, check the page count, check the clock, fill out a form, talk about it, sign it…that’s two minutes I’d rather spend doing literally anything else. I’d rather clean a bathroom than fill out a book log. I’d rather listen to someone play an untuned clarinet than fill out a book log.
    I could go on, but that’s pointless, when I have things to go read.

  14. Ana Says:

    we haven’t filled out the reading log in 3 weeks. you just reminded me. darn. Our kid doesn’t read independently yet, but we’ve had him work on reading one of the books for bedtime stories each night (and we read several books a night, and have since he was an itty bitty baby). I just don’t REMEMBER at the end of the long damn day at 9pm to go downstairs, get out his folder, write the book & sign it, and he doesn’t remember in the morning, which is not a good time to add one more thing to anyways.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DC1’s gets checked every Friday. It is in hir day-planner (that they gave hir at school) as an assignment every day. We recently added “check off day planner” to hir list of chores on the refrigerator, but zie still forgets. Man, 8 year olds. So much better than 7, but still entirely too forgetful.

    • Rosa Says:

      this is where the online services of our library are AMAZING. I can log in and see what we’ve checked out and he can tell me if he read the whole thing or not (child uses my library card, despite having his own, just so I can monitor due dates & renewals easily.)

      • Ana Says:

        we use the kids library card because there are no overdue fines on kids books so we just keep them until we’re tired of re-reading & have time to go back (the latter is often the factor, our local branch is not open on weekends). We just do not remember what tiny little book my 5 year old attempted to sound out, nor does he. I get it, we are working on reading. I don’t think (like everyone else mentioned) that we are the target audience for this exercise.

  15. Practical Parsimony Says:

    My children are from 40 to 47 and I don’t remember this thing about timing reading. Maybe this is something new. Maybe there was never a problem getting them to read, so it does not stick with me.

    I do remember having a log to fill out on books we read, pages, and other information when I was a college student in a lit class. The point there was to see if we read the assignment and other pertinent books or articles and used the info gleaned in class discussion. I was the only person to get a 100% on this book assignment all the time and get 100% on class discussion. I do now know lots about Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The writing and discussion were all things I would have done anyway. Even though it seemed like busy work, I was shocked by people in a lit class who struggled with reading the assignment and other sources.

    It is easy to see how little kids with unmotivated or busy parents need the exercise.

    • Rosa Says:

      the 30 minutes comes from some research about gaining fluency, but my memory about it is vague because it was an article shared at curriculum night back when mine was a kindergartener (I think for the Ks they were recommending 15-20 minutes). At least in our district it’s 30 minutes of reading to, being read to, or silent reading, depending on the level the kid is at. Mine generally reads for 30 minutes at bedtime before falling asleep, but I have friends who read to all their kids at once at bedtime, or have the kids take turns reading to the family. It’s a nice ritual.

  16. Mrs PoP Says:

    Ha! Maybe I’m weird, but I liked keeping my reading log. I was like the queen of the library summer reading challenges and the “Book-It” Pizza Hut thing. I always got the most stickers on my buttons/library cards and I loved having my little notebook with a list of all the books I read. Sometimes it was useful so I could make sure I wasn’t checking out a book that I had already read.
    But I don’t think my parents ever had to sign anything for it. Maybe by then they had already told me just to forge their signature whenever it was something we knew they wouldn’t find objectionable… Or maybe that didn’t happen until I was 10 and they knew I could pull it off with adult-ish penmanship. =)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Keeping a list of books read is easy and fun. That’s not what this is– this is number of minutes and number of pages read. Keeping track is seriously irritating, especially when one reads in bits of stolen time, such as in the car or while waiting for DC2 to finish something.

  17. jlp Says:

    Our DC1 used to use the 20 minutes per night reading assignment to put off doing all other homework, despite the fact that ze has always completed the reading assignment by the time we leave for school in the morning. So now I just announce that it is done when homework comes out in the afternoon, and for some reason, ze does not protest. Thank goodness.

    Also, I cannot begin to imagine how we would keep track of minutes and pages. Does the rules booklet for Mille Bornes count toward the assignment? How many pages is the back of the cereal box?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, who knows.

      Also, DC1 just informed me that I have been supposed to be checking off hir music practice log as well. Thus far zie has been checking it hirself and was reprimanded in class because a parent has been supposed to be doing it. SO MUCH WITH THE SIGNATURES.

  18. Leah Says:

    Speaking of reading and kids . . . when I went to wake up my one year old this morning, she was snuggling a soft book that was in her crib. Reading for life!

  19. chacha1 Says:

    There is a lot of efficiency to be gained by submitting estimates when a) you know the objective is being met and b) the procedure for exact quantification is oppressive.

    This is pretty much the definition for “how to be productive within a bureaucracy,” in fact. :-)

  20. Revanche Says:

    My mom bartered signing my reading logs for 30 minutes of piano practice because she felt that I read too much already and she wasn’t about to feed the monster, thus teaching me that… no I don’t know that it taught me anything except that Mom’s gonna find a way to get me to do what she wants. Now if I’d learned how she used my weakness as leverage in parenting, I’d be a lot better off now, I bet.


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