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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Great expectations

March 25, 2008

Sometimes I wonder whether the expectations at schools are high enough for kids "at or above grade level." Molly's papers come home and I can see where she's scribbled out an answer rather than erase it. She'll write over one letter with another when she's writing. And I see lots of evidence of her taking the easy road when she completes her reading responses. As her parent, I know what she's capable of doing…and I'm just not seeing that talent reflected in her school work. But, does it matter?

So far, I'd have to say not really. She's at the top of her class, and her papers come home marked with glowing comments from the teachers. Sometimes I wonder how closely her work is reviewed. We've found more than one math sheet with errors not marked, and there's never a suggestion or comment on her simply worded paragraphs that don't reflect much thought or effort. Just a happy face or a check mark.

It's about expectations. She "meets or exceeds" the expectations for her grade level. Does that mean that's all there is? As parents, we hope not.

What's your experience? Do my expectations sound unreasonable?


Being a teacher, I identify with and share your concerns. I don't know about schools nationwide (although I suspect they are pretty much the same everywhere) but teachers today are asked to do more and more without anything being taken away. Teachers are expected to teach the core programs and help their students reach mastery level but they are also held responsible for topics like bus safety, keyboarding, Six Plus One Writing (creative writing to include revisions and publication to the teacher), health, recess...I could go on and on. The time allotted for the school day is so constrained that it is hard to fit everything in. Teachers even have time constraints imposed on them-one hour for this, thirty minutes for that. God forbid someone doesn't "get it" the first time around because there is no time for reteaching unless you neglect something else. I'm saying all that to say this: we need to slow down and give depth to education. We cover everything and delve into nothing. I've heard it said that in Japan, the curriculum is an inch wide and a mile deep. In America, the curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep. We need to take the time necessary to teach the important things.

It makes you understand why some parents flee to academically challenging private schools with smaller class sizes, or those that decide to home school. I felt this way about my own kids' schooling through high school, except for the rare teacher who helped them to go beyond what was sometimes too easy for them. My older daughter is a very skilled writer; it came to her naturally without much effort. Her teachers were always so impressed, but none of them knew how or had the time (very large class sizes in our district) to push her to go from good to great. I had to become more realistic about what I could expect the schools to do and become even more active as a "teacher" in my children's lives. "It takes a whole village..." That village included me, my husband, extended family, friends, librarians, museums, arts groups, community programs, volunteer groups....and exposure to wonderful writing by reading (and talking about) lots and lots of books.

Hi Joanne, I have had the same experiences. My input is that I do not understand the idea of "Meets the Provincial Standard" My girls will bring home spelling tests and math tests that are 100% only to get a B or B+ on the report card. When I ask why, the answer is simply that she got perfect at the level of the provincial standard which is a B. So I asked if they give the kids the opportunity to be tested above those levels and the teacher said no. Tonight, my 6 year old had 6 pages of homework....part of which involved writing full sentences. I thought that all of this was a bit extreme. We seem to go from one extreme to the other....very simple "make work" projects (that as you say are marked with a happy face and errors are missed and very little feedback) to homework that seems way beyond the skills of a 6 year old.

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"The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can't." — Mark Twain