There Can Be Many Right Answers

Even in Kindergarten, my son has homework. I don’t mind this so much, because their “assignments” usually consist of copying letters and drawing some pictures…nothing too difficult. I mind this because their assignments consist of copying letters and drawing some pictures. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the actual learning?

Maybe I’m biased because my son is already pretty good with writing his letters, and if he goes through one more box of crayons in his attempt to decorate every paper-covered surface in our house, I’m going to go ahead and invest in Crayola stock. My point is, homework is a cakewalk.

I’m not ready to spend grueling hours sitting at the kitchen table talking him through Algebra or quizzing him on spelling words (though we do that now anyway), but I sort of wish homework would present more of an opportunity to actually think.

Enter this worksheet that came home with him the other day:

I have several problems with this. It’s not that he got an answer “wrong”. I am all for letting kids make mistakes and learn from them. I’m just mad that he got this answer wrong. Why, you ask? Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Birds and butterflies have wings. Snakes don’t.

So, my initial response was from an evolutionary biology point of view…snakes and birds are way more closely related than arthropods, so right off the bat, he was on to something (whether he knew it or not). How can you say something with an exoskeleton and six legs is more closely related to one of two organisms that evolved from a common reptilian ancestor? What malarkey are they teaching kids these days?

What bothers me more is that when my son explained his reasoning to me, he said that he’d circled the bird and the snake because they both have tails. Of course, he hadn’t argued this point with his teacher, but it got me thinking (something that most of the kids probably didn’t have to do much of in order to answer the question).

In my previous work position, I spent a great deal of time using and instructing others in a teaching method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). This method is built on the premise of having a discussion wherein participants talk about what they see and are asked to provide visual evidence for their comments. They look at a work of art, think about what’s going on, and then validate and support their answer by explaining what in that image they see that is making them think in that particular way.

So, in my mind, the “wings” answer on the worksheet is a no-brainer.  Yay.  You circled two things that fly (and one of them even has the word “fly” in the name”. A gimme if I ever saw one.) The “tails” answer, however…that required a little more thought. I’m not making a big deal of it just because I’m proud that my son took a different route to finding similarities, or that his answer was (in my opinion) way more creative. I’m making a big deal of it because he was rewarded for his answer…by having it marked incorrect.

I am not about to go into a rant against our current educational system.  That could be an entirely separate blog altogether.  What irks me is that it seems like our children, more and more, are subject to a spoon-fed education, and they’re not being asked to really think.  Regurgitate, yes. But thinking?  Only if they come up with the one right answer.

We are fortunate to live in a really good school district, yet it frustrates me and makes me nervous that that distinction is based on standardized test scores, and not on the depth of thinking or the cultivation of creativity amongst its students.  Kids need to be taught to think, not to memorize.  They need to be open to multiple interpretations and to be willing to see things from other perspectives.  Apparently, their teachers need to be learn the same thing.

Maybe I’m reading waaaay too much into this. I know, deep down, what basic skills and identification this silly worksheet was trying to accomplish with the kids. Still…it’s never too early to encourage critical thinking, and rather than X an answer out and take away points (especially from a five-year-old!), why not spend a moment and follow up with that child?  Seriously.  His teacher knows he’s a smart kid, and knows that he’s into animals (just like his mother).  Ask him about the reasoning behind his answer, and see if maybe, just maybe, there might be more than one right answer…

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