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[Small talk] I’m choosing the easy exercise!

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Small talk - posts are real-life stories about self-regulated learning. Thought SRL was just an abstract theory? Think again!

Just the other day, I was preparing dinner while my 7-year-old was doing his homework.

Me: What’s your homework about? Him: I can choose between the green and blue exercises. The green ones are easy. I’m going with those. Me: Ok, buddy. Do you mind if I have a look at it too? Him: Sure! I’ll be finished in just a minute. This is easy!

He was right. The next time I turn around, he was nowhere to be seen.

I had a quick look at his workbook 👀.

This is what the GREEN exercise looked like (translation below):

They were learning to differentiate between ‘he’ and ‘she’. He had to cross all correct sentences out of phrases like:

  • He is reading a book.

  • She is playing the guitar.

  • He has two braids.

The BLUE (and more difficult) exercise was the following: “Look at the image. Write four sentences that describe the image. Use ‘he’ or ‘she’ in each sentence.”

It made me laugh. On his latest school report, he got two pieces of advice:

  • Try and write longer sentences.

  • Try and participate more in things you don’t really like.

I thought it was a very clear example of what the teachers meant.

By allowing my son to choose between the easy and more difficult exercises, we were able to get some more insights into how he approaches his learning.

I adore these unexpected little moments. They’re like little treasures 💰.

Just some minutes into it, my treasure hunt was abruptly interrupted by two hungry toddlers.

Back to dinner 🍳, it was.

You can’t grasp every learning opportunity. I thought. Just leave it be.


🌅 The next morning.

We had just five minutes left and I thought of his homework again.

(Sorry, couldn’t help it!)

Me: Hey, sweetie. Can you come here for a couple of minutes? Him: Oh, mum, I don’t want to do the blue exercise! Me: No, worries. It was your choice. I’m not going to change that. You’re in charge of your homework. Him: (Slight relief) Me: I had a look at it the other night and it made me smile a bit. Do you know why? Him: No (curious now) Me: It made me think about what the teacher wrote in your school report. Do you remember? Him: Yeah, they wrote I had to work on my swimming technique. But that wasn’t fair! Me: I know. Your teacher from your swimming club says you’re an excellent swimmer. It can be confusing when two teachers are teaching you the same thing, but differently. Him: Yeah, I see. Me: What else was on your report? Him: I dunno Me: Didn’t it say that you could improve by writing longer sentences and doing things you don’t necessarily like? Him: Yes, it said that. (Clearly sending me signals he didn’t agree with that either.) Me: You see, the blue exercise actually asks you to write sentences. Something the teacher thought you could use some more practice on. Him: Hmm. Me: Do you know what’s the deal with homework? Him: No. Me: You can use it to see what you’re capable of. But you can’t really know if you pick the exercises that you feel are very easy. If you pick the harder ones, you’re probably going to make some mistakes. I think homework is the best moment to make mistakes. It tells you what to work on. It’s probably better to make those mistakes in your homework than on your tests, no? Him: Yeah (Laughing now) Me: (It started feeling like we were in some kind of conspiracy together. Like it was a little secret about homework not yet many people knew about. We did now.) Me: I just wanted to share that with you. Him: Ok!

And off we all went. On our bikes to school. 🚴‍♀️


Hindsight note:

Children have a hard time making sense of feedback that’s quite abstract and separated from the activity it is applied to.

As adults, we may be tempted to think they just don’t want to remember.

But in reality, it is very likely my son truly didn’t remember the activity he didn’t fully participate in, nor the exercise in which he wrote his three-word sentences.

Clearly, the teacher remembers. My kid doesn’t.

I think it’s perfectly fine to give feedback on the school report. Only...

...the feedback will be much more effective, when it is repeated the next time it applies.

When we help our kids to use the feedback as information to self-observe a next time.

They probably won't recognize 'next time', but... you might! And you could help them remember.

It's what I tried to in the example above.

It was the perfect opportunity to help him act on the teachers’ feedback.

Although I wanted to intervene and encourage him to do the harder exercise, I’m glad the everyday-kitchen rushing stopped me from doing that. All I did, for now, was trust that he got the message and wait for another opportunity to talk about it. Little did I know the opportunity was about to show up just two days later.



Homework assignment from ‘De Taalkanjers’ from Plantyn publishers.

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