Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cheating vs. Learning

Let’s assume we are working on a research project.  We keep a notebook of what we have covered and learned thus far.  Suddenly we come across something that stumps us.  We are perplexed.  It is something we remember seeing and is most likely in our notebook.  We flip back and yes!  There it is, dated and outlined.  We are able to review it and move forward.  
Now let’s change that scenario to school.  The child keeps a math notebook.  Terms and symbols such as greater than, less than, times tables and angle definitions are listed, dated, and illustrated. Suddenly the student comes across something that they are perplexed by, perhaps it is a long division problem. The answer just does not seem right.  Could it be that they made a mistake about how many times 12 goes into 72?  They could flip back to that nicely illustrated table of the 12s multiplication facts.  Could they?  Sure.  Except they would get a zero for cheating.  I forgot to mention this is a quiz.  No looking back at previous learning is allowed.  This student could use the information presented in the word problem and could even pinpoint her error in calculation.  The simple math fact alluded her.  You and I could grab a calculator.  We could flip back in our study notebook.  But alas, the student, the child, cannot.
We encountered this today in a Life of Fred Bridge (assessment).  Grace was asked to convert 777” into feet and express the answer in both feet and inches.  This was not a very complicated problem.  Another bridge required her to divide a circle into seven equal sectors. This problem involved long division, the use of a protractor and addition.  But on this simple problem Grace was stumped by a 12s fact.  She knew it looked wrong and she was distraught about an incorrect answer.  I told her to flip back through her notebook to the table she made and find the fact to complete the problem correctly.  “But that is CHEATING!” she told me.  No, I told her.  Cheating is dishonest.  Cheating is taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own.  Flipping back through your own work is called life. 
I am working on a research project of my own.  It requires looking back over a year’s worth of work.  I never once consider that “cheating”.  Granted, my project is not a quiz or a test, but either is the Life of Fred book.  Because we have been schooled, we see the bridge as a quiz, rather than just a checkpoint to see if we have a solid understanding of what we need to know to move forward.  Clearly Grace has the concept internalized.  Not having quick recall of one fact should not prevent her from moving forward.  Not having access to the information she generated is ludicrous.    
I am constantly dismayed at the thinking I have to undo in order for homeschooling to be successful.  It takes so much time and patience.  Plus there is always the fear that all this will be for naught should she go back to school where a quiz is a quiz and looking back is cheating.


Deb said...


This is an important point, and one of those little epiphanies that really makes one question the methods of traditional schooling.

Great post!

Jessica said...

Thanks Deb! The thought processes that school creates are really questionable once you step back from "school". I am not anti-school. I know schools need ways to assess 25 students at once. I just can't make my daughter see that those things don't apply when you are no longer receiving your education at school.

Helena said...

Once upon a time, and in another life, I went to University and got a law degree. During that time, we weren't simply taught the facts, but HOW TO FIND THE FACTS. So much so that every single exam was an open book exam. You had to study hard to know how to find the facts quickly, but the assumption was we knew how to do it.

As much as doing law wasn't (ever!) the right choice for me, I am incredibly grateful I learned that what's important ISN'T memorising the answers but knowing HOW to find an answer.

That, to me, is what learning is about. Sensing you're on the right or wrong path in your search for the answer, checking the information available, and getting to the end feeling empowered in your journey.

I know those Bridges are hard! Today, doing one, it was clear my boy didn't have a concept solidified. At first he felt defeated, but then we realised it was just one small concept he wasn't quite getting. And I could help him through it, he could retry the Bridge, and that none of this was "cheating."

Helping yourself, and your loved ones, to learn can't ever be cheating, not in the real world! Only in that strange world of standardised tests, which, if Grace returns to them, she'll still be empowered by her incredible learning journey at home, the one she took on her own terms.

(Sorry for the long, long comment—I just got all passionate there for a second! Sending hugs!)

Jessica said...


THANK YOU for this comment. I am going to look back on it often!

Karen said...

The thing is, Grace would more likely remember it after 'looking back' than if she had 'missed' it and you just corrected it.

I love this post. I am going to print it out to remind me of ANOTHER reason I love Homeschooling. Thanks Jessica!

Theresa said...

Great post!

musicalmary said...

Excellent point! We encountered this today in math....had some recall problems with Roman Numerals, so we got out our flashcards to use for help. My husband likes to say yourbrain is for THINKING, not remembering. Our children will need to know how to locate information through research. I liked your point about undoing public school thinking, too. Thank God we homeschool!

Michelle said...

great GREAT post! i couldn't agree more .... and is one of the many reasons i love homeschooling.

Kara Muse said...

Wow, I needed to hear this today. I just watched an RSA video of a TED lecture about changing the paradigm in education. Something needs to change. No wonder our children are stressed out and anxious. I've seen my son change remarkably since bringing him home. But now I am having to unravel my many, many years of public education so I can aproach home schooling from a better vantage point. Thanks so much for your inspiration.

Jessica said...

Don't you LOVE that TED lecture! My Dad sent it to me a few weeks ago.

Dana said...

I think the hardest thing I had to learn to homeschool effectively had more to do with unlearning everything I had already learned about education.

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