My daughter is in second grade and is learning spelling. The teacher puts a lot of emphasis on alphabetizing words. I don't see the academic value in this, especially now that people, for the most part, don't use dictionaries but use the internet instead. How should I handle the work I think is a waste when my daughter brings it home for homework? How should I speak to the teacher about this?
A lot of teaching seems to be "one size fits all." The techniques that work in general may not necessarily work well with your child, but I dare say there is some logic behind it.
My daughter is just finishing year 4 and her spelling word homework includes things like "which word contains another word that means home." These are particularly annoying and time consuming but the reason is it included is to get the child to spend time looking at each word in details. As it turns out, my daughter does not need this so it is just a waste of time. In this case, I will sometimes let her skip it since it does not add to the educational value of the work.
I would think that alphabetising the words has a similar purpose - to get the children to examine the words in detail. Obviously, with homework you can extend it to make the lessons more appropriate for your child's skills.
This was the easy bit since we have partial control over homework. The harder bit is having an influence on what is taught in class. My daughter is very good at language (about 6 years ahead of her chronological age). She is put in the top maths and english groups but for many assignments she performs roughly the same classwork as the other kids. She really needs specialised assignments to stretch her. We have spoken to the teacher about this and not had much luck.
For her next year, we have requested that she be given a teacher who would match her needs. Until then, we've just had to suck it up :-(
I want to begin by tempering my answering by saying that I quite literally saw red when I read that alphabetizing is not important because we do not use dictionaries, we just use the internet. As a Library Media Specialist, one of the greatest weaknesses I see day in and day out is that students have no idea how to alphabetize. They are literally unable to find the book they want because they do not know that Ac comes after Ab and before Ad. Additionally, there are times in the educational setting that they indeed will use a dictionary unless your child attends a very privileged school that has a computer devoted to each student.
Further, there are time that alphabetizing is important - what if in college your child has the opportunity to work in an office and they cannot file things because hey have no concept of alphabetization. Finally, it is a developmental benchmark. Often an inability to alphabetize can be indicative of a learning disability.
So, while you personally seem to find this task a waste of time, it is a well thought out task that should serve your child well in life. Times it may impact them: if they ever encounter an index in a book, corporate filing cabinets, perhaps a glossary or if they ever consider finding a book in a library.
In parting, by all means, question things you do not agree with that happens at school, but be aware that much though goes into lessons and tasks asked of students and very little of it is busy work or worthless. I strongly suggest that you privately ask the teacher without attacking them and listen to their answer. If it is something that is not going to change and it is not hurtful to your child, support the teacher. Help your child be a respectful student and learn tasks that might not seem clear at the moment, but may come clear and useful down the line.
As DA01 mentioned above, public education will generally not please every parent, 100% of the time.
If your concern is about teaching material you think is incorrect, then the advice present in this question will likely be applicable to some extent.
However, in this case, you seem to be objecting to just how important a particular skill is to learn. In that case, quite frankly you don't have a lot of options.
Your choices essentially boil down to:
Quite frankly, I think the third option is a terrible choice, and in your case the chances of finding other teachers or schools that don't think that learning the basics of spelling or alphabetization are important because "the Internet does that for us now" are (hopefully) slim.
The teacher and the school have the authority to select teaching styles. Parents should be able to propose a different style. The proposed style may be for one specific student or for the class. Depending on the relationship between the parent and the teacher, the approach may be formal or informal.
Please remember that the relationship with the teachers and the school is extremely important for the overall best interest of our children.
Here is a formal approach for completeness:
Hopefully, the proposal can be accepted informally while maintaining good parents-teacher relationship.
I'm a little surprised that I don't see more votes for the answer of setting a meeting and politely ASKING the teacher about her reasons. I would make this as a comment, except I have more to say than will fit and would argue MORE points to back up Ali Habbek's point.
As a teacher and parent I understand the value of maintaining a good relationship between these two significant influences on a child's life. When a parent and teacher work together and in concert, they often find they have similar objectives and they are powerful as a force that benefits the child immensly.
Perhaps the parent would learn something from the teacher about why the skill IS useful (like the reasons pointed out by Erin) or how it helps the child to learn another skill in the next step.
Additionally, and possibly most beneficially, the teacher may learn something of import about you and your child that helps her to become a better fit for your child. If the issue is that the alphabetizing is simply too easy and therefore is boring, many teachers are willing (if able) to give alternative work where possible.
The one place Ali is incorrect is in the power the teacher has. He/she does NOT have a lot of say over the curriculum and a lot of influences converge and interact to impact the little choice and control he/she does hold in the classroom. You might learn that it is a political issue. Many states have required objectives at each grade level (alphabetizing is a common one in the primary grades) that the school must address and prove it is addressing to the state periodically in order to maintain its certification as a school. This would let you know that no matter what school your child attends this would be a focus anyway.
By taking this route respectfully, everyone is gleaning information they may not have otherwise had. You may find yourself surprised at the validity of the activity or maybe the teacher will see that while valid, the exercises don't work for your individual child. Maybe you'd even learn the teacher doesn't really like doing it either and you can brainstorm solutions together. Of course, it is possible that you are totally right and the teacher would be stubborn and nothing would change. In this case, you could take some of the other routes already delineated but is seems like open communication is the most constructive place to start.