Every night my daughter, who is in second grade in the province of Alberta, Canada, has home reading to do. She reads from a book that she selects from a collection designated for her reading level and assigned by her teacher. After she reads, her father or I write the title and any comments we have in a booklet and sign it for her teacher to check in the morning after attendance.
“Don’t worry if you can’t get to it every night,” her teacher told us. “I understand that children have activities and family time. Just try to do it as often as you can.”
A home reading assignment seldom takes more than 15 minutes, and we rarely miss a night even with multiple time constraints between her four o’clock bus drop off and 8:30 bedtime. Since daily reading has been shown to have a positive effective on literacy rates and school success, the home reader is not something we find burdensome or intrusive.
Homework was much the same when she was in grade one and was non-existent when she was in kindergarten. As all of her teachers have explained it to us thus far “homework is really of little value before junior high and children spend 7 hours a day hard at learning as it is. Little ones need play, activities and family time too.”
As far as I can tell, this is typical of the county where we live, but it is by no means the norm. My nephews in Iowa began nightly homework sessions of an hour or more when they were in grade two, and a recent Facebook conversation with a friend in Boston found her struggling with her son’s grade three teacher who believed that two hours of nightly homework was not a burden for a child that age.
Homework assignments, however, have a disrupting effect on many families and depending on the school district, or individual teachers, can eat up hours of time every evening with work that often is of little educational value. It’s driven some parents to put their feet down hard on teachers and schools. In an effort to reclaim time for family and extra-curricular activities, which are arguably as valuable, some parents have even written homework contracts with their children’s teachers and schools spelling out how much and how often homework can be assigned.
The research on homework ineffectiveness primarily supports parents of young elementary students. Homework has not been found to be instructive and can even negatively influence a child’s view of school. Some homework once children enter junior high has been found to reinforce learning, but the homework has to have value. Assigning homework for its own sake is counterproductive.
In my own teaching, I found students willing to do homework that clearly had merit; assignments that were little more than busywork were largely ignored. I frequently argued with colleagues about giving homework simply because it was expected rather than as a way to reinforce important concepts or spur independent learning. When I did assign homework, I rarely had trouble getting students to complete it as opposed to some teachers I worked with who assigned something daily, regardless of whether the day’s lesson warranted the follow-up.
It gets back to the question of relevance. Should education be entertaining with a side of busywork or do kids deserve engaging, thoughtful lessons with appropriate follow-up?