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What’s Best for our Kids? The Homework Revolt

What’s Best for our Kids? The Homework Revolt

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?

 

 

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Ann Bibby

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86 comments

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11:40AM PST on Jan 24, 2010

Thanks for the post!

11:03AM PST on Jan 2, 2010

Thanks for this information

2:55PM PST on Jan 1, 2010

I know it's tempting but please don't blame the teachers. They're under so much pressure to produce high test scores that they wind up teaching to the test, plus they have no control over the curriculum. And yes, there's homework. Teachers bring work home all the time, doing grading and lesson plans on their own time. Many people in the business world also wind up working overtime. Sometimes in the real world you have to work late or bring work home. It's not hurting the kids to teach that lesson early as long as the amount of work is reasonable.

I remember in elementary school we were given homework, but given class time to work on it as well. I always did very well at school, completing my homework during school and having time to play outside and read at home. I don't think it had much to do with the teachers. More my parents influence. They always read to us when we were little, helped with homework/projects, took us to zoos and museums, got us music lessons. It's those things that determined my success in school. The idea that scholarly pursuits and educational outings could also be fun. The love of and reverence for books and knowledge, music, dance, and poetry, painting and sculpting, playing word games and doing crosswords. When kids are raised in that kind of environment they're likely to be successful at school, because half of what they teach in elementary school they already learned at home. Parent right and your kids will be successful.

10:14AM PST on Dec 31, 2009

For generations out of time children learned what they needed to know by working beside the adults in the family and community of which they were a part. Now most children attend school but that doesn't negate the value of learning from their families and communities. Unfortunately when they are assigned homework the time that they have to interact with family and community is reduced, and in some cases eliminated. Learning is not only achieved through classes, books and teachers, family time can be learning time too. Ideally children should be learning all the time and the lessons may come in a variety of forms and from many sources. A child learning a needlecraft will learn to read, follow, interpret and apply instructions, count, plan ahead, and will learn about colors and spacial relationships. The child may also learn about history and family genealogy. Cooking is chemistry, physics and math all applied with delicious results as well as an important life skill. Add shopping and budgeting to the cooking and you've added another layer of lessons. Time to volunteer is very important as well. My son began to volunteer at age ten and has had a wide variety of experiences that have all provided learning opportunities unique to the situation but applicable to many aspects of life. Finally there is one other consideration, school homework often isolates children and so doesn't encourage strengthened family bonds against the difficult teenage years.

4:25PM PST on Dec 30, 2009

"Of course if making a snowman is far more important... well... it may indicate if your child grows up to hold a job that requires wearing a cardboard hat, or finishing medical school."

Excuse me? Grammar errors aside, are you saying that building a snowman is bad? Exercise is something most children need more of, not less. And I hardly think it leads directly to fast food employment!
The post seems mean spirited and faulty in logic.

4:16PM PST on Dec 30, 2009

Reading is a fine assignment, but I really have to question hours of homework. I am a single mom and sometimes I used to arrive home at 11pm. My son still wouldn't have his homework done because he had questions. Now how was I supposed to deal with that? Nothing worthwhile will get done at that hour...and I didn't want him hanging around after school (not a great area) for homework help. It used to make me ill to deal with the worry.

10:57AM PST on Dec 30, 2009

Thanks.

8:41PM PST on Dec 29, 2009

thanks for the info

9:43AM PST on Dec 29, 2009

I remember in grade 3 being so stessed to keep up my good grades I suffered from anxiety and insomnia. Not wanting the same for my girls we sent them to a Waldorf school then when it became too expensive for us we homeschooled. We are unschoolers for the most part and have let them follow their own interests and passions. Our oldest is now in her first year of college, doing great and pursuing her passion. I think if you read to children young they develop a natural love for books. Teach them how to learn, give them time to play and explore and they will have the confidence and ability to do anything they want.

3:09AM PST on Dec 29, 2009

Oh, and one of my friend's has to spend hours each fortnight preparing her son's homework - group dance performaces that the parents have to organise all getting togeher at each others homes to rehearse! Plus Huge projects about influential people that parents find difficult to do... all presented on powerpoint presentations and performances for the class... ridiculous!!!

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