I just read a frightening and excellent post by Mark Hansen discussing homework in a real-life example with his son and immediately I wanted to comment on it. But then I realized that would be rather lengthy, so instead I offer this post. What is my problem with homework?
I never use to hate homework until last year. Something hit me when I told my husband that I knew exactly which kid would hand in the homework with “some” help from the parents, which kid would hand in something half-finished, and which kid would never hand it in but instead take my punishment. And punish I did. Oh, I used to be the queen of taking away privileges. It was awful. There we were, staring at each other every recess trying to figure out just how much help was needed versus how much effort needed to be exerted. It was exhausting for me and the kids.
And guess what, I was right!
I knew exactly which kids would not be able to complete the homework no matter how much help I gave them in school; they simply did not have the skills or resources needed to finish it at home. Over the summer, this was the point I kept returning to, wondering if I could be “radical” and get rid of homework almost altogether? And so I did. This year, there is very little homework in my room and here is why, in no particular order:
- Homework is an excuse for the stuff we didn’t get to. I stated this in my parent/student orientation and most parents nodded their heads. We always have one more thing we just need to get to when the bell rings. Well guess what? Then we need to restructure our day and get to it, rather then slip it in to the backpack for the kids to deal with. I know there is pressure with curriculum but if you know what your goal is for the lesson, then get to it!
- Homework is practice – for some kids. Some kids will take 5 minutes to do homework because they already get it, some will take 30 minutes because they need parent help, others will never finish. This is not fair. If we do not equip students with the correct knowledge to complete the homework then we should not assign it.
- Homework is not fair. You know which kids will ace it and which kids will spend hours trying to solve a math page. One sheet/assignment/report does not fit all. If you already know how a kid will do on something then why are you bothering with the assignment, seems to me they have already shown you where their skills lie.
- Homework steals away childhood. Every minute of homework that you assign is an infringement of your students’ time spent experiencing the real world. We say we want well-rounded students, but then have them spend an hour or more practicing school skills. We already asked for 7+ hours of their time, let them have some free time to do the things that exposes them to the big world and in turn helps them become better people and students. You will end up with kids that might just be excited about school, rather than exhausted.
- Homework does not always fit the learning. Worksheets are on the way out in many classrooms, and yet, we fall back on them all the time to check for understanding. However, not all skills that we teach transfer onto paper very well. I agree that math lends itself nicely to paper pages of problems, but why assign 3 pages if you can get away with just a couple of problems? Before you assign think of the purpose of your homework; does it really give the students a way to show off their knowledge or will you just help you assign a percentage better?
- Homework is maybe not just done by the student. There are many helpful parents out there that really want their child to succeed. As parents nothing gets us more than our child not understanding something. How often do parents tell us that they had to help their child finish their work? How often do we get projects turned in that required hours of craft work way outside of the range of your grade level? The parents have already been to school, stop asking them to do work or in some cases, stop giving them a way to relive their school days through projects.
I know that there are times and situations where homework becomes a good extension such as sending kids out into the community to interview elders for heritage days, or continuing research on their own.
I am not against all homework, what I am against, though, is the homework just for the sake of assigning homework. I used to tell my parents to expect about 40 minutes of homework every night in 4th grade because I had been told it is about 10 minutes times the grade level. 40 minutes! And then we ask students to read their books and do projects on top of that. No wonder our students are exhausted when they come back the next day rather than eager to learn.
Think of what the purpose of homework is in your room, look really hard at your reasoning; why do you assign it? Is it a meaningful learning experience that will help students become smarter, more knowledgeable, better people? If yes, excellent. But if no, not always, then stop, re-evaluate, clean it out, and then tell your students. You will marvel at their response.
I was petrified to stop, worried that people would think I was skimping out on my job duties. Almost all of my parents now rejoice in this year of calmness. They know that if I assign something, there is a valid reason for it. They also know that their child is learning as much as any other student in the 4th grade. Stop the homework insanity and let these kids be kids. We can accomplish the learning without the extra work. You just have to believe in your own capabilities as en educate, so educate, don’t assign.