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Oct 04

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The Homework Dilemma

Homework is a tough one. We all have our opinions about it. Reading Alfie Kohn’s work on the subject reveals that the research can’t really agree on whether homework is valuable or not for young kids. For my son, who is 15, homework is not pleasant but with prodding he’ll do it. We make sure he has the space and time to do it. With my daughter, well that’s a whole different story. She’ll either love it or hate it. Mostly she hates it. She sees little value in much of the work sent home. With all her interests I see no value in the work she brings home. Sometimes it’s an outright battle.

Why should we be battling during our wonderful family time over school work that isn’t done at school? Why do we as teachers feel it necessary to dictate to families what they should be doing with their kids during their time at home? In second grade we had to ask my daughter’s teacher to excuse her from the homework. The math sheets literally took my daughter’s love of math right out of her. We couldn’t stand it. Now in fourth grade again the homework rears its ugly head. We met with her teacher and she had some good points about some parents wanting lots of homework while some the homework never got done. We had to make sure the homework policy was flexible. It is. If she’s got better things to do we won’t sweat it. If she likes it, she’ll do it. We want to empower our kids to choose for themselves when it’s appropriate. And we certainly don’t want to see our child’s love of reading or writing diminished because it’s assigned for homework!

As a teacher I’ve done it all with homework. From assigning it, to grading it, to weighing it less and less, to making it optional, to not assigning it at all. What I’ve seen after 21 years of teaching is that the majority of kids, whether in South Central Los Angeles, in hippie-town Port Townsend, or in rural Chimacum, don’t do it. For many of them it’s a struggle at home and many parents hate it. Kids hate it. Sure, there are those who like it and want it for their kids but that’s their choice. Overall, I see homework as a negative experience.

A couple of years ago I brought the movie, A Race to Nowhere, to our community. Many teachers did not attend and so weren’t part of the conversation. I am still disappointed because so many good topics were discussed such as our obsession with homework. I’m still hopeful that things will change in education so that it doesn’t look in the 21st century much like it did in the 19th century. Frankly, that is embarrassing to have to admit.

I’ve collected a few great links to others’ thoughts on homework (well, it’s skewed towards abolishing it). Check them out. There’s some great reading there if you’re against homework and if you’re for it see if there’s something there worth rethinking homework.

Please share your thoughts on homework in the comments section. I’d love to hear what others think about this and maybe ideas for how I can reach out to our primary and elementary teachers who are giving our youngest kids homework. My view is that kids need to be kids and play and be outdoors and socializing. Not sitting doing homework. It’s enough to do that at school!

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  1. Doug1943

    I think we should empower our children not to have to do ANYTHING — not just homework — that they find boring.

    Then, later, all they’ll need to learn — and they can learn it on the job — is how to say “Would you like fries with that?” in Mandarin.

  2. Alfonso (Al) Gonzalez

    Really? I see it as empowering our children AND families to choose for themselves what they do with their evenings, weekends, and vacations. Why can’t we value hard work and creativity without valuing homework in the traditional sense?

    I think we all fear the Chinese way too much and the funny thing is that they are trying to change their schools to reflect the creativity and innovation found in our schools because their way isn’t the best. If they’ve learned, from experience, that their way isn’t the best why can’t we? We should work to our strengths and doing worksheets or keeping a reading log isn’t the best way to be competitive in this global economy.

  3. Alfonso (Al) Gonzalez

    This conversation is raging on another blog, this one in defense of homework (http://karenmahon.com/2012/10/07/in-defense-of-homework/). Read the comments, they are good. This is the type of discussion we should be having to reform education.

  4. Alfonso Gonzalez

    Even the President of France sees homework as harmful. He’s calling for a ban on homework! http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/10/15/french-president-pushing-homework-ban-as-part-of-ed-reforms/

  5. Jen

    My dilemma has come to a head with one parent demanding more – algorithms that is- which she can do, not the tasks which require her child to show how she is thinking.

    On the other hand I have another parent who becomes anxious towards the end of the year when a change in year levels is looming. Her daughter has some learning difficulties. The tasks I set are related to activities or topics which we are or will be covering in class. I think the tasks are not easily understood by adults who went through a different type of learning and they can’t explain what is required in the tasks. I am quite happy to be told when the child is confused because I can then focus my follow up activities for the children who require extra time, clarification and practice.

    Other students have very busy lives outside of school.

    I would prefer not to set homework, but our school has a policy of 20 minutes /night for my year levels. I enjoy reading my students comments and now some posts on our class blog- very new, but not all students have access to the internet at home.

    At the moment I have enjoyed reading a variety of articles on homework AGAIN!!! but would love to find some from Australian researchers.

    I think I will have a moratorium on the homework, while I have a discussion with the students.

    Thanks for this blog.

  6. Mr. Shah

    I’m a 4th grade ESL teacher. There is currently a popularity gain in grouping kids by ability level
    during classroom instruction, but how come this isn’t taken a step
    further for homework assignments? What doesn’t make sense to me is that a lot of us end up assigning the same homework to every kid, even though we know that a number of them can’t do it. Others find it too easy. There are reasons behind the one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s mostly practical. I don’t have time to grade different assignments and make the experience valuable for a child. I also don’t know where to find worksheets that fit every student’s needs.

    Ny Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/education/grouping-students-by-ability-regains-favor-with-educators.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    In my attempt to make a change at my own school, I founded a website that allows teachers to differentiate homework assignments on 3 levels. Parents can also join in and help select assignments for the student that “fit just right”. You can print leveled worksheets or have the kids do it online; it’s all right there. I don’t think it’s helpful to abolish homework. I think we need to make homework smarter for our children’s diverse needs.

    Please check out http://www.misterhomework.com. There’s a video on the homepage that explains the concept.

    Let me know your thoughts.

    Thanks,

    Mr. Shah

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