Saturday, May 16, 2009

About Homework...

In reading this post recently from the New York Times, I could really align with the writer. I am not a believer in lots of homework for early learners. I have read the mountain of research that shows "homework confers no benefit — enhancing neither retention nor study habits — until middle school." While I do believe that the right kind of homework can be a good way to share with parents what their child is learning, I would much rather children had time to play - especially time for creative play. In a society that values qualities for their workforce like versatility, creativity, vision — and playfulness — I worry when we try to structure a young child's life at home toward additional academics. I can't tell you how many times I have had a conference with a parent of an at-risk child and the parent tells terrifying stories about spending hours and hours on homework at night (homework that was designed to take 30 minutes or less!) with a tearful child and stressed out parent. Homework time becomes a power struggle and a battle ground and nobody wins!

If we have to have homework for our youngest learners, I prefer homework that is project-based, if the parent is going to participate, with lots of choices for how the project can be completed. I want homework that becomes quality time for the parent and child. I am not interested in the kind of project where the parent takes over to present a designer finished project. I am tired of hearing parents say, "I got an A on that project!" As teachers, I wish we valued "a child definitely had his hands on this project" more! Earlier in the year, I remember a class assignment where some of the classes decided to try an open-ended project after an author study. The children had to present a book of their choice, but they could choose the type of grouping (individually, small groups) and the way that they presented (for example - a poster, Readers' Theatre, a puppet show). I remember being amazed at the creativity and the way that the groups functioned together. The end products were not professional, but the learning that came out of the project was amazing! That's more of what I would like to happen at home - where the goal is the learning, sharing and quality time together.

My favorite reading homework is simply about listening to your child read and reading to your child - and reading something that is delicious! My kind of homework would be cuddling together in bed and reading a book about a favorite subject or a story that you loved when you were a child -discussing it and playing the parts, practicing voices and generally having fun with the assignment - not half listening to a book while you cook or drive to practice in the car - an assignment that has no interest to you or your child. My kind of homework would be playing a game - perhaps a board or even a video game together - and then discussing the best strategy that you used - or watching a television program or cartoon together and discussing what connections you made to your own life or perhaps to a book you have read - or stopping by to watch someone decorate a cake while you're grocery shopping and then going home and writing Grandma a letter all about it - or helping to cook dinner and then writing the recipe down to send to the family or collecting for a family cookbook.

I HATE homework that requires the parent to reteach or to try to figure out what the child should know because the child seems not to have a clue! Even with this philosophy, I have trouble in my own school really influencing the homework trends. It seems that when we move in a direction of choice and "less is more," then the very next year less choice is given and more is added! Even with grade level homework which tries to minimize work at home, teachers feel a need to add some more of their own.

I know teachers are often pressured by parents, especially of academically gifted children, to give more homework, so the change would have to be for both teachers and parents. You don't HAVE to give homework in EVERY subject to be a good teacher! For instance, I would like to do away with spelling tests and spelling homework because the research says that memorizing a list of spelling words will not generalize and that the child will not spell those words correctly in their writing, but when we've tried to do away with spelling, teachers often say that it's one of the things that parents feel comfortable with and know how to do with their child.

I certainly don't have all the answers about homework but I'd love to hear what you think. Maybe we'll do a survey and see what our parents think...


Mrs.Mallon & Mrs. Dillard said...

I feel a balanced approach would work best. Perhaps a math and skills sheet for the week so that parents can see the work that their child is reviewing (remembering that homework should be a review) and a family project a few times a year. Let's not forget technology -- give parents websites to review skills such as Incorporating games into the "homework" i.e. finding the synonym/antonym with cards flipped over is making homework fun -- not always paper and pencil. Doing things at home does give a parent an opportunity to be a part of his/her child's school life. MM

Suzanne said...

I believe in the routine and habit of homework, but I don't necessarily think it needs to be nightly. I like the idea of assigning it on Monday and expecting it back on Friday, to give flexibility to busy families. I really think if we gave no homework in elementary school kids would resist getting work done in middle school when studying becomes a necessity. And, for some kids if reading wasn't part of homework, they would never read a chapter book. (You can't tell my son is one of them, can you?) And, funny you mention projects. I hate em'! A math sheet and reading is all it takes in my opinion.

Your post leaves me wondering if we shouldn't try an experiment next year. Ask for volunteer parents to do no homework for a nine weeks and see how the student's performance measures up to those who are doing the homework. I think we might have a few takers, but I will tell you, I wouldn't be one of them.

Anonymous said...

I abhor homework! I wish I knew why it was ever introduced at all. It could not be a very old tradition, as farm kids had to do their farm chores as a matter of survival. I do not imagine that they were working on dittos once the sun went down.

I can imagine the gentry of the country involved in extra educational practice for the sheer delight of being able to say, "My George is able to scribe flawlessly in six languages!"

I cannot imagine any homework that is as valuable as the social skills learned while playing a team sport, and yet we constantly hear complaints that HW and sports don't mix.

Gee-wiz, we need to get kids off their bottoms, but we are mired in a world where virtual reality conquers actual reality. It is also a world that pretends that parents can somehow apply their magical touch and heal the ills of "poor" teachers. Yuck!

I would love to experiment with a no HW class or grading period. I do get to cover many relevant concepts during HW review, but for 99% of the kids, I might as well just teach the concept without the pretense of "understanding accomplished via my HW Sir".

I guess I need to get off the fence, huh?



dayle timmons said...

For some research and interesting thoughts, read this new post about homework

Mrs. Lauren Skipper said...

As a teacher and a parent of a kindergartener I have mixed feelings about this issue. Reading together has always been a much loved tradition in my house and I believe my son's success in school is a result of these early literacy experiences. The sad fact is, I have educated friends that DO NOT read to their children!!! If it wasn't given as an assignment, it would not be done. I agree that there needs to be a balance and young children or older children do not need to feel that homework is a chore but more of a guide to what kind of learning can be done at home.

Michelle Ellis said...

I totally agree. As a parent and teacher I hate homework in elementary school. The only reason I give homework is because it is expected. I also hate the projects that require them to work with other children outside of school. I can barely manage my families schedule must less have to cordinate with some other family. I do think nightly reading should be encouraged for all grade levels. The reading could be part of another subject like science or social studies. I do think that in Middle School there should be some homework if it is to help the child study. But don't tell my child how to study. Let them discover for themselves what works best.

Suzanne said...

I revisited this post to read what others were thinking about homework. I can't wait to see what the parents say on your survey. I'm thinking we also need to give a survey to teachers. We shouldn't keep doing something just because we've done it in the past.

Melanie Holtsman said...

I read and reread your post trying to craft the comment I really wanted to make. After erasing it several times, I finally decided that my response needed to be a blog post. Thanks for making me think.