Monday, May 31, 2010

The Homework Question

I have long wondered if homework is really worth the time. As a Special Education teacher I have had too many conferences with parents who have talked (some cried) about getting their children to do their homework. They would describe power struggles that took hours each night to complete an assignment that the teacher probably expected to take 15 minutes. Parents talked about tears and frustrations - time that took away from playing outside or family activities. I am often the one who fields questions and concerns from primary parents about homework. Parents don't call who love the homework - only those that feel like it's a poor use of their child's time or who feel like it interferes with family time.

While we have "grade level homework" (all teachers give the same homework) in Kindergarten and First Grade to try to keep down the competition of parents comparing teachers, we have tried to differentiate by giving children choices and offering "challenge" activities. To take family life into consideration we give the week's homework on Monday and take it up on Friday with no homework on the weekends. We think we stay within the county's guidelines of no more than 30 minutes a night for homework. However, no matter what we do, it seems to me that the students that don't really need the practice actually turn in the homework every Friday and those that might really benefit from it, never turn it in!

Recently I have been reading Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth and Cathy Vatterott's Rethinking Homework. It seems to me that we have bought into the idea that homework means rigor, that more homework means more learning, and that homework teaches discipline. The research simply does not support these ideas. In reading the research, it looks to me like to make it effective, homework needs to be differentiated for each student. It needs to be checked and discussed and used as an assessment of how well students understand, and we need to take into consideration the children and families in our classrooms.

As I think about all this, I have tried to decide what our children are doing that really makes a difference. To me, it's reading every day. I know that the more our children read, the better readers they will become. I know that their vocabularies will improve and I know that the more they do it, the easier it is. In thinking about and discussing all of this our new grade level of first grade teachers is considering only having students read as their homework. We believe that there will be some push back from parents who really believe that their children NEED homework so we are thinking about offering homework options on-line that a student might complete for extra credit.
We don't want the reading to get boring so we know we will need to provide interesting ways for the children to respond to what they read or different ways for them to record their reading. We know we will have to make completing homework rewarding and exciting, like talking about it in class. We might even try a "Homework King and Queen" each week, like the Mall-ards or let those that remember to turn in their homework choose their spot during Readers' Workshop, like Haley Alvarado recently did.

We are just in the "thinking" stage, so... what do you think?


Melanie Holtsman said...

I have come to feel very strongly about homework. I have even ventured out to blog about it some. I am probably one of the many parents that suffers in silence (except for a few facebook rants) :)

I have my students do the homework that is assigned, because I want them to respect the rules and what their teachers ask them to do. I want them to love school and be proud about coming in prepared. No matter my personal feelings I will continue to do so. However, there is nothing that can be said to me to justify the time that I take away from our family and from the opportunities I could be having to sit with my children on my lap to read well loved story books from our home. Or to go outside and throw the ball around with them after not having seen them all day. I am missing out on precious golden moments and opportunities for something I do not feel is in the best interest of my children. And I have to look at it that way, because they are my priority.

I could go on and on about it, but I'll save you the trouble of reading my epistle and point you here for more:

Thanks for posting about something I wish more teachers would think about and consider...

Mrs. Sambito said...

I love that you brought up this issue. I don't have my own children, but I can certainly relate the stress of finding time for fun and family. Even as a sister, it is difficult to find moments to spend all together without school work or studying.

As a teacher, I understand the frustration about who completes the homework. Our high achievers turn it in consistently, but those that would benefit most from the reenforcement don't. And in Kindergarten, it is not always their fault that it doesn't get finished.

I love the idea of only doing reading for homework and finding clever ways to respond and record. Maybe we will consider this as well. I wonder, though, how it would affect our students and families in the long run. Will it be a shock when they move on to 2nd grade and have more homework?

Mrs.Mallon & Mrs. Dillard said...

In my opinion, I think homework should be meaningful and a link between home and school. I would love to see online homework. In this way, students would get some much needed time on varied computer assignments. This can include reading books on line and/or a classroom homework blog which would list interesting sites to visit and report on, Students can type up their comments as way to show they visited a requested learning site. The reports can be completed in different ways for different learners: posters, charts, flip video, and taped messages. They can use the computer to write a response to a book. The homework blog can include challenging activities as well practice ones. It can be recommended that they visit the blog – or optional. But I think the choice is important, especially for parents who want to be involved in their children’s learning at some level.
Also, the blog can include the reading comprehension story once a week – and save paper. MM

tel said...

Mixed children usually do their entire week of homework on Monday night, just to "get it over with". The reading is done on a daily basis and would be whether it was an assignment or not. I often think that homework at this young age becomes the parents homework, and just one more thing to fit into the already busy evenings. With that being said...there are so many skills that are learned and perfected through repetition. The assignments my daughter disliked the most this year were probably the handwriting pages...however, they were definately the most beneficial. Also, the homework assignements give me a look at the type of things they are learning each day at school. I also agree with the comment above as to if they would be prepared for 2nd grade homework if they weren't used to it already? The selfish side of me says no homework would be wonderful. But it probably does have more pros than cons.

Denise Evanko said...

Being departmentalized, it is often a challenge to teach everything I want into skills block in the short time I have. Consequently, I usually match the skill we are working on in class with some kind of activity or sheet for part of their weekly homework. I assign all homework and it goes home on Monday. We check ALL homework on Friday so this way students have all week to have it done. They also read/log from a just right book. Then, they get to select one writing assignment to practice their spelling words. They select from a long list of options: write 3x each, write in a sentence/paragraph, rainbow write, break them into syllables, illustrate, etc.. Each week they earn a sticker for having their homework completed. When they have 5, they earn a popsicle.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of an ESE student and an inclusion teacher I am all for no homework. When a child struggles all day long and works their hardest for things to make sense it's asking way too much for them to go home and spend another 45 minutes a night struggling on homework. You’re setting up a struggling child for failure. For those students that are high flyers, there should be the option of homework to give them the extra challenge they need.
Reading 20 to 30 minutes every night is a definite must, however, make it something the student has an interest in. Teach them to love to read.

As Lilly Tomlin says “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.”

Tracy Ruark

Anonymous said...

I love homework. I think that it is important. Parents who complain about it taking too long are normally the ones with the students who are struggling and not doing well. The whole idea of family time and play time with extra curricular activities is important, but it is really not that serious. You have the entire weekend to spend with your child to do as you please. Homework needs to be meaningful, that is true, but it needs to be given to everyone because again it shows who knows and who doesn't and if you don't then that just needs to be addressed. In elementary school, we seem to be getting away from the basics because we feel it is the "old" way of doing things, but my opinion is that we are setting all of our children up for failure because when they leave the confines of your school and go on to middle school, the "new" way of doing things has actually put them at a disadvantage because guess what, the old way is always going to be the way that things are done. There will be homework in middle and high school. There will be homework in college. They will not care about what family activities you have to do or what sports you have to play, you just need to manage your time and get it done. So why is there a problem expecting kids to do that from a young age, they're going to have to learn how to do it anyway

Mrs. Thomas said...

Oh the dreaded issue of homework. I used to think that homework was necessary and it should be completed on a nightly basis, so that parents would see what we are doing in class, and so that they could in some way be involved in the learning and be held accountable for part of their child's education. However, it seems that most students that do turn in homework are the students who don't really need the practice. I do like the idea of offering opportunites online, especially for those high achieving students who want to do ALL the challenge activities, as well as the assigned homework.
Now that I am a Mom, though, I'm finding it difficult to juggle work, home, and personal time, and my daughter is on 13 months old, so I can imagine how parents that work and have school aged children with homework feel on a nightly basis! It's TOUGH! I know that reading is so important and I love thinking of clever ways for them to respond to books for homework, but my only concern is that math and/or science will be left on the backburner, making parents think that only reading is important. Shoudln't we make them to believe that these subjects are important as well? Maybe this would be something for online opportunities or maybe once a week have something related to math.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of just reading homework because I do believe that the reading portion is the most important part. However, I know that one reason that we have kept written nightly homework in the primary school is to get students in the habit of a homework routine. This way the routine will continue as they move up in grade levels. I know we have surveyed and talked to parents about it and we always get mixed reviews! So, as long as the homework is meaningful, then I would support it. :)
Laurie Thomson

JJ Brown said...

I completely agree. the students that would truly benefit from the homework are typically the children that do not complete it consistently. As a mother I find it very difficult to justify the time taken away from our family and from the joy of playing outside in the afternoon so that my children can complete their homework. I have rarely found a student that has shown significant academic improvement as a result of completing their homework.

Chascinc said...

The nightly homework I assign to my students is to read 20 pages in a just right book. Simple, right? You would be surprised at the number of parents who schedule a conference and want to know how they can help their child improve their reading. I ask, "Are you listening to them read 20 pages every night? Do you discuss the book with your child?" The answer is usually no. What is the real problem here?

Mrs. MaryBeth Matics said...

I agree that other than required reading, homework can be a little too much. Someone made the comment earlier that the students who don't really need any additional work or help always turn in the homework. However, the students who could benefit from the extra reinforcement at home are the ones who usually do not turn it in so it doesn't really help our target audience.

Terri Lehane said...

As a teacher of students who stuggle and a parent of children that do well, I think I see both the stuggling and high student. The problem I have with homework, is most of the time it is busy work to prove they are doing homework. I have told teachers I have plenty to keep my kids busy at home.
I follow as a teacher the advice I gave a middle school advisor when my son was in middle school.The most important homework my children have does not require a pen or pencil! I think it important to develop study habits by reviewing work from class at home. This gives time for parents to ask about what was taught in school that day and ask about their day. It should not be the time of day when you are trying to get something on the table before practice and screaming, "Just get it done!"
I also think you have to give students time to read. Most will say then they will not do anything. That is not for teachers to judge, because of a couple of students who don't do anything at home. I think if we give students time to read and study they actually will! If we require a sheet of this, a list of questions, words with an activity, a page of something else... they are too tired to do any reading! Think about having a list of what has to be done in one night, that takes a good student 30 min a struggling student 1 1/2 hours after much fighting, who wants to read or talk about what you learned today? They just want it DONE, and they are not really getting anything out of it! If someone had time to sit with their child and read an find out what they learned or what they could help them study, they just might get something out of it. Don't you think? STOP THE BUSY WORK!!!!!!!!! READ and REVIEW! This from a parent that has helped do too many projects and has even said what ever you have to do to get it done! The worst part is I have children who do very well in school and I hate homework! I know from working with stuggling students in extended day what teachers think will only take a couple minutes takes much longer. Some of these kids are here from 7am until 6pm. The day is long enough. Homework is not that important!

Suzanne said...

I have long been a proponent of some homework to build study habits and the connection between home and school.

I have two sons, one who I had to sit with nightly to complete his homework through elementary school, and one who has been independent with homework since Kindergarten. These two drastically different scenerios have me on the fence about homework. My oldest needed the homework and my help to keep on pace with his peers. Yes, at times, it took entirely too long, and yes, at times, we lost family time. But, as a middle and high schooler, he became independent and learned that his education is our top priority. Looking back, I don't regret the homework time.

On the other hand, my youngest son spends a fraction of the time on homework, and probably would never have to do it to excel. Homework is not a burden because he gets it done quickly. But does he need to do it? Probably not, he's only practicing skills he already knows how to do effortlessly. I have to wonder though if he will have the same study skills my oldest has when he does encounter something he may struggle to complete later in his educational journey.

Then, I put on my teacher hat...What if Alex would have had to complete the homework without me? Would that have been more determential than helpful? Probably.

Maybe we are at a crossroads... maybe next year, we should try no homework in K-2 besides reading a book (and that would be no responses at home, or else you would be consuming just as much time with the homework)and see if the diagnostic results stack up comparatively to previous years. We won't know until we try.

But, for parents that feel strongly, we should have homework sheets on our website for them to download. Some may not want us to try something different if it effects their child.

I'm hoping that more intermediate teachers comment on this post, because though I feel like primary teachers give a greater priority to reading, I'm not sure intermediate math/science teachers would feel the same. I can't wait to continue this conversation...

Angela Phillips said...

I agree with pieces of what everyone has said. As an intermediate math teacher for the last 16 years, I have lots of thoughts about homework.

I agree with MM that the BEST scenario is differentiated homework and that links and activities should be available in print and on the blog for high-achieving AND struggling learners. With our current situation, some kids need 5 minutes and others 45 minutes to complete the same string of problems on our math homework sheets in Grades 3-5. I juggle this thought with the realization that all kids are held to the "same standards"(now NGSSS)at each grade level and will all take the same end-of-unit and high-stakes assessments, so for that reason, I have agreed all along with our approach to commonly assigned homework. It has been very carefully aligned and very thoughtfully planned, and has given us a forum to have whole group discussions and talk specific strategies in math when we regroup to discuss it. Although these discussions are meaningful, there are kids who don't have it done (like many have said- the kids who need to do it the MOST), there are kids whose parents did the problems "for" them and the strategies cannot be explained, there are those who struggled for 55 minutes to solve them and come in with the most INefficient of strategies (many answers are incorrect), and there are those who completed the whole week at school during dismissal while waiting for their bus to be called. So, back to differentiated homework....... ;->
Would a solution be to assign fewer problems in a given week so that all students could complete some of the same content for the sake of aligned NGSSS and common classroom discussions of the homework (and for setting rituals and routines for future expectations for homework in middle and high school), and then offer differentiated homework for everyone on top of that geared toward their independent levels? Sounds like lots of work but our new math curriculum tools would help to provide for that, along with the MANY online resources available all over the globe. And isn't this our job as techers- meeting INDIVIDUAL needs of our kids????
What about the thought of no homework because kids need to be kids after being in school all day? There is a point to that too... should differentiated homework be optional?............
So many directions the conversation can go.......
With a rising second grader, I agree and know from this experience that the at-home READING and at-home discussions are so important- and a wonderful way to spend quality time with my son. That part is not one that can be negotiated! (For those of you who know me so well and are wondering, yes, I just said that-reading is unbelievably important!!) :-)

Anonymous said...

If forced to make a yes or no decision, my vote is a defininte NO! Why should children be forced to work through concepts without the aid of an expert teacher. If you have seen our math, you know the children are not receiving their father's math homework. In fact, father's strategies can wreck understandings that have taken weeks to build in the classroom. I can in no way condone asking children to struggle unless I am there to help them find a path that works.

Another firm belief that I hold is that if there is to be homework, it should all be literacy work. I personally developed a great understanding of math by reading the backs of baseball cards and watching games on TV. RTI demands that children become fluent, avid, and successful readers, and the life of illiterate folks has been documented to be a life of continual struggle.

So, I have cast my vote for no homework outside of reading. Even then, I think that teacher's should be very cautious with assignments. Struggling with reading at home will, no doubt, lead to frustration and regression.

I do so wish that parents would take advantage of all of the wonderful learning opportunities that surround us daily. There are literally hundreds of TV shows on every week that focus on science and history. There are magazines and books full of the same. Ban Cartoon Network and Hannah M. and explore the real world. Go to a baseball game and learn how to keep the score book. Go bowling and learn how the pins are counted.

So, 5th grade math is having no homework next year. We'll see how it plays out, but I am planning on success.