Friday, November 24, 2006

Homework?

As an education consultant, a question that has been asked of me many, many times is: What are your feelings on homework? This is a topic so dear to my heart that I thought it should be the first one that I posted on TheSmartieBlog. I have often said that my feelings and beliefs on the topic are personal. A side of my thoughts is driven from being a mom of two teenage children who have had many "versions" of homework over the years; the other side is driven by being a teacher of young children. I often hear that homework is to reinforce concepts and/or to "bring a family together" to work with a child. My thoughts are this: Most of the research that I have read state that "homework helps starting at about 4th grade". This is a time that they seem better able to seek out assistance before completing assignments that they don't understand.

There are children who get assistance (at times, too much assistance) with their homework. The parents sit with the child and go through each assignment. It often seems to be the same children whose parents are involved with many aspects of their lives. They don't need me to send homework to bring them together. They do it because they have a commitment to their children. If I don't send homework...I tend to think that they will still spend time with their children...chances are doing things that bring them closer and make them smile. Then there are the children who struggle through with little or no assistance. At times, these children complete the assignment but in fact, they do it incorrectly. What we as educators should realize is that this reinforces the "wrong way". In terms of reinforcing the concepts, what we find is the children who need that reinforcement most are the ones that get it least. They are in homes where parents don't help or are in homes where parents "can't". This can be for a variety of reasons. Parents work second shift, single parents are overwhelmed or so many of our parents are not sure "how" to help. Perhaps due to a language barrier but also can be due to lack of knowledge on how to help. Then there are families that just "don't spend time together"...I tend to doubt that my sending homework home can or will change that.

My children had all the assistance they needed. It seemed at times that it was just busy work and they would robotically go through the steps. I am not sure that a lot of real learning occurs during this. It seemed that 95% of the time we just needed "to get it done". I resented the time it took from our family. From a personal standpoint I never like to bring work home. I do, but I don't like it and I am an adult. If you have already put in a number of working hours....it seems to me that you should then have "family time" or at the very least some "down time" at home. In my utopia world I want kids to go home and "be kids". Get some fresh air, play with the other kids in neighborhood, etc. I know that the reality is that many go home to empty houses and play video games. Accepting that which is beyond our control is hard, the truth is that WE don't get to decide what they do when they get home. It sure seems that struggling with homework shouldn't be a priority for these kids.

Harris Cooper, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, has reviewed more than 100 studies on the effectiveness of homework. In general, he has found that the benefits of doing homework seem to depend on the student’s grade level. In high school, students who regularly do homework outperform those who do not, as measured by standardized tests and grades. In middle school, homework is half as effective, and in elementary school it has NO apparent measurable effect on achievement. Now I have not conducted any research studies on the topic...but I tend to believe that as the child's grade (age) increase that their ability to "do it themselves" also increases, as does their responsibility for "learning". Learning good study habits is, without a doubt, a wonderful habit to acquire. I just don't see how giving it to Kindergarten, First and Second Graders benefits them in a way that outweighs the "burden". A great article to read: Does Homework Help? A Review of Research

If your school district or grade level has made a commitment to giving homework then perhaps looking over the research would help to decide "how much" is appropriate. The National Education Association along with the national PTA suggests adding 10 minutes of homework per night incrementally with each grade level, as a general rule of thumb. Thus, a first-grader gets a total of 10 minutes, a second-grader 20 minutes, a third-grader 30 minutes, and so on, not to exceed two hours per night total in high school.
Note: K gets none.

I have shared the following books with parents and teachers, perhaps one will help you discover what homework means to the children you teach.The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Etta Kralovec, John Buell The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents by Harris M. Cooper

13 comments:

Amber said...

I do give homework for kindergarten. I hate having to check over it and make sure that I have who turned it in marked down. I am sure the kids hate it as much as I hate giving it. It really seems like busy work to me, but the other teachers give it so I have to as well. There are no redeeming qualities to having it. I seem to be stuck in the routines of teachers who give homework. I'd love to see an evolution of teaching geared away from homework for early elementary students.

Just wondering said...

Do you consider keeping track of a weekly reading log (recommended reading of 15 min. each day) as homework in first grade?
We also have Home Links as part of our district math series. These are practice activities that are related to the lesson for each day. They include a note to the parents at the top of each page.
"Homework" is sent home on Fridays and recommended to be returned the following week-math on Wednesday and reading log on Friday. This gives families a little more flexibility as to when the work is completed at home yet instills practice and responsibility. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I as well hate having to give homework to my kindergarten students. A majority of my students are language learners whose parents do not know English, so most of the work is not completed. However, my school policies include homework, so I am stuck. I often have parents who, through a translator ask for help or state that they are having trouble helping their child at home. During these times, I assure the parent that having incomplete homework is not something that adversely affects their child. I do go through the homework quickly to see what was completed, but my only concern is that is turned in weekly. That way, at least the students will begin to learn the routine of bringing it in when it is due.

Anonymous said...

I think homework should reinforce if it is assigned. I have my students correct errors and read aloud daily. It sometimes turns out to be homework for parents. However, there are many parents that request homework. Sherry

Anonymous said...

I agree that homework does not benefit majority of kids in the lower primary grades. I think the focus should be parents reading to children. I also think as children learn to read, they could bring a book home to read to their parents. I am planning to make some take home bags with books and projects that children can choose on a voluntary basis, since some of them love being like their older siblings. Others might be tight on money and not alot of access to crafts and books that they would love to make. These will just be fun literacy and math activites and some books to start. That way I can satisfy parents need for appropriate ideas and my beliefs. The voluntary homework bag also starts to develop students desire to self educate, because they want to, not because they have to.

Krystal said...

I am a 1st grade teacher and when I started teaching 4 years ago I was told to send homework for the week home on Monday.I thought it was a "great idea". WOW -Homework is sent home on Monday comes back on Friday but of course I spend the weekend grading it or upset because I didn't get to it this weekend. Growing up I always had homework even in K, so I kind of felt that it was the "right" thing to do. After reading this blog I am starting to re-think my views on homework for my 1st graders. Dona is right some parents help their children (and those are the ones that don't need it) and other parents don't (those are the ones who DO need help). Sometimes as teachers we lash out at the children for not doing homework but it isn't their fault they didn't have the extra support they needed to complete the assignments. This doesn't make them feel successful and homework most certainly doesn't give the teacher a true read of the type of students they are or what their potential may truly me(in 1st grade). Matter of fact it was just this week I had a parent tell me that her mother (the grandmother of the student) wanted to know why I didn't send homework home this week. I called myself giving the students "a break" (the teacher one too) but this comment hurt me and made me feel like a "bad teacher" - how dare I miss a week of homework. Until I read this blog now I want to ask that grandmother a few questions about her views on homework. Does she really think this is helping her grandchild or are they just trying to "get it done neat and on time"? I did too, BEFORE I read this blog!

Jen said...

I am very glad to see someone bring up this topic. Teaching first grade, I have never liked the idea of homework with the exception of a nightly reading log. I like the idea of kids having the opportunity to go home and be kids. What has surprised me is the number of parents who come to me and ask me to send home more homework. I am glad now that I have some research to show them why I don't send home more than I do!

Anonymous said...

I will be teaching K this year. Previously I have taught 1st. In 1st, homework was a mandatory part of our Saxon curriculum...and it was a headache to grade/correct! With the move to K this year, I have been researching a lot of K material on the web this summer. I have found some rather neat K Homework Calendars that I very well may use this year. I like one is particular because you put a copy of the HW Calendar in your Home/School folder each month. It remains in the folder and students color a square and parents initial to show that it was completed. Here's a link to the site from which I found it: http://teacherweb.com/TN/BarkersMillElementary/MrLyonsKindergartenClass/AugustHomeworkCalendar.pdf

Here's another good one:
http://www.kellyskindergarten.com/Homework/monthly_homework.htm

Anonymous said...

Sorry. The entire address for the websites didn't make it. The first one was:
http://teacherweb.com/TN/BarkersMillElementary/
MrLyonsKindergartenClass/
AugustHomeworkCalendar.pdf

The second one was:
http://www.kellyskindergarten.com/
Homework/monthly_homework.htm

Diane Stilwell said...

As an educator we continue to learn and grow with each year. I have taught first grade for 17 years. I have given homework in the past. Now it is an option to take home a reading book. I do not worry if the reading log disappears or isn't signed. Many parents today are so tired when they finally get home with their child in the evening. I prefer that their time be spent telling about their day during family discussions or laughing at a funny show. I think parents need it as well as the children. I changed my beliefs on homework when I noticed that so many of the papers were crumpled, torn, filled with holes, or accompanied by a note telling of the horrors they went through the night before trying to get their child to do the work. It just wasn't worth it to anyone. I also let parents know of websites they can go to where I have plugged in our spelling list to play a game. I love spellingcity.com

Anonymous said...

I teach kindergarten and there is NOTHING wrong with homework at that age-as in reading a book to their child-that's something they get to do together... homework isn't just problems from a book. It's activities where parents can actually spend a little time with their children. Now a days yes people work, yes there are people who are NOT able to do homework from a book, and yes there are single parents BUT come on, spending time with your child doing academic things like reading? really. that's not that hard! I also use monthly homework calendars each month-they choose their activities and they are fun time spending with parent/child ones. Like help set the table, write family member names, recite your phone number, count the steps from the front door to the kitchen. I just want to get parents involved in their children's learning and make it fun-really it's ok to do that ! And I want to point out when it's fun they are still learning but enjoying. Yes there's always parents who don't believe in anything at home-and it shows.. with attitude on parent and child and it makes me sad they had such a negative experience with school that they have to try and "ruin" it for their kids when I work hard to make things fun! Ok enough said-I believe in kindergarten homework-and not worksheets as homework!

Anonymous said...

You have a lot of good ideas. Please add my e-mail address to get your blog. Thank you. Susan steveac@bellsouth.net

Ms. Amber said...

I fully agree with your post. Presently I have a 1st grader and a 3rd grader, for school-agers. Before I continue, I'll just mention that I don't put AR books and other reading booklets under the category of homework. The first grader gets "homework" and that really is the stuff he doesn't get done, but we aren't required to return it. Usually it's the extra "busy work" that was planned in for the day. I don't have an issue with this. He usually does it as time allows. My 3rd grader is starting to get homework now...and it's not always because he didn't have time to complete it. Often it's, the class didn't have time to complete or even start it. But it's not everyday, so not usually a big deal. Really, homework that is taking more than 20-30 minutes to complete is taking up precious family time. I find that homework time is not something that encourages positive interactions. Usually he's tired (and me too!) at the end of the day or we have somewhere we have to be so it has to be done in a timely manner, etc. So it adds stress to the family. From the time school is out to the time the children go to bed they have 3.5 hours to be with us and 45 minutes is family dinner. And what about time to be with Dad when he gets home from work? What about time outside free from all the structure of school? You are so right that the parents that are involved with their child's homework are the ones that are usually involved in many aspects of their life. I see that over and over in community. Thanks for your post!