Friday, November 24, 2006


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 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