Homework, the Student, and Me

Homework, the Student, and Me; literatelives.wordpress.comHomework. Any kid will tell you they hate it. What might be more surprising is that many a parent and teacher may say the same, especially for students at the elementary level.

My Relationship with Homework

When I was an elementary student, very little homework was assigned, and that which was usually entailed work on a long-term project, 4th -6th grade level, that we were also working on in class. So, imagine my astonishment when my firstborn child came home from kindergarten with homework.

My firstborn is as stubborn—uh, I mean persistent, as I am, so getting homework done each night was at a minimum a pure, half-hour of agony. To this day, I firmly believe kindergartners should not have homework (nor should they have to attend a full day of school, but that’s a different conversation…).

Keeping track of homework for my elementary age children was at the least a headache, at the worst a long, drawn out drama.

Teaching & Homework

While I have only student-taught at the elementary level, I believe I could say with confidence that had I been hired at that level, my principal would have had to require me to assign homework before I ever would.

The situation gets a little different in middle school and high school. At these levels, students are ready to begin acting more autonomously, and in the case of high school students, must be prepared to function independently in the career or college world; managing homework helps with this.

When I earned my MAT, the recommendation for middle school students was ten minutes/day/class, and for high school an additional 5 minutes more/grade level (although this seemed pretty excessive to me as students approach 12th grade). However, 10 minutes per day seemed pretty reasonable, and I strove to use it as my guide. As a Language Arts Teacher, for homework I usually assigned reading any book of choice for 10-15 minutes and responding, in 3-5 sentences to a reading response question, two or three days a week.

Beyond that, I tried to allow plenty of time in class to complete assignments (for which the requirements were differentiated according to student needs). Those students who did not complete their assignments during class time, were expected to complete it that night and turn it in the next day.

One final, and what I feel was the most important, part of my policy was if students worked for ten minutes at the homework task, they could request their parents write a note explaining they had done so. With that assurance, I would excuse or make other arrangements for any incomplete work. With my students busy sports and extracurricular activities, it always saddened me that parents did not utilize this option more frequently.

So Why Am I So Down on Homework?

Again, this mostly applies to elementary level students, but some thought should be given to middle and high school students’ schedules as well. Students spend a lot of structured time in school and with extra-curricular activities (again, another topic for another time). Furthermore, in high school, they might even have jobs. With homework added in, that may be all they have time for in their lives, and perhaps not even enough time for healthy sleep.

Family time and unstructured play time or down time are often what are lost. I think this is a terrible disservice to our kids. Students need time to invest in and develop relationships both within their families and with their peers. Furthermore, they need time to play, explore their interests, and engage in spontaneous creativity. As Marie Montessori says, Play is the work of the child.”

What Got Me Reflecting on This Subject?

First, it is the beginning of a new school year when teachers are crafting and cementing their policies. This is a good time to think about homework.

Second, reading the article, “If Elementary Schools Say No to Homework, What Takes Its Place?by Tim Walker, got me thinking. Walker’s article looks at how many schools are rethinking the value of homework, explains some good reasons for it, like opportunities for additional practice of skills, and some good reasons for eliminating it, like the stress many students feel trying to learn at home.

Finally, reading Conn McQuinn’s article, “https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=brain-science-of-making “The Brain Science of Making,” got me thinking both about the important role practice plays in learning and the benefits of downtime and play. McQuinn points out that “tinkering” time is crucial for acquiring the executive functioning skills that ultimately make one able to function in adult life, and that downtime also relieves stress, an excess of which impedes learning.

Your Turn

This is a big topic, much larger than my blog and these two articles cited. Schools and teachers have so many expectations placed upon them; this is in no way a call to bash teachers who do or do not embrace homework. Rather, I want to invite conversation. Parents, teachers, what do you think? What do you suggest? Please use the comment box to share your responses. And remember, let’s encourage one another!

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