Articles written by: Laura Caprini and Sandra Weir Co-Founders of the Hudson Literacy Clinic
Homework-To Give Or Not To Give; That Is The Question
Now that school is in full swing and our kids are getting back into the old school routine, there is no question that many of you may be struggling with your child’s homework.
In our home, there are two distinct attitudes towards homework. My fourteen-year-old daughter is a self-starter, always on top of deadlines and due dates. She rarely, if ever, needs prodding when it comes to her school responsibilities. My son, on the other hand, needs copious amounts of coaxing and reminders to get his assignments done and his projects ready on time. My little boy is a great student, but an even greater procrastinator! Fortunately for all of us, his teacher (bless her heart) is quite reasonable where homework is concerned. Quick reinforcement assignments, daily reading practice in both English and French, and the odd project is all that she asks, which makes me a happy parent.
The truth of the matter is that, in some households, often this is not the case.
As a primary school teacher, I often hear about the difficulties homework can present for parents, especially when their child is struggling with academics.
For children who experience academic obstacles, assignments become a painful reality and have the potential to turn into a daily battle between parent and child. I hear about this all the time. This situation turns into an even bigger conundrum if a child is falling behind. For these reasons, homework has become a touchy, and sometimes controversial debate over the last few years.
Teachers have a fair bit of autonomy where homework is concerned. Different teaching styles and philosophies dictate fairly different workloads for your child. One year, your child may have a teacher who gives very little in the way of homework, while the next teacher’s homework requirements may seem extreme. Depending on your child’s age and academic development, homework assignments can and do vary from year to year.
Keep in mind that teachers have your child’s educational best interest at heart.
Regardless of what and how much they require where homework is concerned, they do want your child to be and feel successful.
As a resource teacher, I don’t assign homework to the students I work with. That being said, I was a classroom teacher for many years, and I remember assigning homework as part of my daily teaching practice. I believed (back then) that homework made better students, and that the more practice a child had at home, the more accomplished that student would be in any particular subject area. After all, it was part of my life when I was growing up, and I didn’t turn out half bad, did I?
That being said, I grew up in an entirely different “era.” Classrooms throughout my elementary and high school years did not seem as “needy” compared to nowadays. Children with learning disabilities, autism, and behavioral challenges were few and far between forty years ago. Threats of massive cutbacks to education (just read the papers these days) were not as prevalent. Most importantly, today’s family social structure remotely resembles what it did back then. And why is this important? And even more importantly, what does this have to do with homework? The answer, in my humble opinion, is everything!
Many of you reading this may remember what going to school was like in the seventies and eighties. Your mom (who was still married to your dad) was, more than likely, a homemaker. You probably walked to school, came home for lunch, watched the Flintstones while you ate lunch, and before you could say “yabba dabba doo,” you made your way back to school in the afternoon. The dismissal bell rang, and you headed home. It was not unusual to have Mom waiting for you when you got home at about three o’clock with the stereotypical home-baked cookies and glass of milk. After “chillin’” for a while, you got your homework out and worked on it a bit, and Mom (maybe Dad) was around to help you with it. You took a break, maybe headed out to play with the neighbor for a while, and finished things up after supper. Bring back any memories?
Fast forward to 2015. Mom and Dad are likely both working outside of the home. Their children use after school daycare services until Mom or Dad come by to pick them up. It is not unlikely for a child to use school daycare until after five PM, and sometimes even later. Parents rush home to fix a meal, trying to establish some quality time at the supper table, and then there’s bathtime. Separate households as a result of separation or divorce can sometimes make matters even more complicated.
And we’ve not even factored in extracurricular activities like hockey practice, ballet classes, soccer tournaments, and the myriad of other commitments that take place several times per week. (I know all about it because this is my life, too. I’m writing this article from a bakery shop downtown as I wait five hours while my daughter rehearses for a big dance production.)
Oh yes, then there’s the homework, let’s not forget that. So, when you’ve got a ninety minute window between supper and bedtime, and your child’s homework assignment is due the next morning, parents often begin to feel what I call the “pressure cooker” effect. The feedback I get from parents paint this picture very clearly. You get my point.
Society, the family unit in particular, has typically evolved into the picture I’ve described in the previous paragraph, yet teaching practices in regards to homework have remained, largely, the same. It’s as though those who work within the structure of the educational system have failed to recognize that demands on parents and responsibilities of everyday family life have grown exponentially. It seems that quality family time has taken the biggest hit of all as a result of this “disconnect” between the two.
So, it’s pretty evident that I’m not a huge proponent of homework, but please don’t misunderstand this point of view. Reading on a daily basis is an absolute must and is a critical part of a child’s learning, especially for emergent and struggling readers in primary grades. Projects and presentations are par for the course and a reasonable expectation at the higher levels of a youngster’s educational career. Work sent home because a student is chronically unproductive at school and is at risk of falling seriously behind, I get that, too.
What I am not in agreement with is the practice of sending lengthy “drill and kill” type homework assignments and tasks that have a child repeat an already acquired skill over and over again, what I like to refer to as “busy” work. Well thought out assignments that are meaningful and given in moderation can be effective. The general rule of thumb teachers use to gauge a reasonable amount sent home is approximately ten minutes daily per grade level. Meaning, a grade one student would be assigned ten minutes, a grade two student would do homework for twenty minutes, and so on. That seems reasonable for most families.
Over the years, research and studies have shed interesting light on the effectiveness of homework. Many of which have concluded that the doling out of homework simply for the sake of doing so does not particularly enhance performance. A good argument for this point is Alfie Kohn’s book “The Homework Myth.” For anyone interested in learning more about the research that led to these conclusions, a good article that is well worth reading and presents both sides of the debate can be found here.
Interestingly, in some school districts across Canada and in the United States, schools have gone as far as to adopt a “no homework” policy and, in many cases, received overwhelming positive feedback from families. Parents happily reported more quality time available for family activities and events, and that school-related stress in the household has diminished substantially.
For many parents like me, less homework means more time for other important things like spending time as a family and with friends, mindfully engaging in meaningful activities with our children, and just plain old having fun together with them before they grow up! It’s definitely something worth thinking about.