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I love homework

March 22, 2007

It’s almost as though I planned it this way. A few days of musing about homework, and I just knew (the little hairs on the back of the neck kind of feeling) that I’d be dealing with parents about homework.

Well earlier this week, I had three parents form a common front and come to me with their concerns. Oh, and “there of lots of other concerned parents too… we’ve been talking to them”.

Yeh, right. Please keep in mind that I offer up about 30 minutes of homework every other day. Rarely on weekends, and never over holidays.

I’m trying to get a read on how much homework Alfie Kohn would suggest is reasonable for grade 9. Let’s see what he has to say from an article entitled Rethinking Homework, from which I shall pull out excerpts (italicized) and respond (bolded, just cos I can).

Rethinking Homework by Alfie Kohn

After spending most of the day in school, children are typically given additional assignments to be completed at home. This is a rather curious fact when you stop to think about it, but not as curious as the fact that few people ever stop to think about it.

Actually, I do think about homework. Quite a bit. I am, for instance, constantly conflicted by my personal experience (I hardly had any homework — or perhaps I rarely did much homework — until high school). And yet, I was an honour role student when push came to shove in my final year.

In other words, with little “practice” doing it, I somehow figured out when it was important for homework to be done.

It becomes even more curious, for that matter, in light of three other facts:

1. The negative effects of homework are well known. They include children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning.

The negative effects of failure are also quite well known. Should we not establish a balance between these two competing forces? Too much of anything is not a good thing. But surely there is a time and a place.

Many parents lament the impact of homework on their relationship with their children; they may also resent having to play the role of enforcer

I get paid to be the enforcer, then? Sorry, no paid well enough.

and worry that they will be criticized either for not being involved enough with the homework or for becoming too involved.

Banish the idea that parents should be involved in their kid’s education.

2. The positive effects of homework are largely mythical.

Tell that to music students who want to become better musicians. Or athletes.

For starters, there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school.

 

At the elementary level, I’ve got to agree. I am astounded by how much grade 6s are bringing home.

Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.

Intuitively, I would like to think that there is a correlation, but personally, I learned all my myself when it was necessary to pump it up a notch.

More homework is being piled on children despite the absence of its value. Over the last quarter-century the burden has increased most for the youngest children, for whom the evidence of positive effects isn’t just dubious; it’s nonexistent.

 

Now, if I were to be perfectly honest here, I’d have to agree. Just looking at the quality of homework some of my colleagues are giving (and the stupid kinds of busy work and “multimedia” they spend class time on). I would not be happy if my kid came home with two hours of work a night in grade 7. I’m not so sure it’s that far off, though, for grade 9…

I’ve heard from countless people across the country about the frustration they feel over homework. Parents who watch a torrent of busywork spill out of their children’s backpacks wish they could help teachers understand how the cons overwhelmingly outweigh the pros.

Once again, I can empathize with this sentiment, both as a parent and as an observer of my colleagues. But I don’t believe that the “cons overwhelmingly outweigh the pros” in every case. I have some very clear (at least in my mind) reasons for giving homework. I think the research, where such exists, supports my reasoning.


The rest of the article goes on to suggests ways that principals can “buck the trend” and effect some change.Now, to be honest (when I am not?) I’ve got to agree that a good number of my colleagues are assigning “stupid work” (as opposed to homework) too much of the time. If I were a parent of one of these students, you bet your ass I’d be chatting up the curriculum leader.

But I’d also like to think that I have good, solid reasons for assigning what I do. here they are:

  1. To practice and reinforce ideas that have been taught in the class. We simply don’t have time to practice Mendelian dihybrid crosses ad infinitem. Practice does make perfect, I sincerely believe that.
  2. To catch up. Sorry kids, but getting sick sucks. I’m not saying you weren’t sick, or that little family field trip to the mall wasn’t important. But when shit happens, you need to take care of business afterwards. I’ll make you a deal: I will spend one-on-one time with you to reteach what you missed, you spend your time to get the classwork done.
  3. To get it done. If you fuck around in class, don’t cry at me when you get to do that work at home. Nor if I throw in a few extra questions for good measure.

The underlying philosophy I have is this: class time is short. We can get some of the grunt work done at home, so that we can spend class time doing the fun stuff (exploratory activities, labs, and such). Or else we can do the grunt stuff at school.

When I pose this option to the kids, they invariably vote for a bit more homework. Sorry, but three and a half hours a week (if I’m lucky) just doesn’t give us enough time to do both.

Thanks for dropping by!

Alexi

10 comments

  1. I’m with you on the busy work, but I suspect that a lot of opponents of homework consider it busy work when even a small section of math problems or grammar drills are assigned, whereas I think those do exactly what you say: they reinforce what was learned in class. Having to figure things out for yourself and write them down is helpful.

    And I dimly recall that I was doing reports in 5th and 6th grade. Of course, at that age, “doing a report” mostly meant reading entires on a subject from a couple of encyclopedias and doing a lot of copying. Sometimes it meant writing a not-very-sophisticated synopsis of a book I read.

    But the writing practice was invaluable. Students shouldn’t be writing reports for the very first time when they get to high school. But it’s not work that can easily be done in the class. It has to be done as homework because in my day, you needed peace and quiet and a trip to the library. Nowadays, I suppose all you need us a trip to Wikipedia and a lot of cutting and pasting. But it still needs to be done at home or in the school library, not during class.

    I think junior high was where I learned how to write essays. I actually, now, remember putting in late nights typing up reports (yes, the day before computers), and having gone to the library for research. Perhaps I’m just waxing poetically when I say I didn’t do homework.

    Alexi


  2. Excellent post. Four years ago my first principal said we had to have homework in every class, every night which resulted in a lot of “stupid work”. Now, the homework I assign is assigned on Monday, the kids get a choice of what they want to do from a list of assignments, and it’s turned in on Friday. It’s reinforcement over what we covered over the week. It might, at most, take half an hour. And you’re right on target with the “fuck around in class” comment. You waste my time with your antics, then you have no choice but to do more homework!

    My principal (and some students) think I’m a bit of a hardass, but you’d be surprised at how many kids come to me thanking me not putting up with class wasting garbage.

    Alexi


  3. To get it done. If you fuck around in class, don’t cry at me when you get to do that work at home. Nor if I throw in a few extra questions for good measure.

    If you’ve got your class management down so well that any fucking around is absolutely unavoidable, then I say, yeah, assign a set. I find so often, though, that it’s the teachers who fuck around in enough little ways (e.g. classes slow to start; classes quick to end; slow transitions between activities; lots of yelling; “Alright, I need us to get to work now!”, etc.) that they have to assign homework to make up for time they gave up. Which is unfair to students who, no matter how lame they behave, are just kids. I can rock a huge problem set when my class management is flying well.

    Not for nothing, I just wrote a post on this.


    I actually fancy that I have a good hand on the management thing. I hate wasting time, I start promptly, and will (and have) gotten mad at teachers, resource staff, and even principals for interrupting my teaching with inanities. Yes, it’s gotten me into trouble, but it’s also bought me a bit of credibility.

    I detest teachers who waste my kids’ time, and so strive not to do that.

    Alexi


  4. [...] times at The Education Wonks. It’s only fair to single out a post by Alexi, whose nom de blog is “Teacher With A Bad Attitude,” whose WordPress ID is “BadTeacher,” and whose [...]


  5. I’m actually planning to write a post about HW on my blog soon, only from a third grade teachers perspective. Recently in our school they were talking about doing away with it all together, which I thought was ridiculous. They sent a survey home to the parents who are predominantly Spanish speaking. Nearly all of them saw HW as a positive thing. Thankfully it looks like this is a crazy idea that can be back burnered for awhile!

    Janet:)

    You know, I see very little necessity for homework at grade 3. But then again, I’m not an elementary teacher. Were I, I would tell parents to read with their kids every night and practice your basic math facts. I don’t think that a half hour or hour a night is a necessity at that level.

    Would you provide me with some justifications to support your position?

    Alexi


  6. ” Please keep in mind that I offer up about 30 minutes of homework every other day.”

    OK. But I recall from my student days that when we complained about the amount of homework (three of my eleventh-grade teachers each routinely assigned what they expected to be over an hour’s homework four times per week) each one reacted with “but the homework I assign is important!”) there was no support for our position.

    We are told that in Div 3 (grades 7 thru 9), we should be assigning an hour minimum a night. Up two hours for grade 9s. Four classes each assigning an hour is excessive, IMHO.

    Yes, it may be important, but one strategy is to give students some flexibility. “Do odd numbered practice questions until you get the hang of it, but do a minimum of five” for example. That gives students a bit of ownership and control.

    Of course, their expectations were somewhat inflated by “the curve” so those in my class (I think I had the lowest measured IQ of the thirty-two of us, at 130+) seldom actually spent that much time on it, if we bothered at all. Read a chapter of history? I was reading about six books a week, two daily newspapers, and several magazines… But those in other classes could not “coast” through such a muddle.


  7. That is EXACTLY how I feel about it. I teach Spanish, so if these kids only practice it 90 minutes a day for 4 1/2 months, they’ll never be able to do anything useful with it.

    Um… 90 minutes a day? That seems a bit excessive. But what do I know. Except that I’m trying to learn Spanish myself.

    Alexi


  8. 3rd Grade Teacher. My students are largely ELLs. My students read at a 1st grade level, and they read at 30-50 wpm out loud. They need to practice on their own, at their speed. We are unable to teach multiplication tables to memorization, in fact we only have math 45 min 4 days a week, we can’t really do it at all. If they don’t go home and practice our new math skills (about a day behind what we did in class) it will be lost/they won’t know that they don’t get it, and neither will we and we have no reteach time. But my homework is mostly spelling, and some grammar. The spelling is necessary, their vocabulary is small, they spell things phonetically, our words are difficult. And yet, after 3 nights of spelling homework, which is different every day and involves things like crossword puzzles, their confidence in our spelling classwork is enormous and they are pleased with their ability to participate. But they really beg for grammar- it’s a skill that simply can’t live without, and yet to them it’s a big logic puzzle, which is fun, and again makes you feel smart when you get it.

    My parents want homework. They have trouble being the enforcers, and there may not be books in the house, so they like the concreteness of homework as I present it so there is clarity when it’s finished, even if they can’t read it.


  9. I HATE homework. My teachers in middle school are always giving us homework without stopping even on the weekends!!! My math teacher is always asking us to do the steps of a problem but everybody in our class knows how to do it because we are an honors class. She gives everybody a 0 if you din’t show your work. All I kmow about is that I hate middle schools and its homework.


  10. I would like to see a continuation of the topic



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