A (few) Slice(s) of Homework

Slice of LIfe

Part of Slice of Life by Two Writing Teachers. Head over there for information and links to more Slicing! 

“I feel so…good! Mommy. I don’t know if you know this feeling…when you get something done. Not the homework kind of done, but a good deed.”

H started 2nd grade this year. I wish you could have seen him before school started. He was ready to be a second grader: So excited to go to school. He loves learning, and his curious creativity drives him daily (in and out of the classroom). He started school at the end of August, and he still loves it. His teacher is also curious and creative, and she seems to get him, which is nice. It is especially nice because the teacher he had for kindergarten and first grade is what I would call an angel of a teacher, and I’m sure she will never be topped. (My love letter to her is a different post.) So we had  wondered how the transition to a new teacher would go.  This year, H said, just a few days in… “I know that I have Tr. R for second grade and third grade, but I should probably have her for fourth grade too.”  Okay then! 2 awesome teachers in a row, who could ask for anything more?

I guess I can. I can ask for no homework. H gets math each night, and then a selection of other homework assignments, given over the weekend and due on different dates. Make no mistake, the homework assignments are interesting and worthwhile assignments. There is a night of reading. Some weekends we have been good at getting all the assignments done so that we don’t have to worry about them during the week. I like spending time with my children, and sometimes the time we spend doing homework is enjoyable. Tonight I sat with H as he did his math. The practice was easy for him, so he spent some of his energy being creative. “Look, I can write my ‘o’clock zeroes’ with sideways 8’s!”  We smiled and laughed and practiced some clock math. It was not a bad way to spend 15 minutes.

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Other times have not been so peaceful. More than once H has said, “I hate school.” You know when he says that? When it’s time to do homework. It is usually a battle. “You can do that after you do you homework,” is a phrase Mr. Thought and I say a lot around here.  My middle school daughter loves school too. She struggles with some math concepts, and some might say that is why she should do more homework. But I’m not so sure. She has been working at school all day. She comes home and needs some down time. She needs some time to play, practice her piano, eat dinner, talk with us, help with chores. She needs to get ready for bed… There are only so many hours in the day. Several nights last week she ended the night upset that she hadn’t had any time to read. Now part of this is her own time management skills, for sure…but I have been waiting for her to catch the reading bug, and hate to see her not reading because she’s practicing long division. More than once she has said, “I don’t need extra help with my long division, I just don’t like math. I don’t care about it.” I’m thinking 15 practice problems at the end of a long day aren’t going to make her care about math.

Full disclosure: I have a problem with homework in the elementary and middle school years. For the past month or so, I have been noticing slices of our homework life at my house. I have read The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. I have read numerous other articles and research summaries about homework, and I have seen friends’ postings on Facebook. I am not alone in my dislike of homework.

I know. Some students like it. Some families feel it is important. Sometimes the practice benefits the student whether they enjoy it or not. I know. I know the pressure in my own teaching: So much curriculum, so much to do. There isn’t enough time. Ever. 

Two weeks ago, I gave my students a timeline assignment. They had some time in class to work, and I told them they would need to go over their timeline with their families to help with the facts, etc. I assigned a due date. The day before the due date I had a different activity planned… so much curriculum to get through, you know. But then I noticed that students needed more time, and I asked myself: If this activity wasn’t worth class time, why was I assigning it? Why would it be worth home time? I scratched my plans for that period, and gave them that extra hour to work. (It was worth the time, by the way – getting to know your students through an authentic activity is, I believe, always worth the time.)

I wonder about homework. If we give practice homework that kids aren’t independent in, then they may practice the wrong thing, or struggle through an understanding in a way that causes more frustration than it is worth. If they are already independent in a skill,  do they need that practice? If we give the same homework to every student, how is that differentiation? But if we take the time to differentiate, is that amount of time worth it for homework that they will be doing without our observation and support? If research studies aren’t showing that doing homework before high school leads to better study skills and organization, is it worth the headache? If homework is practice, is it something that you should ethically be counting in a grade that is meant to show how well a student understands? (Check out Rick Wormeli’s thoughts on grading homework here.) If homework does help academics, what gives schools the right to dictate a student’s time at home?

It should be enough that research doesn’t support homework. It should be enough that the majority of parents don’t want their kids to be doing work during family time. (See this study, where at my last check, 75% of parents wanted a “no homework” policy) It should be enough that kids work all day. But for some reason, we still do it because “We’ve always done it this way.” 

If you were to look into a window of my children’s time at home, you would see what might look like a mess of legos and playdoh, paper, markers, dress up, dolls. . .  Sometimes we spend a day on a beautiful family hike.

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To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t want homework even if all my kids did in their free time was play. I believe in the power of play and that for kids, playing is their work. However they aren’t just playing. By 1:00 this past Sunday afternoon, H had already done the following non-homework activities: Cleaned and reorganized his bedroom, sorted legos with his 4 year old brother, researched how our cat goes downstairs by videotaping him in slow motion on my phone, and measured and figured out the timing of our ceiling fan. He slowed down for a snack and some time hanging out with Mr. Thought. L, my 10 year old, had a similarly busy and productive day, in addition to reading her current chapter book.

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I watched H’s slow motion video of our cat on Sunday afternoon, and hated that I had to say, “Hey! you could write about this in your research journal homework!” He didn’t want to open his backpack, but I made him. We printed out a picture, and glued it in.photo 1

I hope I didn’t teach him that the only learning that counts is the stuff you do for other people. I hope he’s right, that a picture is fine, he doesn’t need to write for each entry.

Instead of worrying about it, I settled in with my tissues and water (go away, cold!) and listened as Mr. Thought read Harry Potter to us.

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4 thoughts on “A (few) Slice(s) of Homework

  1. I feel the same, especially after I made a sort tonight to help my daughter memorize the states and capitols for her test tomorrow. I keep wondering about the kids whose parents can’t help them. I am annoyed at the time we should, be doing something else as a family. Great honest post!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Beth. I wonder too.. about those kids who don’t have any help. There are nights that it is very hard to give my kids help, with all of the schedules, and work, and etc. etc. etc…. And I CAN help for the most part…

  2. There is so much validity to what you have to say about homework. As a middle school teacher who assigns homework, I have mixed feelings – we need to keep the reading and writing going, but…

    1. I know. My feelings are mixed sometimes too. I do ask my students (6th grade) to read each night. I want them to aim for 30 minutes a night. I tell them that research says that independent reading will benefit them. I also give some homework in math. I co-teach my math class, and the expectation is that there will be homework… So we assign just a few minutes of practice… and last year we gave a soft landing for those kids who didn’t complete their practice. We haven’t started that this year… we’ll see I guess! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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