Thursday, September 29, 2011


To Homework or Not to Homework?
That is the question.

OK, maybe that's not the question. So how about,

What do you think of homework?


In a word (or three), I hate it.

Do I hate it because I despised it when I was a kid?
Do I hate it because as a virtual single Mom to six kids I have precious little time left over for policing/teaching/supervising homework issues?
Do I hate it because studies have shown there is no correlation between homework completion and achievement in school?

Well, yes to all of the above. But there's more to it than that. While I do think that homework has its place, and is often neccessary for a child to learn a skill, I emphatically do NOT think homework should be counted as part of the child's regular grade. And here's why:

In any school setting, one can find three general categories of students: honor roll students, middle-of-the-road students, and those children who either struggle academically, or have no support at home, or both.

For the students who do well, homework is just more busy work. They will do it because they are diligent, conscientious kids who care about their grades, but it will not help them to learn the concepts taught in class, because they already got it when they were sitting quietly with folded hands and open ears. So they work hard, they do all that was assigned, and they take care to present a neat paper. For all that, though, homework is rarely checked by the teacher. Instead, it is simply collected and recorded as "complete". These students would get an A or a B in the class whether they did the homework or not.

At the other end of the spectrum are the kids who struggle. When they sit down with their homework, they might not understand the assignment. Although homework is supposed to be work that the children can complete independently, for these children (and I have a couple), this is not the case. If this child has a supportive, available parent, it now becomes that parent's job to teach these concepts that were not learned in the classroom to begin with. The child still does not really "get it", but is able to hand in an assignment the next day and get a checkmark for it in the grade book. Nothing has really been accomplished here except to frustrate both parent and child and suck up the precious time of the parent when she had dinner to cook, carpool to run, papers to sign, a kitchen to clean, etc, etc, etfriggincetera. If the struggling child has no parent available to help, either because the parent is at work or does not care, the child is frustrated at not understanding the assignment, his self-esteem suffers, and he does not receive the coveted checkmark the next day. His grades, while probably already poor because he can't keep up with the class, will now drop even lower.

Middle-of-the-road kids? They will probably benefit the most from the repetition that homweork provides. They learned (kinda) the concept in the class, but finding the least common multiple 20 more times at home will certainly help to cement it.

So what about them? Shouldn't they, along with their overachieving and struggling counterparts do the homework? Yes. Teachers should assign homework. Students should do the homework. The only thing that needs to be changed, in this humble stressed-out Mom's opinion, is how it's counted. I do not believe it should be counted as part of their grade, per se, but rather, as extra credit.

If completed homework goes toward extra credit points, the honor students are delirious because they moved that A or A- up to an A+. Woot, woot!
The middle-of-the-road students are happy because they learned the material a little better, scored a little higher on the test because of it, and oh by the way? They just boosted their grade because they applied themselves.

Those struggling students, who need the most help with their grades, will also be happy to get some extra credit. Instead of feeling like a failure for not being able to do something that was required of them, this child now feels proud for going that extra mile for something that was optional.

There are also a few students who do not fit neatly into any of the above categories. I have a son, for instance, who struggles with a disorder of the attentional variety which shall remain nameless. He needs loads of structure from Yours Truly to get him to both complete the assignment and place it in his backpack. His work is done. My work is done. Any questionable "learning" that came from writing his spelling words three times each and in a sentence? Whatever. He could spell each and every one of those words after seeing them once. The kid's pretty bright, not to brag or anything. But OK, learning - check. The problem is that the next day, invariably, the assignment will never make it out of the Dark Abyss that is his backpack and into the teacher's homework box. As a result, his grade will not be a true reflection of how well he learned the material in the class. He might ace every test, but to look at his grades you would never know it. So now his chances of getting into a good college are lower because, although he learned the material that was taught, and he did the homework, he did not hand it in.

And finally, how 'bout them parents. The overworked, stretched-too-thin parents will appreciate the decreased pressure. As a Mom, I know firsthand how elusive that Perfect Parent Middle Ground can be. That place where you are neither doing so much that you have become one of those obnoxious helicopter parents that completes Suzy's diorama while she sleeps, nor so little that you don't even know the name of Johnny's teacher. No time to help your not-the-brightest-crayon-in-the-box daughter understand the difference between the simple predicate and complete predicate? No worries. If she can get it, wonderful. If she can't, your dreams of her one day attending college (read, leave the house), have not neccessarily been dashed to hopeless bits. Her grades will reflect how much she knows about the subject taught, and chances are, she's going to need more help. The homework, which she didn't understand anyway, is not going to change that.

So there's my $1.02 on the issue of homework.

Now I want you to go through the above post and circle each transitive verb, underline each prepositional phrase, and highlight each conjunction.

I expect it on my desk tomorrow morning.

Awesome! You guys really bumped up my number of votes on Circle of Moms. Think it's possible to make it to the Top 25? Idk, but let's give it the ol' college try. You can vote every day. Thanks!!!!

cartoon courtesy:


Lisa G. said...

Found your blog on Circle of Moms -love this post. I'm a former high school math teacher, now a single mom studying for master's in spec ed.

Agree with just about everything you said - one thing I would like to see is a different grading system. One part (mostly) objective - how well does this child understand the material, generated from FINAL products kids complete (tests, final drafts of papers, -stuff they complete after they've had a chance to really learn the material)

Second part of grade, completely separate, would be attitude, effort, attendance, etc.

Also, I think the purpose of homework varies -sometimes it's to independently practice, though that type should not be more than 10 minutes, especially for math. Endless repetition is useless for almost all students - either they got it the first couple times, or they're endlessly practicing it wrong. Sometimes hw is just to review, or to intro new material, etc.

One thing you mentioned - as a teacher, if I had a parent who needed to greatly help a child with hw, I'd like to know that. I'd want to know what KIND of help the child needed (motivation, reading aloud, staying on task), whether the parent thought the child was really giving it their best effort, and then I'd like to modify that child's assignments to better suit them. 5 problems better than 10 for this child? An outline provided with reading? Limit the amount of time -i.e. the assignment would have taken them an hour - please stop after 20 minutes, and jot a note to let me know they worked hard for 20 minutes.

Then again, this may be why I am now going into spec ed! :-)

And those would be my 2 cents....

Look forward to reading more...

farmbeachgal said...

Hi Lisa, and welcome. Glad to see that an educator feels the same way! Like I said, I don't mind homework in and of itself, it does have its uses, but I don't like that not doing it (or in some cases, not handing it in) drags the kid's grade down and does not then reflect what they've actually learned. Also hate that parents are made to feel like they've failed if the kids aren't on top of it.

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