Saturday, September 02, 2006

No Homework? Big Problem

I read this article about homework and was quite interested. Many of my colleagues in University want to be teachers, I don't, but this still interested me.

The author writes about two books she read that are about homework. Specifically, they are arguing against homework:

Both books cite studies, surveys, statistics, along with some hair-raising anecdotes, on how a rising tide of dull, useless assignments is oppressing families and making kids hate learning.
Most of that increase reflects bigger loads for little kids. An academic study found that whereas students ages 6 to 8 did an average of 52 min. of homework a week in 1981, they were toiling 128 min. weekly by 1997. And that's before No Child Left Behind kicked in. An admittedly less scientific poll of parents conducted this year for AOL and the Associated Press found that elementary school students were averaging 78 min. a night.
Too much homework brings diminishing returns. Cooper's analysis of dozens of studies found that kids who do some homework in middle and high school score somewhat better on standardized tests, but doing more than 60 to 90 min. a night in middle school and more than 2 hr. in high school is associated with, gulp, lower scores.
Educators, including Cooper, tend to defend homework by saying it builds study habits, self-discipline and time-management skills. But there's also evidence that homework sours kids' attitudes toward school.
Kohn's solution is radical: he wants a no-homework policy to become the default, with exceptions for tasks like interviewing parents on family history, kitchen chemistry and family reading.

The rule of thumb I have always known is 10 minutes per grade, which the article does cite. But I question the statistics and findings. For example, they state the average kid in elementary school having 78 minutes of homework per night.

How is this 78 minutes of homework measured?

From the start of sitting at the kitchen table, to the time that they put their books away?

I've tutored kids before and babysat many times. A kid can't do homework for 78 minutes straight. Hell, I probably couldn't do it without at least one break.

Another problem that leads to this much time spent on homework is, school classes have become larger, and thus teachers have less one-on-one time with students. I'm sure everyone remembers the one kid who always took up all the teachers' time.

Now I got by ok, because I was pretty smart and always a straight A student. In fact, I remember when the teacher finished teaching the lesson I would re-explain it to the kid next to be, because they didn't understand.

This growing ratio between students and teacher puts the onus on the parents at home to fill in the gaps, answer questions. But with dual-income families and running kids around to various after-school activities, at the end of the day, there is often not often the opportunity for a lot of quality time with your child. Instead it's spent fighting over homework.

I believe this could be reasons why homework seems to be taking 1-2 hours per night. I question the measurement of time spent on homework. A kid who gets straight As because they are on top of assignments and use their time wisely in the classroom likely doesn't take 2 hours on homework per night, while the kid who has trouble with reading or math, may have to ask siblings, parents or call a friend (or in this day in age, message a friend on MSN) for help, where I can see how it would take a student 1-2 hours to complete homework.

The authors of one of the books has a radical solution. Ban homework.

I haven't read these books, I don't have any children, and I'm not a teacher, and therefore have no qualifications to have an informed opinion on it. I can only reflect on my own experiences. I question the solution of banning homework.

What's going to happen once students are in high school or college/university? Learning can't always be done in the classroom. A child needs to learn time management and discipline on their own with homework. As long as the homework isn't busy work. There needs to be meaningful lessons, and actually point this out to students. You know, at the end of some story books you have 'The moral of the story". Well there also should be at the end of every single homework assignment "The lesson of the assignment". Homework cannot be just busy work because a teacher is too overwhelmed with being a social worker or too lazy to look outside their handbook/lesson plan guide.

I remember teachers changing the policies on late assignments. First, instead of losing 10 per cent per day for a late assignment. It was handed in one the due date or you get zero. (You could ask the teacher for an extention but never the day before it was due). Then it changed to you were not allowed to get a 0 (zero) and that you had until the last day of classes to hand everything in.

Homework isn't the enemy. Stupid busy work from the teacher is. As long as homework has a purpose I think it is still useful for students to complete.


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