As a teacher, I was never a big fan of homework. I hated it when I assigned work to do at home for children living in challenging situations. Their parents might work several jobs to make ends meet, they might be living in a small apartment with several other families, or they might live in a situation where no one spoke English. I would ask them why they didn’t to their homework and they would shrug with dead eyes. If I pushed they might say they had to make dinner, or babysit their siblings, or they might have nothing to say at all. Homework would immediately instill defeat in their faces and they wouldn’t even fight it. Wasn’t it enough that they came to school? Did they not get any points at all for how hard they had to work on things that had nothing to do with homework? I didn’t understand, clearly.
It was a sad fact that about half of my class would show up with neat, organized, and perfect homework and half would show up with…nothing. Since homework was worth 20 % of the grade, that was a pretty hefty penalty. Of course, that meant that the only children who could earn an A were children with involved, interested, and available parents. Is that fair? Of course not. So, I changed my policy. Homework was worth 5% of the grade but you could do it at home or you could eat lunch with me and do it in my room (with treats!) Soon, that didn’t even seem fair. Why segregate? Why have homework at all? My job was to teach these kids and to teach them well. I could do that without homework.
I like the policy in my children’s current school. They have minimal homework and for the first fifteen minutes of every day they work with their classmates to check and correct the work. Of course, some kids complete it at that time, but it isn’t a problem. So, it isn’t a liability but involved parents can still establish regular homework routines and stay in touch with what their child is learning through homework. No one, however, is punished.
If I ran my own school, I’d take it even further. I’d create a twenty minute “practice work” session at the end of the school day. Kids could do the work and do some silent reading. They would then take that work home to have their parents check it if possible. I’d also include a one page “Extension Sheet” of what was learned and discussed that day with a couple of suggestions for extending and applying the learning into the home. I’d also have a quick preview of what we would do the next day and into the rest of the week. This would help the Type A parents but it wouldn’t punish the kids without home support. I would also review it with the kids at the end of the day so they could initiate the extensions if they were so inclined.
I would also use that “practice work” session to try to teach kids about doing work independently. We would discuss and practice home work skills like writing down what you have to do, checking it off as you complete it, making sure you have the tools you need, and double checking your work. We’d practice getting organized before and after the session and we’d discuss reviewing what you need for the next day. We’d practice taking notes and studying and creating projects. Ambitious? Yes, but it’s all a dream at this point. I know that schools, teachers, and parents work so hard to help kids. I have met amazing and heroic teachers and I’m not saying I am smarter or better than what they attempt to do each day. I’m just dreaming.
- Homework: A Parent’s Guide to Help Out without Freaking Out, Neil McNerney
- Homework Without Tears, Lee Canter
- How To Help Your Child With Homework, Jeanne Shay Schumm
What is your school’s homework policy?