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Homework: A Parent’s Perspective

September 24, 2013

ImageThe first article I read examined homework from a parent’s point of view. The author, exasperated by the amount of work assigned to his eighth grade daughter and doubting its worthiness, decided to do her homework for a week. On most nights, it took them both more than three hours to complete the assignments, and she was only in eighth grade. The author also commented on the quality and worth of the homework and pointed out the findings of several research studies that show that homework does not improve achievement.

The author blamed our society for the increase in the amount of homework students have to complete each night. Having worked at competitive independent schools, I know this to be a fact. In this age where getting into an Ivy League school is challenging, many parents want to give their children every possible advantage. (As a former admissions officer, I have been asked by parents with preschool kids how our school will help them get into Harvard.) Parents sign up for sports, take them to music, dance, and acting lessons, and expect teachers to pile on the work under the assumption that more is better. Schools, both public and private, are also to blame as parents will move to a district or enroll in a school with the highest test scores.

As a parent, I know the perils of homework having sat up with both of my sons until late into the evening, and I would agree that too much homework isn’t good or healthy for kids. But my other take away from the article was the fact that at no point did the author mention the skills that were being taught or reinforced. The homework was only meant to instruct and convey knowledge, and this is a sin. Teachers, especially in middle school, should be focused on sharpening the skills of their students. Students need to practice their reading, writing, researching, critical thinking, and public speaking skills among others outside of the classroom to become proficient.

As a teacher who always pushes his students to do their best, I assign homework to extend the lesson and allow them to master the material and practice the skill being taught. In some cases, I utilize the Harkness model which expects students to learn the material at home and to express their opinion and deepen their understanding in the classroom. In other cases, I use the flipped classroom model, which asks kids to learn the content at home while providing me with the time needed to sharpen their skills in my class when I am there to help and guide them.

I put a lot of effort into creating assignments that engage students and provide them the opportunity to deepen their understanding and passion for the subject matter. My homework asks students to be an active participant in their learning. For example, instead of simply assigning reading, I expect students to take notes in the margins to help them cogitate and review what they are reading. I explicitly teach the skills in class, and I want to give them the opportunity to practice at home so they can improve these skills that are necessary in high school and college. The truth is that they will forget more of the history than they remember, but they will use the skills for the rest of their lives. Based upon the number of former students who have come back to thank me and to tell me that they are still using the skills I taught them in sixth grade, I know the value of quality homework.

My takeaways

  • It’s important to limit the amount of homework so that it doesn’t become a burden
  • Teachers need to coordinate their assignments, tests and projects.
  • Students need a break from time to time. Over my career, I have moved to not assigning homework on the weekends.
  • Teachers need to be receptive of parents’ input and be willing to take action to lighten the load and the reduce the stress.
  • Instead of stipulating how many problems should be done, telling students to work for a certain amount of time will help students with slow processing speed or undeveloped skills stay afloat.
  • Fair is not always equal.
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