Do Elephants Do Homework?

Some of the respondents to my recent Elephants in the Room entry have agreed to write a guest post dealing with an issue in education that we are reluctant to talk about. Today, Marty Stevens continues the parade with a perspective on something  the mind of that is on the minds of both parents and teachers these days.

Homework as an Elephant in the room seems kind of small potatoes with all the other elephants which have been mentioned. Things like the fuzziness around the explicitly-stated purpose of school, top down vs. bottom up leadership, inclusivity in the classroom, to name a few. Still, if we cannot tackle this Homework issue I doubt we’ll ever make headway with the Alpha Elephants.

I am an Elementary School Counselor and could write at considerable length with regards to the Homework Elephant. However, it has already been documented by other notable bloggers. I’ll get to them in a bit. First, I want to reflect upon the impact of Homework from the perspective of a Parent.

I am the Dad of Twins who are in First Grade. Granted, I am relatively new to this having-kids-in-school-thing. Still, I’ve been a parent long enough to school-aged children to realize that Homework creates unnecessary stress in our family.

Since schools are supposed to teach to each student’s needs and differentiate instruction, I would like schools to do the same with homework. Assignments need to be differentiated to individual student’s needs, allow students to develop self-expression, and encourage creativity. Instead, my twins come home with the same homework assignments – usually a worksheet that replicates the work already completed in the classroom. (Bear in mind, while they are twins, they are in different classes with different teachers, working with very different learning styles.)

My daughter completes her homework faster than you can say, “No stress, no fuss.” Why should I complain? She grasps what she’s learned in school with relative ease. She completes her homework without the need to take a break. Start to finish in about 20 minutes. Done. That is the good part.

So, why am I complaining? Because she would benefit more from some sort of extension activity or enrichment at home in place of the currently assigned homework. Because of how effortlessly she completes her homework, I am guessing she already grasped the concept in school and completed whatever work there was during the lesson. So, why come home to do more of the same? While she is happy to complete this, I think she would be much more engaged with maybe creating a story problem that involves the math concept (she loves to write) – or illustrating her spelling words and writing captions for each picture (she enjoys drawing as well). Differentiation based on student needs and learning style.

As for my son, he works at a slower and more deliberate pace when doing his homework. He also needs breaks. When the school year began we suggested to his teacher that his homework be modified. Our intention was to shorten his assignments while still ensuring he understood the basic concept and had a practical grasp of the content. Initially, this was declined because the teacher wanted him to do what everyone else was doing and felt he had the ability to do so. We had no doubt he had the ability to do so. So, we gave it a try. After a trial period of taking way too long and inducing stress for him and us– we stopped. We informed the teacher that we would work with him for 20-30 minutes each evening adapting his homework to demonstrate his mastery with fewer problems.

We have become the ‘squeaky wheel that got oiled’ because we speak up and ask questions and advocate. There are some who would label us as one of Those Parents. That is unfortunate. I figure since schools individualize and differentiate instruction, the same should be done with homework. Instead, what I see is that every student routinely gets the same assignment. I’d rather the schools be proactive about it.

Some teachers are proactive, as evidenced by the teacher bloggers I am about to reference.

Pernille Ripp says, in her post, So What’s My Problem with Homework?– Think of what the purpose of homework is in your room, look really hard at your reasoning; why do you assign it? Is it a meaningful learning experience that will help students become smarter, more knowledgeable, better people? If yes, excellent. But if no, not always, then stop, re-evaluate, clean it out, and then tell your students. You will marvel at their response.

Do you want a student perspective on homework? See Mrs. Ripp’s, From the Mouths of Babes–My Students Discuss Homework.

John T. Spencer writes, “The Wrong Focus: Homework is precisely that: work at home. The goal is often increased achievement. The bigger question is whether we want achievement or learning. If the goal is learning, homework kills the desire to learn.”

Read John T. Spencer’s, Ten Reasons to Abolish Homework (And Five Alternatives)

Josh Stumpenhorst writes, “Students sit in desk for 7 hours a day listening, reading and writing what teachers tell them to. Then when they get some respite and head home, they have more work to do. As with just about anything we do in life, the more we are told to do something, the more likely we are to burnout. We can make a safe assumption that a majority of kids do not find homework pleasurable. With that in mind, we will turn kids off to learning if we attempt to connect homework to learning. In my experience, homework does not instill a love of learning, it does quite the opposite.”

Josh’s entire post:  My Issues with Homework

I’d like for my kids to have a meaningful learning experience in and out of their school life. In order to do so, though, I think that homework needs to look different. Until that happens, we will need to continue being the ‘squeaky wheel’. Here are a few questions for you to help me out with this Elephant: Is homework steeped in past practice? Do parents resign themselves to this method because it was good enough for them and that is all they know? Maybe it is a way to keep text book/work book companies in business? Are current homework policies aligned with good pedagogy? I’ll leave you with this, as I believe it speaks to all our Elephants.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. -Charles Darwin 

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Stephen Hurley

About Stephen Hurley

Stephen Hurley has been involved in public education for over 27 years, serving as a classroom teacher, school-based resource, curriculum consultant and teacher educator. He is most passionate about issues and conversations around school change and innovation, and welcomes all voices to the conversation. You can contact Hurley at stephen.hurley@sympatico.ca

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4 Responses to Do Elephants Do Homework?

  1. sarah richer February 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    I tackle this question with parents often. I am currently in a debate with a parent about the fact that every bit of homework must be assessed immediately. This parent believes in drill and practice each night and think my immediate feedback on every line of work is the key to her son’s success.

    I encourage parents to realize that the most effective learning happens within the walls of the room. I give weekly homework usually focusing on one task per subject. The students manage their time and even have the weekend to complete it if their week is busy. We blog our journals and reflection and students are not only assessed by the teacher, but by their peers and their own judgements. I use homework pieces in class for sharing and collaborative tasks and find ways to use the material to help to enhance their knowledge.

    The biggest challenge I find is coming head to head with parents and other teachers who believe that daily “worksheet” homework is the way to go. Unfortunately, I believe that this type of learning leads to little curiousity and even less retainment of the concepts being studied.

  2. Doretta Wilson March 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    There’s good, well designed homework that reinforces or expands on what is learned in the classroom and useless homework. Here’s our take:

    http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/media/QuickStudyApr-08.htm

    and from a teacher’s perspective: http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/parents/homework.pdf

  3. Christiaan Huygens March 30, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Hello, i think that i saw you visited my web site so i came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to improve my site!I suppose
    its ok to use some of your ideas!!

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