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The Emperor Has No Homework

I was talking with a former student the other day. He is now in middle school and has a list of complaints common to young teenagers. To many of them I responded, “Just man up and do it”, but after he left, I did a lot of thinking about one issue. He told me that if work was late, the grade on it would drop one level for every day. If he did A work, but handed it in three days late, the A work would become D work by virtue of its lateness only.

It seems to me these are two different issues. If the idea of homework is for students to get extra practice, does it matter if it is in on time? If it does, then have a separate marking column for “Gets work in on time” and give them an unsatisfactory grade. If the work is excellent, it is excellent. Seems old thinking to blend the two categories in retaliation. If a student does homework flawlessly, is there even reason for assigning it? If you know very well that certain students copy others’ homework consistently, does prompt return of assignments mean anything anyway? The whole issue of homework is frustrating for everyone involved. It is annoying for teachers when we make copies for students, hand them out, explain the process and find the next day seven kids didn’t do it. One lost it, one swears they never got it, one says he was too busy and the rest were helped by parents. None of these instances can be graded on non-sliding scales any more than middle and high school kids who just copy from one another can.

We have made deadlines the focus, instead of the supposed good to come from the homework experience. Clearly, parents have different attitudes about homework. In some families, it is the spoiler of every evening, every weekend trip, every family gathering, every dinner, anything hoped for between six and 10 pm. Other parents hold it sacred and believe that there is something intrinsically good about it, that it has power to instill understanding in a child where there wasn’t understanding a few hours ago in class. Some think that three hours of homework must be better than half an hour because more is better, right? Some parents think it’s stupid. I must admit there were many instances in my child’s past when I was one of those.

Some people like their children having homework to do because it ties them up long enough for dinner to be prepared, bills to be paid, email checked and so forth. I get that. For that kind of thing, however, there are plenty of books, websites and educational materials out there that parents can stockpile if they want.

There is nothing magical about a worksheet just because it comes from school. Some things just don’t change that much like counting money, measuring, odd/even, and basic skills. Working on things online has other benefits, too. Homework sheets generate a lot of paper.

My personal belief is that a survey should be done at the beginning of the year to see if parents even want homework for their child. It is clear from the return rate by some that it is just not a priority, and that’s fine. Families who have loaded schedules may choose their child not to have an additional daily obligation. Thanks for telling us! Then we won’t have to make copies, send it home, check it and keep track of whether it was returned or not. Families who want homework as a matter of course, check that box and we will send it home and follow through. Families who just want to do more project related or non-skill and drill type homework will be given those assignments as they come up throughout the year.

In elementary school, particularly in Early Childhood (K-3) I have not found it to be worth the hassle. It has never made the difference between getting and not getting it. I generally give it because we are expected to and we are told that parents like it. There are positives, of course. It does keep the parents informed as to how their children think, where the strengths and weaknesses are and more simple things like can s/he write numbers and letters correctly, use punctuation, etc. but if parents aren’t sitting with children while they do homework they don’t know the process used anyway. If they don’t look at the homework as it is being done, they won’t notice numbers are being made from the bottom or backwards. If they do notice it, they will help the child make corrections but until children absorb it developmentally and corrections are made because of new understandings, it’s just cosmetic.

It would be perhaps a better use of time for children to share in dinner preparation, cleaning, putting things away and taking some responsibilities around the house. Some children, when we give them classroom jobs, react as though they’ve never had to do chores or make decisions about how best to do them; and people taut the importance of real world education. Many, many kids don’t know how to wash, dry and put dishes away, clean up after themselves, fold things, tie a shoe, zip, button, wet a sponge and wipe a table. Amazing it is how many students tell us they have no chores to do at home. Ever. Let's put the home in homework, breathe a big sigh of relief, and start making family work charts for spring cleaning.

I can hear the children applauding already.

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