"Really, the dog ate my homework"
My previous posts on homework discussed the history of homework, asked some questions to try and get teachers thinking about their homework practices and its effect. The second post, although longer than I would have liked, discussed how homework impacted student learning, student motivation, and relationships at home. For this post I want to discuss homework from an elementary teacher's perspective. I would like to talk about why we as teachers, do what we do and the reasons we issue homework. (As I've written before, many of the issues that involve elementary students transfer to grades 7-12 as well)
Let's start here.
Parental and Administration Pressures for Homework
A study on homework conducted in 2001 (Epstein and Van Voorhis) outlined 10 categories for doing homework and found that 70% of those reasons were adult centered. Reasons included to improve student self-efficacy, student self-regulation, and to teach responsibility. This is not to say that Teachers do not always have the students' best interest in mind when assigning homework, but that their motivation might not be centered on student learning needs. There are several factions that put pressure on the classroom teacher to issue homework and most of them are focused on the 70% of the categories identified have little to do with student learning.
Helicopter Parenting & Pride
Parents often feel, based on their school experiences, that homework is necessarily a part of school. I've talked to numerous teachers who have related stories about parents expressing their concerns that their child isn't bringing homework home on a regular basis. The parents worry that their student is not telling them the truth, or for some, they express a feeling of panic that 'Bobby' or 'Susie' are falling behind other students, schools, and districts. I've personally had parents schedule conferences with school administration to discuss the fact that their student (1st grade) was not getting enough homework. Parents feel that if their child is busy, they must be learning something. I've heard discussions among parents that use the amount of homework their child is receiving as a point of pride or use the quantity as a type of 'one upsmanship'.
Teachers also hear the whisperings or intimations that if their students don't have a lot of homework that their instruction is not as rigorous, or that they are less than serious about educating children.
Parental involvement in the completion of homework can be a "two edged sword" (Trautwein) When parental involvement was more direct and possibly interfered with a student's need for self determination, the results were mixed and had a negative correlation with student achievement. (especially with older students)
Policies and Mandates
District or building policies that mandate homework is another pressure on homework issuance. Usually part of a character building program or an effort to appear that the school system or curriculum is rigorous, homework is a outward signal to those outside the school that students are challenged. Not only do these policies have little to do with student learning, they make about as much sense as 'zero tolerance' policies on anything. The requirements don't take into account the students' needs and situations, and are more about appearances and compliance. Successful issuance or completion of a task does not equal learning.
Teacher's Homework Impact
The media compose stories that lament the loss of creativity and innovation, while constantly comparing US students to other countries to try and hammer home that public school teachers are solely responsible for the country's 'poor showing' in the standings. Billionaires proudly point to the fact they never finished high school or college and their creations never arose from a textbook. Yet, time spent on homework has continued to rise. We celebrate people who create, but don't give our kids enough time to explore or create.
Differentiation, personalization, customization or whatever providing students with instruction that meets the learning needs of individual students is called this week, runs contrary to most homework practices. Does it make sense that everyone needs the same practice on the same skill, at the same time?
Development of student self regulation is an frequent reason to issue homework. The reasoning is that students need to learn how to eliminate distractions and improve their diligence towards school work, and that homework is the answer. The problem is that self-regulation is just not a skill they are ready for developmentally, especially in K-4. Cooper (2006) found that "younger children are less able to ignore irrelevant information or stimulation in their environment."
Teacher support is critical to positive student motivation towards homework, including "support of autonomy, (&) competence...extends beyond the realms of the school walls. Perceived teachers' support is important to all students' " (Katz,2010) If students feel that their teacher has not put effort into creating a quality assignment, their efforts suffer.
Questions parents and administrators might want to think about:
- Is academic activity better than any activity?
- Is the homework a task or does it foster learning?
- Can creativity be considered homework?
- Why is every student getting the same assignment?
- Can we expect parents to provide an effective level of support for the learning activity in a home setting? Would the activity be better completed in the classroom?
Coming up next in my "Homework Stinks" series:
#4 (final) My Verdict - What I will try and do in my class for my students and what I have learned about homework through through this series. (Week of August 25th)
Research studies referenced in this series can be viewed on the Homework Stink References Page
Thanks for reading, please tell me what you think.
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