The Great Homework Debate

by , posted on March 17th, 2015 in Parenting, The Tween Years

the great homework debate

Recently, I’ve seen quite a bit of debate about homework and the effects it has on our children. Just in the past week I’ve read this newspaper article, and upon doing further research, I found this Stanford news article equally interesting.

I have to admit, as a parent I feel strange when my teenager or my tween comes home with no homework. I ask, “Well, did you do it all in class?” or “Any project you can work ahead on?” Instead, I probably should be savoring those days and letting them enjoy their free time without interrogation. I was raised with the perception that All homework is good homework! Homework is necessary! You won’t learn without homework!

My seventh grader attends a progressive school where they do not believe that all homework is good. In fact, their view is that an aggressive approach to homework can result in a negative view of learning in general. That’s right, homework may cause kids to hate learning.

the great homework debate - how much is too much?

We are fans of homework that promote creative thinking like passion projects. A passion project is when your child chooses a topic they are interested in, researches that subject, gathers resources, and compiles everything into a report or project and then shares what they’ve learned with their classmates. Studies indicate that children retain more information when they teach others. Worksheets and rote memorization do not encourage learning, but rather understanding and knowledge happen through experiences and reflections on those experiences.

If your tween does end up with homework, and it takes them a long time to complete it, you might want them to communicate that to their teachers. Middle school is a new world consisting of many moving parts, and sometimes those parts (teachers) do not communicate with each other. A science teacher may not be aware that they’ve assigned a research paper due the same day as a creative writing assignment, or your math teacher didn’t check with the history department to see if their testing overlaps. Do not expect assignments to be moved or changed, but just having your child communicate that they are spending hours on an assignment can help teachers consider the many subjects and classes your child is responsible for. And they will respect your child for taking the initiative to talk to them.

Studies indicate that children retain more information when they teach others. Worksheets and rote memorization do not encourage learning, but rather understanding and knowledge happen through experiences and reflections on those experiences.

I’ve found that the key to getting involved in my middle schooler’s workload is to not get involved. In elementary school, the role I had as a parent and my son had as a student, seemed quite natural. That changed when my son started middle school and I could accurately reflect on the relationship we had. I would find myself emailing teachers to get clarification about projects and dropping off a forgotten assignment. Even attending their teacher conferences was my responsibility since my children weren’t invited to them.

homework and teens? Is it a good thing?

Middle school quickly became a different ballgame. Tweens and teens have access to teachers through email, office hours, after school, recess periods, Google drive and other online teaching programs like Edmodo. Teacher conferences became student-led, where I became more of an observer and my son took accountability for his classes and grades.

If you have an elementary school aged child and are touring middle schools, here are some great questions to ask:

-What is your school’s perspective on homework?
-How much homework per night is assigned on average, total among all classes?
-Better yet, if there’s a student present at the tour or on a panel, ask that student how much homework they have nightly.
-How available are teachers to students who need help with assignments? Does every teacher give their students their email address and have office hours where students can come in for additional help?

Every school has a homework culture. It’s best to analyze your own thoughts and beliefs on the value of homework before you choose a middle school for your child. Is it going to take hours of homework each night to convince you that your child is learning? Do you value their free time and the benefits of play?

more articles…
-why is my tween/teen always hungry?
-the importance of reading to kids beyond the preschool years
-how much sleep does a teen really need?
-schoolwork organization

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7 Responses to “The Great Homework Debate”

  1. julia-tagandtibby Says:

    March 17th, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Our kids are in K and have homework, our school (public) is known for it. But it is also the highest ranked in the area. One thing I do like about HW is it gives the parents a chance to see challenges in their kid’s reading or math.

    I also tutor children that really need more 1 on 1 with their parents to catch up, but they tell me about the xbox they play and extracurriculars they do. I guess what I’m saying is, I think homework (under 1 hour a day) can be a good thing in moderation.

    Deborah Reply:

    Homework in grades like kinder can definitely be a good window for parents to see where their children need help, but at the same time it’s kinder! I wish kinder could go back to the purely social and adjustment year that it really should be. And if you have a great teacher who is in communication with the parents, you’ll know how your kid is doing in comparison to the class. Under an hour is manageable most definitely, but as kids get older, that hour tends to grow too. :(


    Sandra Reply:

    Homework in kindergarten is over the top. The “business” of kids is play. Through play they learn sooooo much about themselves, about each other, about the world. It’s too early for academic work. And many kids just aren’t developmentally read to learn to read and write. They just can’t do it.

    To try and force them or expect them only puts undo stress on kids. And parents. It’s like forcing a baby to walk before they can walk. They will all be walking eventually.

    julia-tagandtibby Reply:

    I think defining homework would be helpful. For my kids it is mostly computer games (math or reading related). They love the math software especially, but the phonics is fun too. I don’t see much harm in it.

  2. Sandra Says:

    March 17th, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    There are certain types of information that lends itself to daily homework. Math facts, reading, musical instruments, even writing a few sentences – daily practice leads to mastery.

    There needs to be intent behind it, a purpose.

    If it’s to catch up on learning that isn’t happening in the classroom? That’s a problem.

  3. Jennifer Cooper Says:

    March 17th, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    You know, I’m not a fan of homework and don’t see its necessity. Although the youngest had “passion projects” last year and those were so much fun. I know he learned a ton from them. He even told me recently that he misses them.

    Right now, I know that for at least one of my kids, homework isn’t checked for anything more than completion. What’s the point then? Routine?

    However, we do have a pretty good system in place. The kids come home and do their homework and still have an hour or two for free time for free play and leisure reading. So I don’t know that I can really complain.

    Sandra Reply:

    More than an hour of homework a night before high school age is a lot to handle. And if it’s busywork that doesn’t get checked? What a waste of time that could be spent reading or playing games with the family or seeing friends or playing a sport or making art. Or daydreaming.

    I do like a little because there is some learning to be had around executive functioning skills. Seeing how much time there is between now and when the assignment is due, figuring out when and how much work will be done each day, editing for spelling and grammar errors, how often to rehearse a presentation, etc. Some kids come by it naturally and some kids (like mine) need lots of practice and explicit modeling to get it handled.

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