The issue of homework is still one of those really intense issues that gets talked about around the lunch tables, water coolers and playgrounds everywhere. Teachers talk about it too and just like every family has their take on what homework should look like, so does every individual teacher.
Some people believe that homework can make learning rote and easily forgotten, not to mention, it cuts into family time at night. Yet others believe that the traditional way of struggling through homework every night contributes to a healthy work ethic and creates good habits that will serve students well in the higher grades.
In extreme views, parents evaluate a school’s effectiveness and status by the amount of homework that is assigned on a regular basis. Schools such as this maintain a very strict homework policy and parents that subscribe to the traditional view of “just work through it kiddo, I had to” love this ideology and enrollment stays up.
Navigating the Politics of Homework
While it’s hard these days to find articles that question the validity of homework, there is an abundance of information out there that simply explains the traditional benefits of completing homework, how best to complete it and how to set “your child up for success”.
On the other hand, there are parents out there that have this sense of discomfort around it, yet cannot find the evidence or “another way” to explain what we intuitively know. Why does my child have to do another two hours of work tonight? What does this worksheet have to do with the lesson from class today? What will happen, really happen, if my child doesn’t complete this assignment?
We as parents can appreciate the “big idea” behind getting through the assignment. We had to struggle through boring work and we are just fine. The ability to work through discomfort and to complete a task even when it isn’t fun, or interesting or engaging is something to be proud of.
This lesson needn’t always be taught through the drudgery of inconsequential homework assignments. Why not teach this lesson through weekend chores that come with consequences if not completed and earned (delayed) rewards if completed adequately? That’s how life works isn’t it?
Considerations for Determining Your Stance on Homework
We as parents have to accept that homework is not going away. Consider these ideas as you evaluate your stance around the hot homework debate.
#1: Get to know your school or district’s homework policy – What are the guidelines and who made them? How are they enforced and what is the rationale or research behind them?
#2: Talk to your child’s teacher about their personal homework policy – Your child’s teacher may have a different take on the official policy and may deliver the goods much differently than other teachers. Some teachers shun homework altogether. Some may send home only what wasn’t completed in class. Others may send home booklets to be completed on a regular basis. Start the conversation around what is expected and why.
#3: Evaluate the “worth of the work” – Is it stimulating or is it rote memorization? Is it simple tasks full of repetition or is it rich in higher-level thinking? Does it require endurance or is it interesting and engaging? Yes, sometimes there are pieces of work that just need to get done, but overall what is the value of the majority of the tasks your child is being asked to do?
How to Create an Engaging Learning Environment
An engaging, higher-level thinking task will get your child’s attention without you forcing it. Isn’t that the dream of every parent and the whole idea behind lifelong learning? Engaging tasks are:
Relevant in the life of the child – There is something about it that the child identifies with and can see purpose in doing it.
Co-created – When a child has had input into what they are working on, they feel valued and automatically have a stake in the outcome. Rather than always being told what to learn, the child chooses an aspect of an idea to ponder and work on based on either their natural abilities or interests. Teachers that pay attention to this element of task design have engaged students that WANT to work on projects “after hours”.
Big ideas – Children love to dream, and they can dream big. When a topic catches their imagination, it will have them researching, asking and questioning all aspects of it. Adults sometimes tend to break down the dreaming big process for kids, coming from a more “realistic” and jaded viewpoint. The beauty of the “what ifs” kids bring should be celebrated and explored.
Set clear expectations – Children need to know the target they are aiming for, the focus of the task and the process they need to complete in order to know they’ve completed it well. Some teachers use “rubrics”, a set of expectations that set the benchmark for what is expected. These expectations need to be shared with the student right from the get-go. This decreases anxiety and allows for constant self-evaluation of the product, a process of higher-level thinking.
Collaborative – Students are growing up in a world where collaboration is the new norm. The workplace has become a champion of this approach, yet schools are still places where kids are required to work alone. Your child should have the opportunity to talk to classmates, adults and anyone that will listen to their ideas. With technology working for them, they can engage in conversations with kids around the world about their learning!
Many parents love these ideas and yearn for these kinds of tasks for their child but struggle in a system where they feel their voices aren’t heard. The question then becomes, what are we as parents willing to do to ensure that our kids get great learning experiences?
The reality of schools is that teacher’s time is scarce, the resources are few and numbers keep increasing. We need to step in and have a part in our children’s futures, that’s the fact.
Are you willing to talk to your child’s teacher about working together on engaging tasks? Will you provide your expertise in your child’s classroom? Will you take on the heated homework debate and when you choose your stance will you base it on solid evidence?
Your child sure hopes you will!