Homework – as a mom and a teacher

A huge thanks to Dean Shareski for the del.icio.us bookmark to Alfie Kohn’s September 2006 article for the Phi Delta Kappan about research and homework.

I’m an easy teacher; I’m sure that’s what the kids at school say. Mrs. Tabor doesn’t give tests or lots of homework. I do expect students to read about 125 pages of text a week. That’s a lot of words. But, as I give them the reading assignments well in advance, they can read at their own pace, and I don’t have reading quizzes (“What was Huck….?”) I’m the easy teacher. But not really, at least I don’t think so. Students have to be a part of the life and breath of the class to succeed. They need to feed each other’s curiosity and need to understand.

I have colleagues, in the English Department and in the History Department, that believe asking students to respond at length in writing every night after doing the assigned reading (in paragraphs that have strong thesis statements and supporting evidence) makes them “better teachers.” It’s hard not to succumb to the implied competition here. One colleague said in a meeting that having another teacher grade a writing assignment that would end up in the first teacher’s grade book was unacceptable. Other teachers clearly had much lower standards, so their grades threw off the entire grading system. This is the same teacher who believes that not putting a grade on a piece of writing means that students won’t do their best work.

But I see kids in my classroom who got to sleep at 3:00 AM, and they did not spend 7-11PM playing World of Warcraft. They have too much homework. It’s wrong, it’s abusive, and it raises the mom urge in me. Kids need sleep. They need to hang with their friends.

My own daughters have mixed experiences with homework. I have a child entering high school who may have significant homework for the first time in her life. School is easy for her, and she has often completed all work during the day. My two sixth graders have had a different experience. They have had hours of homework in elementary school. Often, the work they do is not extended from work in the classroom but are new concepts or tasks. Often, the worksheets (I HATE worksheets!) are so confusing that I have a hard time figuring them out. What I see is that some public school teachers are so busy working to raise test scores and meet NCLB expectations that they push work home that they are not able to get to. Spelling, essay writing, textbook decoding, math facts – these are left to me to teach them. This is not a criticism of teachers; there are only so many hours in a school day, and teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less.

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