Imagine that it’s been a long work day. You got up early, hurriedly scarfed down some breakfast, and made it to work with just a minute to spare. Boring meetings and work sessions that you had to attend filled your day. A brief lunch marked your only extended break and even that didn’t last long enough. A long line at the checkout counter and your favorite table already occupied put a damper on your meal.
You completed most of the tasks assigned to you that day but one task is far behind schedule. You would have had enough time to finish it at work but an impromptu staff meeting messed up everyone’s schedule.
When you come home the first thing you like to do is RELAX! Whether that be in your bedroom, in your favorite recliner, or on the front porch, the most inviting thing about home is that it’s a haven from work. The kids know to leave you alone until dinner is ready so that you can unwind from the day.
That’s on a normal day, though. Unfortunately, after you have completed a work day that started early, you still have an hour or two of work waiting for you. The unfinished task still needs some attention and your manager doesn’t care that the meeting he called on the spur of the moment is what’s forcing you to work at home.
Don’t you just hate those days? The game is on but you can’t watch it because you have to finish a project. You were planning on meeting some guys after work but instead you head home to compile earnings reports. You cancel plans for an evening out with the family due to unfinished work business. It sometimes seems as if real life has to be put on hold in order to satisfy a never-ending work cycle.
Welcome to a day in the life of an eight-year-old.
Value of Homework
If you had to spend an hour or two, four nights a week, of your own time at home finishing tasks from work, most people would consider that unhealthy. People might legitimately view you as a workaholic. They’d counsel you to keep work at work so you can form and maintain healthy relationships at home. What would make it worse, however, is if the tasks were mundane and possibly meaningless.
What if the extra work you brought home consisted of fill-in the blank worksheets answered by scanning a textbook and supplying the missing words? How would you like it if everyone in your department got the same assignment, even though you all vary in experience, skill, and job responsibility? What if the tasks had no relevance to you because you have already mastered the concept or skill?
Homework does not need to abolished. Rather, homework needs to be rethought. Has your school performed a cost-benefit analysis regarding their homework policy? In order to complete the homework, what activities are the students losing out on? Between homework and video games, homework should probably win out. But what about playing outside? Participating in sports or music lessons? At what point does the potential value of homework become overwhelmed by too many missed opportunities to do something else?
Educators need to work smarter, not harder. If students are practicing long division, could they show mastery with 15 problems rather than 30? What about 10? If the fill-in-the-blank worksheets are tedious and too low-level, why not assign a Thinking Map? Rather than answering 15 questions about the assigned reading, why not have them write a one-paragraph reflection on the significance of a key point?
The problem comes when you start to look at how the level of homework causes some students unnecessary stress. Is it normal to have your eight-year-old melt down at 9:00 p.m. because of unfinished homework? On a weekly basis?!?
It’s time to look at what we do and why we do it. “We’ve always done it that way” is not a valid argument for keeping homework the way it is. If it were, the idea of having a communication device that you could carry around with you would have seemed like a personal affront to Alexander Graham Bell and the issue would have been dead in the water.
Here are some questions to ask:
What purpose does homework serve?
How does this support the learning in the classroom?
Why couldn’t the student finish this in the classroom?
Does this add something new to a child’s knowledge or does it serve to support existing knowledge?
If the child needs assistance, do adequate resources exist outside the classroom?
Is this task more important than playing outside or participating in an extracurricular activity?
And for those of you who teach or have secondary students:
Who actually does the homework?
Can the students copy the answers from somewhere?
Will this assignment, in addition to the others given by other teachers, add a dangerous amount of stress to the child’s life?
It’s time to reexamine something that has to this point been a staple of education and make sure that, in it’s current form, it’s still serving a useful purpose.