My Perspective on Education: From a Mom on The Big Homework Question

This is a guest post written by Kristie. She is a public school kindergarten teacher and a mom of a 2nd grader. For more information on this series and submitting your own perspective on education post, click here.

I have been contemplating the big homework question since the beginning of my daughter’s 2nd grade year when she told me her teacher said, “You’re getting 20% taken off this math assignment because it is late.” She wondered what that meant. So did I. Not in the sense that I don’t understand percentages. More so, I couldn’t understand how it was an age-appropriate measure of discipline or a “teachable moment” for a 2nd grader. I continued to look further into the big homework question (henceforth referred to as the BHQ) when my daughter was assigned 96 problems of addition and subtraction practice in one night. I’ve come to decide that I completely disagree with the current intent/philosophy of homework and I think our society needs an overhaul in thought about how we handle the BHQ.

I am not only a parent to a brilliant, strong-willed, smart and amazing little girl, but I’m also a teacher. I have taught 6th grade, 3rd grade and kindergarten. I am privy the various levels of development and the various needs of students. That is why I think I’m well versed enough to take a stand on the homework front. Before I rant on, let me be clear. My entire adult experience as a teacher and a parent has been within the confines of an elementary school setting. I cannot judge how I will feel about the BHQ when my daughter hits middle school. I’ll have to get back to you in a few years on that one.

I visited my daughter’s school director today (The Big Dog). When I asked him about the point of homework, he told me that children need practice to eventually gain mastery of the subject matter. He then told that I shouldn’t be on the hook for helping my daughter; she should already have exposure to the topic and her homework practice should be a means to proficiency. I didn’t even ask him what I should do if she’s practicing the wrong way. Apparently he assumes the teachers will look at my daughter’s assignments and make the necessary changes to their instruction in order to help my daughter…. What I think is that they will mark it as a 0/10 in the grade book, shake their head, and move on to the next lesson. That’s just the skeptic in me.

Here’s the reason why I don’t understand why homework is used as a determination for a grade. Some kids (my kid included) have the advantage of parents who care enough to help them. That’s not a reflection of what my child can do; it’s a reflection of what I did. And I’m not sure if you know this, but I already completed 2nd grade. As a parent, I would never let my child go to school with an assignment completed incorrectly. I think homework is simply false advertising of what a kid can do. As a teacher, I would much prefer to watch them in class, find out where the misinformation or difficulties are, and then direct them down the correct path. I just can’t believe that anyone is so disillusioned that they could actually believe homework is a true reflection of a child’s knowledge, understanding, or ability. Homework doesn’t do that job, Dr. Big Dog. My child is neither proficient nor has she achieved a level of mastery. But hey, that’s a 10/10 in the grade book. Cheers for Mom!

Ok, so some of you think that we as educators (and parents) need to teach children responsibility and “how to be in school” and “what will be expected of them” but does that mean that we should arbitrarily assign a certain number of pages in the math workbook or a specific number of minutes a child needs to be practicing a skill? I certainly support teaching my child responsibility in an age-appropriate way. We, as a society, think that translates into doing pages x-z in a workbook tonight and bringing it back tomorrow. Yay! Congratulations! You’re so responsible. Wait—you did it all wrong. You were so responsible, but you didn’t get it. 0/10 in the grade book. Tsk, tsk.

Let’s talk more about responsibility. When the assignment is late, that must mean that the student purposely and willfully neglected his/her homework and therefore should be punished. Actually, let me clear something up here— Life happened and homework didn’t happen. For example, we had dance class. We had a family get-together. Someone died. Our pet ran away. We fell asleep right after dinner. The negative consequence of not finishing her homework is 20% off. It’s a good thing she doesn’t know what that means yet, because I have a big problem with telling my 7 year old that finishing a piece of paper will get her further in life than living life itself. 8/10 in the grade book. So irresponsible!

Some of you will debate that homework is a good link between school and home. It helps the parents to understand what is happening in class. I can give you a bunch of ways that I can and do communicate school happenings without ever assigning one piece of homework, so don’t even go there!

You’re probably thinking one of two things right now. Either you think I’m delusional or you think I’m a genius and you wish I were your child’s teacher. I’m fine with either of those judgments, as long as you’ll agree with me that homework doesn’t serve our young children in an appropriate way. Our elementary aged kids should be learning responsibility from doing their chores at home, reading each night, cleaning their room, and being a contributing member to the family. After 6.5 hours of sitting and listening, our kids should be out exploring the world, living life and learning how children learn best—through play, activity and interaction.

Our teachers should be watching our students at school to see how they need help to gain mastery. They should be giving feedback to the students as much as humanly possibly—in the moment, in words—not with red ink. When there is a problem, the teacher should be communicating it through words on the phone or in person or in an email– not through a grade on a report card. And our principals/administrators should be watching those teachers to make sure they have the best of the best. That is how our students will gain mastery. That is how our children will learn responsibility. That is how home and school will become connected. And that is how I can best answer the BHQ.

Comments

  1. Great insight! My kids are young yet – Kindy and 1st grade this year – and every week, without fail, they BOTH have homework. Even on the weeks where there is only 3 days of school – there’s a packet to complete. And you are right – it falls to the parents, well, some parents.
    Never mind that we have ‘life’ to live…even if you don’t participate in any extra curriculars, like swimming, dance, hockey, karate, etc – there are still other things that get in the way of ‘homework’ for my 5 year old – you know, like making dinner, eating dinner, bathing…

    I do NOT remember homework starting even close to this early, when we were kids…
    And I agree – to me, this proves nothing…
    Nothing good anyway.

  2. simplici says:

    I love the point that you make about after sitting at school 6.5 hours kids need to actually experience life. When I think back to elementary school I never had homework {though I was the kid that would have loved to have some!} and even our bigs didn’t have nearly as much homework in early elementary as it seems kids are having now. I agree, what is it really accomplishing? Thanks for sharing your perspective, Kristie!

  3. I have to say I agree with 99% of what you wrote! I was a second grade teacher for 6 years and now have a kindergartener! :) the only thing I disagree with is the responsibility part of homework, I made it clear on parent night that I send homework home, not to help students improve on skills taught, but to teach responsibility. In life there are things you need to get completed in a specific amount of time, such as paying bills, sending thank yous ect. Children need to learn, at a young age, that they are responsible for their own things. I don’t think it’s fair to compare skipping homework because of a funeral to falling asleep after dinner, or even dance class. Life happens and that is understood! i wanted my students to know that they need to plan the time to get their work done. Their JOB during school years is school!!! Dance or playing with friends are important but, your “job” comes first. We are talking no more then 5 minutes once a week, other then nightly reading- which you cant argue isnt important. We all know that with a job comes responsibility and responsibility needs to be taught from the beginning. Side note- yes chores are important at home but I feel students need to be held accountable by other adults then just parents.

  4. As a former teacher of 2nd grade and 5th grade some of this I get and some I find a little hard to digest. Do I think it’s ok to give an 8 year old 96 questions to do in one night, no way! That’s crazy. Do I think it’s important for kids to learn the responsibility of bringing things back and forth in the correct time frame, absolutely. This is an incredibly important life lesson. Let me state though that I was a teacher who valued family time a lot and didn’t give homework just to give homework. It needed to be valuable and meaningful. I don’t agree with busy work!!! They have worked very hard all day and need a break just as I did at the end of the day. I know some teachers load students with way too much homework. I don’t agree with that. I also had a policy that if a student really didn’t understand the homework and needed more than minimal help from a parent they could email me that night and tell me they needed more instruction without penalty. I did however work in a more affluent area so that wasn’t an issue. If i worked in a different demographic area i would have set up a different type of policy. I did struggle with parents doing kids work for them. I would have rather had a note from a parent or an email telling me they needed more instruction. I believe it takes responsibility and independence away from children when parents take over too much. I do have to say that I think most teachers would be sympathetic to a funeral or important family time and give the kid a break. I also believe that children are way over involved in activities outside of school. Some of my students would be in three activities at one time. That is crazy to me. School should be the most important activity and will get them the furthest in life. I do think its important to be in outside activities to learn valuable lessons but too much is too much just homework. Kids need downtime from everything to just be kids!!!

  5. To some degree, I think The Great Homework Debate, which I’ve blogged about before, is cultural. Where I used to work in Chicago, parents often complained about homework for many of the reasons listed above (number one being that they were too busy with extra-curricular activities). In my current school, though, I’m always having to validate why I dont assign homework because our parents like it (often, I think, because it’s a good babysitter). Both are middle school settings, just FYI.

    In the beginning of the year, I tell my students outright that i will not do any grading at home. I vow to always use my time wisely at school so that I can enjoy my time away from school. I also tell that since they dont dictate how I spend my free time, I certainly can’t do that of them. The only time they ever have homework is when they don’t use their class time wisely. It rarely happens in my classroom.

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