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.