Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why Homework?

This summer I'm reading and commenting on the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica.

Chapter 24: The Homework Debate

When I was in school, I loved homework. I know, that's weird. But I loved school and I loved learning. If I didn't have homework, I would read and read and read. I would look up words to find out their meanings. Sometimes...I even practiced math problems on my chalkboard at home.

My brother did not like homework. He wanted to explore the wilds of our backyard and later beyond. He would ride his bike up and down the side streets. He did not want to be sitting at a table, figuring out fractions or writing essays.

I thought about our different interests and reactions to school work as I read this chapter. And I came back to a question that I've been pondering about lots of things lately - WHY? Why do teachers give homework? What is the purpose? 

"The research clearly shows no correlation between academic achievement and homework in elementary school," Rae Pica writes. But isn't that why teachers are assigning it? To give practice, to increase proficiency and fluency? To help kids achieve?

And homework can be a determent to achievement. Kids stop reading for pleasure because they associate reading with work and not with enjoyment. Homework can increase stress, tantrums, and physical ailments. I've heard stories about 8-year-olds working on homework assignments for hours. And this after being in school all day.

All this time with homework reduces downtime. Time for kids to explore their own interests. Time for kids to be outside. Time to relax.

I didn't give much homework when I was in the classroom. At my last school, I found it was a waste of effort. Many kids had little support at home to get homework done. I spent lots of time chasing down work or reminding kids of it. I asked myself why I was assigning it. And looked for more effective ways to meet those goals. 

I encouraged kids to read at home each night. I urged them to check out library books. I provided books in my classroom that they could take home. (Some of those are still at students' homes!) Reading lots of different texts (especially ones you choose yourself) is a great way to build vocabulary, increase fluency and comprehension, and build skills for later achievement. Did all of them read every night? No. But they wouldn't have done lots of homework either. 

As "homework," encourage kids to develop a skill or follow an interest. If a kid is like I was, he will read or explore more math or create science experiments--all "academic" pursuits. Other kids will paint pictures or climb trees or make a map of a buried treasure in the neighborhood. These activities can help the kid think and relax and be better prepared for the next school day.

Each teacher must assess his own class, community, and philosophy. Each teacher must make a decision about what is effective for his students and what strategies and techniques he will use. Homework is one of those things. But we must make sure we aren't doing it just because it is expected, the thing that teachers do. We must be intentional about everything in the classroom...especially those that happen outside the school doors.

Some links from the book---

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