by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

Note from Jane Bluestein: Here’s another terrific article about Homework for parents and educators. Click here for my perspective in a separate article on this topic. Also note, the emphasis (boldface) in this article is my doing.

The drive to assign more and more homework to children at younger ages is in full force in some schools. The homework binge threatens to cut into prime family time, extra-curricular activities, and rest and relaxation. It also increases conflict over scheduling and completing the ever-increasing number of assignments.

But is that homework worth the time and effort you and your children put into it? Is it worth the hassle of deciding when, where, and how to do the homework? Is your child’s homework worth giving up prime family time that you could be using to read to each other, play checkers, have a discussion, go for a walk together, or participate in creative or recreational activities?

Maybe you are one of the growing number of parents who resent school personnel deciding how you will spend your family time. Perhaps you have noticed a severe drop in your child’s love of learning. Or maybe you have simply noticed a repetitive nature to your child’s homework and wonder, is it worth it? Let’s take a closer look.

Here are some criteria to help you determine if your child’s homework is worth the effort. Keep his or her latest homework assignments in mind as you review them.

1.) Beware of the long assignment. Homework that takes a long time to complete is not useful homework. This usually means the homework is repetitive, boring, or above your child’s skill level. Set a homework time limit for your child in these cases and allow her to quit when the time limit is reached. Research shows no value of homework in elementary school and none after an hour or an hour and a half in high school.

2.) Does the homework ask the child to think? Simple recall questions where children have to search notes or textbooks for the one correct answer do not ask for thinking. Being asked to recall dates, names, historical events, and capitals of states or countries falls into this category.

Questions that ask for opinion or positions that can be defended require more thinking. The more the homework involves comparing how things are the same or different, analyzing, evaluating, ranking, drawing conclusions, summarizing, or predicting, the greater the opportunity your child has to think.

3.) Does your child have any choice in the homework? Did he pick the topic, the country, the person, or the amount of work to do? The less choice a child has in determining the homework, the greater the likelihood it will appear boring, unrelated to his real life, and more like a chore than a learning opportunity. The more choice a child has in homework, the greater the chance he will find it meaningful and will strive to learn more. See “Guidelines for Offering Choices to Students” (for teachers) or “Guidelines for Offering Choices to Your Children” (for parents), also “Building Decision-Making Skills”.)

4.) Was the assignment individualized? If everyone in the classroom gets the same homework, you can be assured that it is too easy for some and too difficult for others. Thirty unique children should not be given the same homework assignment. This one-size-fits-all approach to homework is not effective in helping children to learn.

5.) Was the homework designed by the teacher? Homework that comes out of a workbook, a packet of worksheets, or a textbook is less likely to be meaningful than if the teacher put some of her thought and energy into designing the assignment herself to meet a specific objective. Teacher-designed homework also increases the odds that the assignment is designed specifically with your child in mind.

6.) Does the homework involve the family in meaningful dialogue? Arguing, nagging, and bribing creates frustration, anxiety, and resistance that is not healthy for family communication. Meaningful dialogue occurs when family members are interviewed, share their life experiences, or bake, build, or create something together.

7.) Is the homework going to be graded? Homework assignments hold more meaning when they are shared among students the next day. In those cases, exploration, explanation, and questioning abound. When homework is simply checked off or graded, it communicates to students that the real reason for doing the homework is evaluation, not learning the concepts. If learning was the real intent of assigning homework, there would be no need to grade it.

8.) Does the student pay a price for getting things wrong on homework? Homework that allows children to make mistakes and learn from them is more valuable than homework that penalizes the child for incorrect answers and incomplete knowledge.

9.) Does the homework call for transfer of skills or knowledge? Knowledge is not wisdom. If the homework is all about knowledge, facts, reasons, and memorization, the chances are that it has low-level value. Does the homework ask the child to use the material learned in real life situations? Does it ask her to take what she learned over here and put it to use over there? Real learning is knowledge applied. Does your child’s homework ask her to apply the material covered?

10.) What kind of study habits are being reinforced by the homework? If the homework is such that the child procrastinates, resists, surface-skims, and does sloppy work so he can get done, be advised that those are precisely the study habits being learned. If the homework is anticipated and done thoroughly and neatly with a positive attitude, then those habits are being reinforced. What kind of habits is your child’s homework encouraging?

11.) Does the school or the teacher have a set policy for when homework is assigned? Homework is often less beneficial when it’s assigned in accordance with a policy determining when it is to be given. This holds true for teachers who set up a system in advance and inform the parents and students that homework will be assigned on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for instance. This announcement that there will be homework on given days is tantamount to the teacher admitting that the homework is not dictated by the lesson or by your child’s need, but rather by the schedule. In these cases there is a greater danger that the homework is being assigned not because it is necessary, but simply to fill the previously announced schedule.

12.) Does the school have a policy governing how much homework is assigned according to grade level? Some schools, for instance, have a policy that students will do 10 minutes per night of homework for each grade level they represent. In other words, 10 minutes for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, and so on. This method of assigning homework insures that some homework will be given each night whether or not it’s appropriate or needed. Once again, the so-many-minutes-a-night commitment increases the chance that homework is filler, repetitive, and meaningless. Pay special attention to the amount and type of homework if your child’s teacher announces a schedule of this type.

When schools impose activities that squeeze out your family interests and desires, it is appropriate and helpful to ask if those activities are meaningful. No one knows your child and your family’s needs better than you do. You get to decide the role that homework will play in your family’s life. Do your homework and examine your child’s homework using the criteria above. It might be the most important homework done in your family this school year.

Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. Chick has also written Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child’s Spirit. Chick and Thomas are two of the world’s foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for parents. To sign up for it or obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your staff development needs, visit their websites today: www.thomashaller.com or www.chickmoorman.com.

Related links:

What About Homework? by Dr. Jane Bluestein
Making Homework Work by Dr. Jane Bluestein
Taking a Stand Against Homework by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Synthesis of Research Findings on Homework by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Also: Homework: What Does the Research Say? by Scott King-Owen.

Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools
Book: High School’s Not Forever
Book: Listas Para Padres: Qué Hacer Y Qué No
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting

Audio: Practical Strategies for Working Successfully with Difficult Students

Podcast: Ending the Homework Wars with Susan Fitzell
Podcast: The Fragile Learner with Hanoch McCarty
Podcast: Movement and Learning with Aili Pogust
Podcast: The Saber-Tooth Curriculum Revisited with Dr. Richard Biffle
Podcast: Technology and Special Needs with Don and Gracie Tillman

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