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The Homework Disconnect

By a stroke of luck, our elementary school thus far has had a somewhat progressive approach to homework. It doesn't go so far as to not give it, like one private school in Coconut Grove, Fla.

In kindergarten, we had a monthly calendar of assignments, all of which were optional, at least we treated them that way. Nothing had to be turned in to the teacher. Compare that to friends who had packets of worksheets to be turned in every Friday, and I considered my kid pretty lucky.

Even in first grade, we've had it much better than I could have hoped. Read every day. One reading worksheet a week to be turned in by Friday and one math worksheet three to four days a week. The assignments aren't too difficult -- except for the one that had lots of pictures my first-grader couldn't identify, such as a flask -- and usually take him five to 10 minutes to complete.

It's just enough to get him used to the process without overwhelming him. And it allows me to take a help-only-as-needed approach. One of my fears is his homework becoming my homework. But so far, his teachers work hard to make sure the homework is targeted to what he's learning.

An online survey released this week by the National Education Association and Sylvan Learning suggests that there's often a homework disconnect between parents and teachers. Sixty-eight percent of parents say that teachers use homework to cover materials that they don't have time to teach in class; only 17 percent of teachers concur. And about one-third of parents say they wish they didn't have to be as involved in homework as they are.

What's your view of your child's homework? Too much? Too little? Skills appropriate or not? How much do you help with the work? How often do you agree to let them skip it?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  November 19, 2008; 9:50 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Teens , Tweens
Previous: On the Road to Recovery | Next: Hyperparenting and Private Schools

Comments


Where is everyone?

Posted by: ishgebibble | November 19, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Where's foamgnome? I'm not sure how statistically valid an "on-line survey" can be. It seems to me that there would be an inherent bias; the subjects weren't chosen at random. I'm looking for her thoughts on the matter.

My favorite passage from the original article:

"In two-parent households, there is a perception gap between parents regarding a father's involvement in homework assistance. Sixty-seven percent of fathers claim to help with their children's homework; however, mothers say fathers help approximately 36 percent of the time. Sixty-nine percent of mothers say they help with homework, and fathers tend to agree, with 56 percent of fathers noting their wives' assistance."

BWAAHHH! "I helped her with her homework!" "You did not; you told her to go ask me." "Hey, that was help!"

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 19, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

This is really a sore spot for me and led me to pull my youngest from her public elementary school in favor of Montessori. My kids had serious homework from first grade on. Much of it had varied deadlines that a seven-year-old could not possibly be expected to track (this is daily, this due two weeks from now etc.) It was ALL about parental involvement since few kids sit voluntarily for an hour, hour and a half at that age doing paperwork without significant parental pressure. The thing that totally floored me though was when I sent a note to the teacher saying I wanted to devote more energy to the daily math homework than spelling because math was where my daughter needed the practice and the spelling, for her, was just busy work. I got a note back that said my daughter needed to learn to sit down and do her work whether it had academic value or not. The discipline of doing unpleasant and meaningless work turned out to be the goal of the whole exercise!!

Posted by: annenh | November 19, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

We haven't had to worry much about homework in Gr 1 since we only have the child on the weekends. But the little bits of homework we have had to accomplish (except for reading) this year is a battle. The homework SHOULD take 10 minutes if the child simply sat down and did it. Instead, he spends 30 or more minutes crying and complaining about having to do it and then when he finally gets to doing it he does it so poorly that we make him do it again. For example, if he has to practise letters then he makes his letters so poorly you can't read it or makes a letter so oversized that it overwrites other parts of the assignment. When he is busy doing it poorly he laughs the entire time like it is funny.

I am just incredibly thankful that we only have him on weekends this year and his mother deals with the bulk of the homework issue. The struggle to get him to do homework in kindergarten was blowing a ton of our time and making me resentful that his homework was turning in my homework because he had to be supervised to ensure it was started and completed properly.

I didn't think our child got excessive amounts of homework... 1 or 2 sheets of practice 3 times a week in kindergarten. Sometimes the sheet was as simple as colouring in sections of the picture with the right colour or counting how many elephants were in the picture. It should have taken literally minutes some nights.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 19, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Starting in fourth or fifth grade, depending on the teacher, our kids in public school in East Lansing, Michigan, have gotten what I view as excessive homework. It's not just that it's excessive, it's that it's often "make-work." I can't count the number of posters I've helped with ("Color in the state of Michigan, and draw a star where the capital is located. You will be graded on neatness and following instructions."); and my kids often have word searches and similar stuff having no obvious pedagogical value.

Homework has on average taken more than an hour a night, and actually interferes with educational pursuits like music, foreign language classes and even just recreational reading; not to mention rest and relaxation, which are themselves critical.

I've had the sense, talking to some of the teachers, that they feel it important in itself to assign lots of homework, whether or not it's helpful to learning a subject, as a way of "getting kids in the habit." This seems counter to the research in this area as well as my own common sense and experience. It leads to experiencing the whole educational enterprise as a grind rather than a source, as it should be, of pleasure.

Posted by: stumpff | November 19, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Is it just the sign-in requirements that have led to so few comments lately?

I'm expecting my 1st, and live in VA. And having listened to my friends talk about their kids homework, I absolutely HATE the way VA education has become about teaching to the test. SOLs have nothing to do with teaching kids to be critical thinkers or active learners. It seems to be basic memorization of facts to me. And that's not really learning. I can't really afford private school, but I am definitely not happy with the way education has been changing in this area. (And I have perspective from my sister, who has been teaching kindergarten and 1st grade at a public school in Manhattan for the last several years. Her school is a national model (public school)and they are all about teaching kids to think, deductive reasoning, actively taking a role in problem solving, research, etc. Big difference compared to what I've heard around here.)

Posted by: JHBVA | November 19, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

for our son, arlington co school, 3rd grade. he has homework which probably takes him 45 minutes to do. then he has to read for 30 minutes. at the start of the school year we told him he must do his homework in ext day after school. he absolutely freaked when we told him that but we told him that for 1st & 2nd grade when we let him do his homework at home he had tantrums so this year it's not an option. it really has worked out well. does he hate homework? of course. is he learning to organize & schedule his time? grudgingly. i'm hoping that this will get better as he gets older.

Posted by: quark2 | November 19, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I'm a teacher and I'm startled by the descriptions of homework issues above. Many people seem to think:

1. Kids shouldn't have homework and/or
2. Parents should be expected to devote a huge amount of time and energy to helping with homework.

My opinion, based on teaching experience: Kids should have age appropriate homework which can be performed with minimal parental involvement. One purpose of homework is to teach kids to work INDEPENDENTLY so if parents have to get involved, this totally undercuts the goal.

For first graders, ten minutes a night, all assignments very easy. Gradually increase until high school students have approximately 1.5 hours per night (approximately 20 minute per class for each of five academic subjects). (Yes, every kid should have to do all assignments including work which amounts to busy work, such as the too-easy spelling assignments - it isually isn't practical for a teacher to provide individualized homework assignments and a customized grading scale for 30 plus kids).

If a kid simply refuses to do simple, age appropriate homework, such as the fussy kid described above, my recommendation would be to stop the direct power struggle in which the kid controls the parents and "wins" by forcing parents to spend hours battling with him over homework. Try a different approach. Lock up all his toys and video games and tell him that each time he does one night's homework without a battle, he can pick out one of the toys or games to have back ("You did a good job on your homework tonight. Which toy do you want?"). If he sticks to it for a couple of weeks (developing good habits in the process), he can "earn back" all his toys and games.

Each time he backslides, take away 1-2 toys or games and lock them up. ("You did a poor job on your homework tonight, so I'm going to lock up SuperMarioBrothers II for now. You can have it back if you do a good job tomorrow.")

And spend some time doing something the kid likes which isn't homework related (if you aren't doing it already).

Hope these suggestsions help.

Posted by: Quitaque1 | November 19, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

"I got a note back that said my daughter needed to learn to sit down and do her work whether it had academic value or not. The discipline of doing unpleasant and meaningless work turned out to be the goal of the whole exercise!!"

OMG, trying to instill a bit of discipline in a child? Unpleasant and meaningless work? In NO way would this ever prepare a child for real life. Especially if she has mommy helicoptering over her at 25.

And if she needs extra help in math, what is preventing her parents from doing that?

"It was ALL about parental involvement..."

Horrible that parents would actually be required to contribute to their child's education!

Posted by: nonamehere | November 19, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

The response by Quitaque1 is reminiscent of what I've heard from my kids' teachers. I'd be interested in hearing whether you could cite any research to support your views as what works best.

I've heard many variants of "my opinion, based on my experience . . . ." Homework seems to be assigned on the basis of what is, in the end, simply the school's established practice and the teacher's own anecdotal evidence. These views are often contradicted by published, controlled large-scale studies, and are in fact, I think, largely wrong.

Posted by: stumpff | November 19, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

My son had a recent Kindergarten homework assignment that took the both of us about 3 hours to complete. The teacher gave us some supplies, but in order to build the model "correctly" we searched for photos online, went to the encyclopedia, and spent an hour with crayons, markers, tape and felt. When we turned it in, there we 12 kids who drew smiley faces and googly eyes on theirs and one kid who did one even more elaborate (and a handful who never completed it at all).

The teacher left the project so open-ended that it was virtually impossible to tell what the goal of the project was. And without a clearly-defined and communicated goal, my son was kind of annoyed that his was different from his friends and the teacher didn't make a big deal out of all the research that he and I put into it.

Teachers need to explain the goal behind all homework assignments. Without doing that, the parents can't explain how the work fits into the larger curriculum.

My kids' summer camp sent out emails every day at 3pm detailing what parents needed to talk about that evening. Teachers need to send out daily emails to the parents so we can read them on the blackberry when we're driving to pick the kids up and can start talking about Miles Standish when Jr hits the car and not have to find out at the end of the week that someone needs help in a section that's ALREADY OVER. My kids' camp didn't do that, they told us while we were at work what we needed to address that day.

Posted by: bbcrock | November 19, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

My kids are in 2nd and 4th grades. They each have a spelling assignment and a math worksheet each night, and each is expected to read daily. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the homework for 4th grade wasn't over the top like it is for many 4th graders. They are largely independent, asking questions as needed. The 4th grader also has a few longer term assignments, which are clearly delineated, and this is an organized kid, so there are never any problems with forgetting an assignment (so far).

The oddest thing I have encountered was when they were told that they wouldn't have math homework one week because they would be having a math test on Friday and they should spend their homework time studying for it. Well how does a 2nd grader study for a test except by practicing the skill--and wouldn't homework be the best way to practice? The same week she told me that I had to draw her a map of the world so that she could practice for the geography test she was also having at the end of the week. I was sure that she had missed something somewhere, but it turns out that they were supposed to study and were to be tested on labeling the continents and oceans on a blank map--and no sample map was coming home. I am not sure if the teacher actually told her to have me create one for her, but given the way the math study was stated in the homework handout, I wouldn't be surprised.

Posted by: janedoe5 | November 19, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Parents talk to their children on average only 15 minutes per day. A real converation not just get in the car, pick up your clothes etc.

Homework is the educational societies way of forcing American parents to discuss, reason, persuade and ultimately talk to their children.

Americans read the least in any indutrialized nation. Children do not see their parents pick up a 300 page book or pile up newspapers and Time magazines on the coffee table. In fact Americans watch more TV or play on the internet more than any other activity.

America has become an oral society again after centuries of encouraging reading. We watch TV, we do not read, and we want everything to be on video like youtube.

I taught for years and have advanced degrees in education from a leading university.

One hour of reading quitely with your children everyday will cute ADD, ADHD, agressive behavior and bad decision making. Your child will be more active in a postive way instead of absorbing all the horrible morals from TV.

Reading and writing are what leading nations of the world do with their children.

Here is a list of what to do.

Volunteer in your child's school once a month. Help the children read or in math or have fun in recess. Arrange it with other parents as well. This will solve the behavioral problems teahcers encounter in the class. Kids are so disruptive that lesons can't et as far as the smartest kids would like.

Educate your kids at home. Read a book a night for samll kids. A book a week for at Winney the Pooh age. And a book a month with your teen agers.

Buy newspapers and magazines. Watch the news together and explain politics, social issues the economy to your kid.

Open up a bank account for your child and encourage them to save, earn, and pay for some of college on their own.

Teach them specifically about good and bad and the consequences of both. This needs to include every topic. Do not just shout at your kids.
Sing them songs.
Teach them music.
Memorize poems. Cliches. Quotes.


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

This is a new America your kids rich, middle class or poor are facing. We are in the longest recession in history since World War II. We do not have the moderazation, jet age, tech age and TV age to look forward to that made so many of us prosperous.

This new generation will have it much tougher because pensions are running out. Many lost money in their 401K, Banks are not lending, there is a global market and jobs are getting shipped abroad. White colar jobs are being lost by the millions.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>..

Teach your kids skills. Fix pipes in the house.
Fix the car.
Paint the living room.
Create ceramics for decorations instead of buying them.

Cook, bake, make preserves.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


READ. READ. READ. READ. NOT THE INTERNET BUT THE GREAT BOOKS OF THE AGES,

Posted by: gracedelvillar | November 19, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

My opinion, based on teaching experience: Kids should have age appropriate homework which can be performed with minimal parental involvement. One purpose of homework is to teach kids to work INDEPENDENTLY so if parents have to get involved, this totally undercuts the goal.
-----

Right, but you do admit that the MAJORITY of all elementary school teachers FAIL to assign age-appropriate homework, correct? Are you aware of one single parent who has never complained about age-inappropriate homework that required they spend a great deal of time with their kid explaining what the teacher didn't?

Because I hear that from every parent I know and it's been my brief experience with homework in Kindergarten that it's aimed at really stretching the kids drawing, taping, gluing and cutting skills with complex projects that they'd never be able to complete in class.

So, as long as you're aware that no teacher is currently assigning age-appropriate homework on a regular basis then we're cool.

Posted by: bbcrock | November 19, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Parents talk to their children on average only 15 minutes per day.
-----

in what planet? totally made up number that makes no sense. I talk to my kids for 15 minutes over breakfast and another 15 minutes in the car to school.

Do you want me to explain in detail the difference between the Decepticons and the Transformers?

Posted by: bbcrock | November 19, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I haven't had time to look at all these comments but to AB:

It depends on how the on line survey was conducted. There are some surveys that are randomly drawn and the vehicle to answer the survey is set up on line in secure sites where the respondents have a password, the web address and a log in name. In that type of survey, the answers are as "valid" as a paper survey or a computer assisted survey with an interviewer putting in the answers.

All surveys have sampling and non sampling error attributed to the results or the data.

But my guess is this was just an online survey that had open access to anyone with a computer and internet acess. In that case, the results are highly biased to the people that have regular access to the internet, education level etc...

So in short, I don't know enough about this particular survey to answer appropriately. But my guess is that it was not randomly drawn sample.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Every Saturday morning, I wish I could get away with just 15 minutes of conversation a day with my step-children. I am almost always a couple of minute late for work on Saturdays because my children want to get in that one last question, one last thing they need to tell me/show me that they couldn't seem to get into their non-stop talking at breakfast as I am heading out the door. Just on Saturdays mornings alone, I get more than 15 minutes of talking with them when I only have time for about 10.

And the second I get home from work? Mobbed with questions about my work, stories about their day and what they did. Things they want to show me. Questions about the groceries they are helping me put away. I am finding it hard to believe that any parent speaks for only 15 minutes a day to their child not including commands.

I am fairly certain I don't need a school sending homework to 'force' me to speak to them. There is absolutely nothing constructive in our conversations about homework. In fact, that IS a conversation filled with commands and not very meaningful content.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 19, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

fr Billie R:

>...But the little bits of homework we have had to accomplish (except for reading) this year is a battle. The homework SHOULD take 10 minutes if the child simply sat down and did it. Instead, he spends 30 or more minutes crying and complaining about having to do it and then when he finally gets to doing it he does it so poorly that we make him do it again.

Has your son been tested for a learning disability? He may be frustrated that he can't understand the assignment.

Posted by: Alex511 | November 19, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

"One purpose of homework is to teach kids to work INDEPENDENTLY so if parents have to get involved, this totally undercuts the goal."

Indeed. That may be one purpose - for certain educators - but, in our experience (2 kids, 3 elementary schools), the majority of homework CANNOT be done independently. In K - 1, the worksheet and project instructions often are written at a more advanced level than the reading ability of the child. In each grade, K - 4, our kids were assigned special projects they could not complete on their own. The various projects required Internet research, printing capabilities, at-home science experiments, complex 3-dimensional art projects that were beyond their years. For all of this year, our second grader's daily homework includes a reading log and express instruction to "read a book to one of your parents" for 30 minutes each night. The attitude of some teachers that parents are available every single night of the week, and interested, in hand-holding their elementary-age child as she completes a 13 colonies project is presumptuous. The folders. The agendas. The worksheets. The envelopes. The reading logs. Bah humbug.

We love spending time with our kids reading, learning, doing things together. We resent that time being dominated by assignments that expressly demand partental involvement and cannot be completed by our children on their own. We would like to have the control of our family time back to spend as we wish, WITH OUR KIDS, without some twenty-something filling that time with piffle.

Posted by: CindyLouHoo666 | November 19, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Worksheets? I'd consider even that lucky. Some of the poor kids I used to teach kung fu to had to lug around heavy hard-back books every day after school. They would all do homework after class while their parents took class. Those poor kids' backs had to hurt. Many of them resorted to using rolling backpacks--even as young as five and six--to keep from getting back pain!

Posted by: Monagatuna | November 19, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and breastfeeding ONE kid was absolutely, without doubt the hardest thing I ever did in my life. Kudos to Angie for breastfeeding two of them, I doubt I could have done it.

Posted by: VaLGaL | November 19, 2008 10:59 AM

*******************************************

Yeah, I doubt I could have done it either...

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | November 19, 2008 11:01 AM


Yeah, I doubt I could have done it either...

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | November 19, 2008 11:01 AM
***

Actually, Dorkus, apparently, you can.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_lactation

Posted by: VaLGaL | November 19, 2008 11:18 AM

Valgal, I don't know whether to be relieved or horrified by that.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | November 19, 2008 11:25 AM


Gives a whole meaning to the title of this post, "Breastfeeding Clooney." Perhaps George can offer assistance. (I'm also waiting for Sas' take.)

Posted by: anonthistime | November 19, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock -- you said that the teacher left the project open ended and that you were disappointed with having to put in so much work when other kids just drew googly eyes. while i see your point, whatever happened to asking the teacher to clarify the purpose of the assignment if you or your child did not understand it? and, for KINDERGARTEN, is it really necessary to look up things online and look in an encyclopedia, etc? why not just let your child take the reins on how he thinks he should do the project and take it from there. with the pride of coming up with the answer and completing most of the project himself, your child most probably will not feel "different" from all the other kids. sometimes parents might think that they are "helping" with homework and "guiding" their kids to the right answers, when we are really putting our own thoughts and ideas in their heads. whatever happened to letting them figure it out and come to us with questions? and if they really dont' want to do the homework and refuse, then let them face the consequences in school the next day when the teacher asks them where there homework is. that's how it always worked when we were in school!

Posted by: sp1103sd | November 19, 2008 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Alex511,

I might agree with you on that if the child wasn't perfectly capable of these things when it comes to pursuing what he likes.

He knows how to count and add when it comes to playing games with us. He knows how to spell and write his letters when it comes to making up his own cards and stories.

But sit him down with his homework? And suddenly those words he spelled earlier escape him and he can barely write properly. I just don't understand it.

So studying for tests usually involve us playing contests like who can spell words and add and so on. He does pretty good in the games. But suggesting that we practise his spelling/math results in zero effort being put forth and lots of wrong answers.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 19, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

My son is 11 weeks old, so obviously I have no direct knowledge of this yet.

As I grow older, though, I really wonder about why we're taught the things we're taught and NOT taught the things we're not taught. For example, I was forced to learn the capitals of many states i will likely never visit, but I was not taught to balance a checkbook. I was taught the names of the rivers of Europe but was not taught how to change a tire. I was taught countless trivia but never taught CPR.

I might have to eventually send my kids to alternative schools that focus on things they actually need to--and want to--know, instead of trivia. Really, now that you can look up any fact online, what's the purpose of memorizing anything?! Schools should spend their time teaching kids how to think and respond in real situations.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2008 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Cindylouhoo666 -- You've shared my experiences and speak my mind! Thanks for a great post. All this danged paperwork in elementary school made it difficult for either of my girls to spend time in creative pursuits, reading or building silly cardboard contraptions or engaging in conversation(seeing as we don't have TV).

Funny thing is my elder DD is now in middle school and the homework load is reduced and makes academic sense. I think the schizophrenia about homework is in the elementary grades where there is no clear evidence that homework accomplishes anything of academic value (or even in developing self-discipline).

I appreciate the post from the teacher but disagree that in elementary school, there's no room to adjust homework to help kids focus more attention on their weaknesses. I wasn't asking the woman to do anything in class time. I understand that there are limits to what a teacher can do with 30 kids in one class. But you'll have to forgive me if I seek to address my kid's individual needs on my OWN time (and given there are only 24 hours in a day and we all need sleep, I need to make choices about how we spend our time)

I don't know if teachers realize how much homework sucks from family time -- though it seems people are quick to assume families waste that time in mind-numbing disconnection, never talking to their kids. The assumption seems to be that busy work saves us all from TV and video games!

Posted by: annenh | November 19, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Test?

Posted by: laura33 | November 19, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Homework this year (public school) has been WAY better than last (Montessori-that's-not-really-Montessori). Last year, homework was completely age-inappropriate -- things like asking 6 yr olds to do multiple science reports and dioramas over the next month, with no guidance or instruction on how to plan the work out, do the research, organize the report, etc. Plus she had three teachers who didn't bother to try to coordinate to keep the workload reasonable on any given night -- so Monday ended up being 2 hrs, while Thursday was 5 minutes. Not surprisingly, we had nightly meltdowns, and a lot of mom and dad effort.

So this year we tried the public school, and boy, it's night and day. One teacher, who gives about 20-30 mins. of clear, age-appropriate, coordinated work -- basically, one math sheet, spelling words, and reading/writing about one chapter in an assigned book. The work builds on what was done in class; it's not hard, but it requires the kids to pay attention, and it focuses a lot on comprehension. So, for ex., the math sheet the other day was about making change -- but different problems were written different ways, so the kids had to figure out whether to add, subtract, etc. (i.e., "Jane had 80 cents, she bought X for 73 cents, how much does she have left?"; "Jim bought Y for 14 cents, he has 11 cents left, how much did he start with?"). It's been great for my girl, who can do multiplication in her head, but who often skims over the details that tell you what operation you're supposed to be performing. And -- most important to me -- she can do it herself; I will sit next to her and read the paper, because she likes the mommy time, but it's her work.

Billie, I know what you mean about the meltdowns, so you might consider what a psychologist suggested to us: providing a reward for the desired behavior. Last year was the year of frustration for us -- even on the easy nights, she'd pitch a 30-minute fit that would take longer than the 15-minute homework assignment. So we'd lecture ("if you'd just sat down and done it, you'd be done now,"), take away privileges, etc. But that only made it worse. She was avoiding the work because she didn't understand what was expected and felt overwhelmed, which made her feel stupid and incompetent -- and our frustration and lectures just reinforced that see, she really was stupid and a failure.

So this year, instead of focusing on the negative behavior, we instead started rewarding her for the good behavior. We figured out something that really mattered to her, and promised it to her if she sat down and did her homework right away, with no tantrums, avoidance, or distractions. (Note: we started with just the "getting going" bit and ignored the "quality of the work" issue -- I figured one step at a time. But with us, once she started to not dread homework so much, the quality issue resolved itself). It has been night and day -- total 180 degree shift. Instead of focusing on how hard the work is and talking herself into the self-defeating death spiral, she now focuses on how she can earn her privilege, and takes pride in sitting right down and tackling it. She wants to be competent (and to be seen as competent) more than anything in the world, so we basically gave her a way to achieve that, even when the homework itself is hard.

Posted by: laura33 | November 19, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

What amazes me are all of the checklists, agendas, folders, etc. that kids have to lug home and have their parents check off every night to make sure they've done all their work. Shouldn't the kid be mostly responsible for keeping up with their own work?

When I was in elementary school in the 80s, I had some issues with completing my homework. Teachers were baffled because I'd ace the tests, and all of the standardized exams, but refused to do homework. So, my teachers started sending home "assignment sheets" for my parents to check my homework to be sure it was done. All the other kids were able to do their homework without a checksheet, so why couldn't I? It was horribly embarassing, and my parents were peeved. They knew I could remember my assignments and do them, I just didn't want to.

Kids can do lots of things without constant parental hovering. The difference is that teachers actually taught the kids organizational skills, how to track assignments, following directions etc. using homework, rather than just using homework to learn concepts. I shudder to think what my 3-year-old is in for in a couple of years.

If he comes home with homework in Kindegarten I may just lose it.

Posted by: Mazarin | November 19, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Well, this blog has held everything I've tried to submit so far for no apparent reason, so I'm going to try again; if my earlier post appears later, I apologize for the multiple posts. I am very happy with homework this year, especially after our horrible experience last year in the so-called "Montessori" school. Last year, homework was completely age-inappropriate (i.e., asking 6 yr olds to do multiple science reports and dioramas over the next month, with no guidance or instruction on how to plan the work out, do the research, organize the report, etc.). Add that together with three teachers who didn't bother to try to coordinate, and we ended up with more than 2 hrs of homework some nights. Surprise: we had nightly meltdowns, and a lot of mom and dad effort.

So this year we tried the public school, and boy, it's night and day. One teacher, 20-30 mins. of clear, age-appropriate, work, which builds on what was done in class. And the focus is on comprehension, not busywork. So, for ex., the math sheet the other day was about making change -- but they wrote problems different ways, so the kids had to figure out whether to add, subtract, etc. (i.e., "Jane had 80 cents, she bought X for 73 cents, how much does she have left?"; "Jim bought Y for 14 cents, he has 11 cents left, how much did he start with?"). It's been great for my girl, who can do multiplication in her head, but who often skims over the details that tell you what operation you're supposed to be performing. And -- most important to me -- she can do it herself; I will sit next to her and read the paper, because she likes the mommy time, but it's her work.

Posted by: laura33 | November 19, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

stumpff wrote:
"These views are often contradicted by published, controlled large-scale studies, and are in fact, I think, largely wrong."

Parsing that sentence is fun! "in fact" "I think" - um, contradictory much?

Seriously, though, the large-scale studies, with results published in refereed journals, are contradictory. Some show a causal relationship between homework and achievement. Some show correlation but not necessarily causality. And some show no correlation at all.

See http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/site/c.kjJXJ5MPIwE/b.2479409/k.BF59/Research_review_What_research_says_about_the_value_of_homework.htm

for an excellent overview. (Or don't see it, if you don't really care. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 19, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Also: Billie, I know what you mean about the meltdowns, so you might consider what a psychologist suggested to us: providing a reward for the desired behavior. Last year was the year of frustration for us -- even on the easy nights, our daughter's fits would take longer than the homework itself. So we'd lecture ("if you'd just sat down and done it, you'd be done now,"), take away privileges, etc. But that only made it worse. She was avoiding the work because she didn't understand what was expected and felt overwhelmed, which made her feel stupid and incompetent -- and our frustration and lectures just reinforced for her that she really was stupid and a failure.

So this year, instead of focusing on the negative behavior, we instead started rewarding her for the good behavior. We figured out something that really mattered to her, and promised it to her if she sat down and did her homework right away, with no tantrums, avoidance, or distractions. (Note: we started with just the "getting going" bit and ignored the "quality of the work" issue -- I figured one step at a time. But once she started to not dread homework so much, the quality issue resolved itself). It has been night and day -- total 180 degree shift. Instead of focusing on how hard the work is and talking herself into the self-defeating death spiral, she now focuses on how she can earn her privilege, and takes pride in sitting right down and tackling it. She wants to be competent (and to be seen as competent) more than anything in the world, so we basically gave her a way to achieve that, even when the homework itself is hard.

Posted by: laura33 | November 19, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse


Mazarin, Sadly you can probably expect to have at least a once a week assignment where your child has to go through magazines and cut out words beginning with A, B, C, etc - one letter per week -- then glue the photos onto construction paper. This project takes at least an hour because your child probably cannot read at that age and, even if he can read, his spelling skills are limited. You have to supervise the scissor activity and the gluing, in order to make sure that the glue gets on the paper and not the dog and the scissors don't cut off his eyelashes. Fun times, that. I'd rather play catch in the yard with my son for an hour. This task is not essential to developing fine motor skills. He'll refine his fine motor skills completing in-school assignments, drawing action figures and by manipulating utensils during meals. Whatev.

Posted by: CindyLouHoo666 | November 19, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

A couple of people asked about educational research. If you read much of that stuff (I went for a master's and had to read STACKS of it), you will quickly discover that way too much of it is poorly designed and/or conducted in "laboratory" schools operated by universities, with children of faculty members serving as the laboratory rats. If you want to know about what works in a classroom (and it's somewhat different for different groups of kids in different classrooms, even in the same school) ask teachers - not researchers.

Sounds like a lot of the schools are assigning way too much homework and making it way too complicated. For first grade, something appropriate would be: here's a map of the U.S. with the names of the states printed on the map, find each state that has a name starting in "A" and color that state blue.

Posted by: Quitaque1 | November 19, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

We knew last year that homework was an issue, and it would be an even bigger one in middle school. Last year's teacher talked with DH and me a couple of times about his concerns with younger son's poor homework habits.

Everything this year is going as predicted. A lot of homework wasn't turned in during the first grading period, and the grades showed it. Younger son was very disappointed in himself.

He's still not very self-motivated, but he's slowly, slowly getting more cooperative with the parental motivation. When I get home from work, usually about half the homework is finished, and younger son gets to take a break. Then it's back to work until dinner, and if the work isn't finished before dinner there's no screens (TV, computer, video console, Gameboy...) until it's done.

There are signs of progress though. So far this week I've twice come home to two boys playing card games together, and only the cello practice left to do. I think DH and son have conspired to save cello for the last thing, just because they know how much I enjoy listening.

Posted by: SueMc | November 19, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

My daughter, who's in kindergarten, has daily homework. K homework is graded this year. In fact, she gets grades in all subject matters based on percentages. For instance, proficient is 80% to 100%, in progress is up to 79%, and needs improvement is in the D to F percentage range. No more 1, 2 or 3 for K.

Anyway, here is the K homework from last night (that is only supposed to take 30 minutes):

Write upper case N and lower case n five times each.
Write two simple sentences with the sight words "like" and "my."
Find and cut out pictures of soil, rocks and sand from a magazine.
draw a picture of a community services worker.
Write 18, 19 and 20 several times each.

I think I remembered it all. This is actually easier than other recent homework. Am I the only one who thinks this is too much and is not age-appropriate? My daughter is at the point where she can do some of this independently, but certainly not all of it, and the homework easily takes up to an hour. Homework has been a battle this year, with some teachers and lots of redirection. I think this rigor -- in homework, no less -- is part of the pass-the-standardized test hysteria.

I won't even get into the unfinished worksheets that are sent home for my daughter to finish -- on top of the homework.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | November 19, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I really appreciate this post and all of the comments about it. Even though common sense told me that this issue did not solely affect me or the other parents of kids in my son's second grade class, I still often feel alone in my frustration.
My 7-year-old typically receives about 2 hours worth of homework Mon-Thurs, with in math, spelling and reading tests each Friday.
He typically has 4-6 assignments per night:
1) 2 pages from his reading workbook
2) 2 pages from his math workbook
3) Study the list of 22 spelling words (words like azalea, possible, etc.)
4) Read 2-3 selections from the reading book (averaging 10 pages each)
5) Study 90 addition facts for Friday's five minute timed test
6) Homework from music or french class (or sometimes both)

The amount of time spent on these assignment sucks up any time that we would have had to spend on reading for pleasure as my spouse and I work full time. Once homework is complete, it's then time to scramble something together for dinner, bathe and give him some play/free time to himself.

He is very serious about his academics and usually completes his math and reading assignments independently. However, we then go over each assignment to ensure that he understood what was taught and correct any mistakes.

Needless to say that this 2-hour nightly ritual does not leave time for extra-curricular pursuits or open-ended discussions about various topics.

It also doesn't leave a lot of time for me to expand his curriculum to include the things like extended science, poetry, fables or social studies lessons that have often been cut from modern curriculae. I'm not sure what a balanced alternative should be, but it seems as though there is a race in elementary school to ensure that what is defined in the state (DC) tests are covered in class, with a lot of basic concepts like phonics, etc. being cut.

Posted by: vbj_dc | November 19, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

newslinks: "As I grow older, though, I really wonder about why we're taught the things we're taught and NOT taught the things we're not taught. For example, I was forced to learn the capitals of many states i will likely never visit, but I was not taught to balance a checkbook. I was taught the names of the rivers of Europe but was not taught how to change a tire. I was taught countless trivia but never taught CPR."

Not to pick on you, but isn't ALL of that stuff important vice "trivia"?

Names of the states/capitals: okay, it helps that I had been to almost all of them while still in my teens, but I personally believe that all Americans should be able to label all 50 states plus their capitals on a map. It really helps to understand current events and even some of the reasons why various states do what they do. It's sad that you'll never visit them - great people, fun stuff. (My 12 year old came home from school one day recently with a story. The teacher had asked them to label on a map the state in which our new President-elect was born. Only four out of 32 got it right. Okay, McCain would have been hard to get right, but Obama's place of birth is easy.)

Balance a checkbook? Got that in high school math. Change a tire? That came from parents, and I taught all four of my kids - INCLUDING the 12 year old daughter - how to do that. CPR? They got that from the Scouts.

It's all important.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 19, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

My 6-year old is in 1st grade in Fairfax County public schools. She gets daily assignments that have to been turned in by the end of the week. Since she is in school between 9.15 and 4 and then goes to the after-school SACC program, the last thing she needs is to have school work when she gets home. She needs down time at home and no additional school work. I think homework for a 6-year old is outrageous!

Posted by: snowbunny100 | November 19, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I have a six-year-old (1st grader) in an Arlington public school. While far from perfect, the school has done a wonderful job with homework. My son has to read for 20 minutes every day and we simply have him do it after he is ready for bed and we have read to him. He sees it as a wonderful treat because it allows him to stay up later than his four-year-old brother. The school is very receptive to the wide range of skills in the classroom, a struggling reader can meet the 20 minute requirement by having his parents read to him for part of the time.

In addition, the kids work with spelling words for about 5 minutes each night. The words are assigned based on each child's level such that one child might have intro words (cat, hat, mat) and another more advanced words (cube, cub, usual). I love that they try to make the homework relevant to the kids.

Math assignments consist on one worksheet that mirrors what they did in class and from talking with other parents most kids can complete it independently. The teachers actually when above an beyond by creating math packet for more advanced students when several parents requested that their children be challenged more.

Excluding reading, my son spends about 15-20 minutes a night on homework (none on weekends)which seems completely reasonable. As I see it, reading is a pleasure not a chore. Fortunately both of our kids have adopted that attitude from my husband and I.

Posted by: BookwormMom | November 19, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

My seven year old 1st grader does her math home work in day care. She is good at math and I check for mistakes. She did not go to the homework room in Kindergarten and is happy to go with the big kids.

Her weaker subject reading I do with her. I listen to her read her books and answer her question. Normally written and sometimes a picture. Reading requires a parent signature. She gets homework on Monday and it is due on Friday (does not include short weeks).

Her reading has improved and if she brings a book home from school (book in bag) she can count that on her homework.

Posted by: shdd | November 19, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Army Brat, i couldn't agree more!!!! there are definite benefits to "general knowledge" and "trivia". it's sad to know that most americans can't tell you who the leaders of some of the major countries are in the world. or where certain countries are located on a world map (or even some continents for that matter!). my husband grew up outside of the US, and he had to learn all 50 states, why is that not pertinent when we LIVE in the country??? i think worldly knowledge and even general knowledge about our own government are not emphasized enough in school. case and point, my daughter attends montessori and is able to identify all of the continents and oceans on an unlabeled map (she's 3). I asked a 10 year old neighbor to do the same thing, and he struggled. He asked his dad, and HE struggled. and the answer to me was "well, when are we gonna ever visit africa anyway? " that kind of complacency is why so many people look at americans and think that they are not up to par academically as the rest of the world. i was amazed when i lived abroad of the vast amount of knowledge europeans had about america. that's definitely not the case here in the U.S, where these concepts are not valued because they seem like unimportant "busy work". what a shame.

Posted by: sp1103sd | November 19, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"I personally believe that all Americans should be able to label all 50 states plus their capitals on a map. It really helps to understand current events and even some of the reasons why various states do what they do." --ArmyBrat

Really? I'm baffled as to why that would help anyone understand anything. I keep a map on the wall in the office and glance at it anytime I need to know. It's a much more efficient use of time.

I'm definitely in agreement with you about travelling to as many places as possible. I've actually spent a lot of time travelling around the country and found it endlessly fascinating, but I fail to see why knowing the name of the capital city of Idaho would increase my enjoyment in seeing the state.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

"I keep a map on the wall in the office and glance at it anytime I need to know. It's a much more efficient use of time."

and you probably don't think learning multiplication tables by heart or memorizing spelling words is an "efficient use of time" since you can just as easily use a calculator or google up a spelling of a word.

we are getting way too reliant on technology to think for us. it annoys me to no end when i'm in line at the cashier and she can't even make change without a calculator, even with the amount showing up on the register!

Posted by: sp1103sd | November 19, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Speling assinments were usualy a hugh wast of time, but teechers nowadays ain't lerning there kids no good, so now their puting they're responsebilities on the guardiens.

We don't need no education.
We don't need no thought control. - Pink Floyd (One of my favorite songs)

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 19, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Like AB, I see value in some of what's been dispensed with in school as trivia. Take dates in history. I learned how the Iroquois made a longhouse (and had to make one in miniature with sticks and bark) but had to teach myself the dates of the Civil War. I'm still extremely weak on dates in World History which are increasingly critical to understanding the state of the modern world as old grudges resurface! I hate seeing my kids waste time with busy work when there's so much to learn!

Posted by: annenh | November 19, 2008 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I think we give these poor kids way too much homework. It's insane. Talk with anyone in another country - with the better education system (may/may not be true) - and they will tell you that their kids go to school from 9-1 or 9-2 or so. Not hte 8-3 my kids' in school.

AND THEN they don't have nearly the homework that our kids do. It's absurd. Kids in other countries allow their kids to be kids. HERE, we just seem to think that more is better. Longer school days and then more homework. That's GOT TO be the ticket.

But it's clearly not working. Obviously, when we point to any other country in the world, NONE of them have the issues we do here. Most of those countries are completely or mostly homogeneous. We are definitely not, we have unique problems and issues in any type of situation, including education. But we have not addressed the issues. And many of them are just due to parents being involved. Involved DOES NOT mean doing the homework. I was not assigned homework probably til 3rd or 4th grade - when I could DO IT COMPLETELY BY MYSELF. I never in my whole school experience asked my parents to help me, as I knew they thought it was MY homework and they wouldn't help.

So why is it we think that assigning homework that can only be done with parental involvement (Homework in KINDERGARTEN, for goodness sakes...) - we think that THAT is going to make parents more involved? how so? I can hardly have my kid involved in extracurriculars due to the long school day and then the homework issue - he's TIRED at the end of a day. And he's only SIX for goodness sakes. Parents need to show their kids that education is important, and that does not include making dioramas.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | November 19, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

altmom, other countries that allow their kids to be just kids???? ever been to japan? crammer schools on weekends.

Posted by: quark2 | November 19, 2008 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Okay, sorry, I've just been listening to europeans and israelis. How long are their school days in Japan, though? And at what age does their homework start?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | November 19, 2008 5:43 PM | Report abuse

and part of my point was that it doesn't matter how much homework kids get, it's not going to fix any problems we have in our schools. Those issues are deep and will not be fixed by lengthening the days or giving homework to kill the kids.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | November 19, 2008 5:45 PM | Report abuse

There is NO evidence that assigning homework to elementary school kids improves student achievement.

I often see the kids who attend my local government-run school doing their homework when I'm at the library with my homeschooled children. They're assigned worksheet after worksheet that strike me as having little legitimate academic purpose.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | November 19, 2008 7:15 PM | Report abuse

"Seriously, though, the large-scale studies, with results published in refereed journals, are contradictory. Some show a causal relationship between homework and achievement. Some show correlation but not necessarily causality. And some show no correlation at all.

See http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/site/c.kjJXJ5MPIwE/b.2479409/k.BF59/Research_review_What_research_says_about_the_value_of_homework.htm"

ArmyBrat1: Thanks for the links. The disconnect is interesting, isn't it, between this research and the peremptory certainty of the teacher who posted (and my kids' teachers) that homework is a good thing in elementary school?

If the claim is that learning to do homework in 5th grade is good for you in later years, a 5th grade teacher isn't even in a position to know. You would have to follow the kid AFTER they leave your classroom, in future years, to see how they do. Actually you would have to do that with a bunch of kids, some of whom are in control groups who didn't get homework in 5th grade. All the teaching experience in the world won't, itself, give you expertise to answer the question that is at issue here.

Posted by: stumpff | November 19, 2008 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Of course there is a "disconnect" between teachers and parents when it comes to homework! I am a teacher, and I didn't understand how disruptive homework could be to an entire family until my own children started school. Homework takes up valuable, precious and limited class time, family time and free time. I speak to teachers and encourage them to really, really think about the homework they are assigning. I am met by a lot of resistance. Many teachers assign homework out of habit, or they think other teachers are doing it, or they think that they are "supposed to." Asking teachers to really step back and think about homework- what kind they are assigning, why they are assigning it, etc. will help not only students and families, but teachers as well!

http://www.family-homework-answers.com/teachers.html

Posted by: familyhomeworkanswers | November 19, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

What if we just decided at the beginning of the year that our 6 year old would not be doing any homework? I wonder what that would mean for the student. Teachers, any thoughts?

Posted by: goodhome631 | November 19, 2008 9:46 PM | Report abuse

goodhome631: I bet your 6 yr old would grow up just fine, AND do quite well in 1st grade if he/she did no homework at all. As the person ultimately responsible for our children's education, I decided (with spousal support) that my kids would not do homework in elementary school. It took me until their 1-2nd grade year to reach this. I had a reasonable discussion with the teachers, let them know my position and all was/is fine. I'm confident the kids are still headed for the colleges of their choice.

Keep fighting the good fight against elem age homework which is about behavior and habits, not academics or parental involvement - oh please. Meanwhile, what if we all developed good relationships with "our" teachers, thanked them for their contribution to OUR work of educating our kids, and politely do what we know is best for our kids?

Posted by: dcparent | November 20, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

"What if we just decided at the beginning of the year that our 6 year old would not be doing any homework? I wonder what that would mean for the student. Teachers, any thoughts?"

I did this part way through the year for my then first grader. She couldn't handle sitting down any longer than a whole school day. She didn't need the homework, which was geared for children who needed extra practice (she didn't). She needed to have unstructured time and so, without discussing it with the teacher (who had one child, a baby), I decided that my daughter would do no more homework. There were no repercussions last year and this year she does homework without complaint or issue.

Posted by: janedoe5 | November 20, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I am not sure how I missed this the other day! My kids elementary school gives little to no HW until after 2nd grade. Before then it is usually work that the child did not finish in class or spelling and vocab which requires only 5-10 minutes a few times a week. My 5th grader does about 45 minutes a night. None of it strikes me as busy work. Reading some of these other posts has made me feel incredibly lucky in this regard!

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | November 21, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I did attempt to limit the amount of homework my kids did in elementary school and the consequence was that they were held in from recess. Heck they were held in for recess if I forgot to SIGN the danged homework sheet even if all their homework was done. Makes me mad just to think about it now!

Posted by: annenh | November 21, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

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