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Is it time to ditch homework?

My Opinion
Is it time to ditch homework?
Is it time to ditch homework?
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Stephanie Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

Homework has been an expectation for most students, to varying degrees, for, well, almost forever.

According to an article in The Atlantic, the American educational system has had a love-hate relationship with homework through the years and the amount has fluctuated drastically, reflecting societal expectations.

About a century ago, writes Joe Pinsker, many believed homework put too much stress on students. Some school districts went so far as to ban it for all grades below seventh. But by the 1950s, amid fears the U.S. was falling behind the Soviet Union, most schools ramped up the homework. Not surprisingly, there was a feeling in the ’60s and ’70s that homework stifled play and creativity, and, overall, less was assigned.

Then came the ’80s when homework hit another big wave as the belief was that students weren’t well-prepared for the working world. That trend doesn’t seem to have lessened, but rather has intensified. Some studies say the average teen spends about twice as much time on homework today as students did in the 1990s.

And, the trend has shifted downward to include even kindergarten students.

We’ve all had to do homework, but did it really do us much good?

There’s a growing body of evidence that homework may not be as effective as once believed. Numerous studies have found that two factors are key when it comes to homework. They are quantity and quality; time spent on homework must be limited, and the homework must have a purpose.

Experts say there should be no homework at all for kindergärtners. If it’s assigned for first grade and above, it should be no more than 10 minutes per grade level, i.e. 10 minutes for first grade, 20 for second grade. More homework than the 10-minute rule does not improve grades and, in fact, has negative consequences.

Homework should be of quality. At the elementary level, that might mean multiplication or other mathematics drills. For older students, effective homework often takes the form of reports, experiments and other interactive experiences.

I would describe my relationship with my kids’ homework as love-hate, with the needle pointing a tad to the hate side. Math assignments in which the objective is to guess at an answer drive me mad. What possible purpose is there in that, especially now that everyone walks around with a computer in hand? I also don’t understand why concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division can’t be done the way I learned it. Why does it matter how you get the answer as long as it’s right?

On the other hand, my kids have had some homework assignments that I consider great. In second grade, Sylvia had to choose a country, research how it celebrates Christmas, make a poster to reflect the information, bring a prop (costume, etc.) and bring a food from that country. She still talks about what she learned about Norway.

Hays’ class put on a wax museum last year. Each student had to research an historical figure, prepare a presentation and dress like their character.

Warner is in third grade and must complete a book report per month for several months. I appreciate that he has a list of options which include drawing a comic strip, writing a letter to the main character and writing a different ending to the story, in addition to the traditional report.

I believe assignments that require students to use their imaginations, research and include their personal touch have the most meaning and impact. Some of the other assignments (again, I refer to math, maybe because I’m terrible at it) seem to just make students dread school.

I love what an elementary school in Ireland did for a month. They assigned zero traditional homework, instead tasking kids with performing acts of kindness.

We can all surely agree kindness and consideration are lacking in today’s world. If one doesn’t intentionally practice being kind, it’s all to easy to be nasty and negative. Being positive and kind are learned traits. When a school emphasizes kindness, that has to have an impact.

While I harbor no illusions about homework disappearing, I do believe our society overall needs to have conversations about the type of homework assigned and the amount expected, especially of the youngest students. Preschool is the new kindergarten, and I’m not convinced that’s always a good thing. In those early years, play is every bit as important and learning numbers and letters.

And, being kind perhaps matters most of all.

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