Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Homework Struggle Part 3 of 3 (Elementary and Teen)

As a teacher there have been many times I have privately questioned a homework assignment.  This has almost always been the case when the assignment required my reteaching or a late night trip to Wal-Mart.   However, let me emphasize the word privately.    I did not share my thoughts with my children.  I diligently reinforced the principal that this was assigned to them and was their responsibility to get it done to the best of their ability.  When they complain about a project or teacher I remind them that it is their job to respect and submit to their teacher.  You also have to factor in that most children would rather play outside, play video games, talk with their friends, wrestle on the floor, or watch a movie than do homework.  That is why it is called homework.  For some children it is more work than for others.  This doesn’t seem fair.  One child who is very bright is able to get their homework done in 20 minutes and another student who struggles takes an hour and a half.  I have both in my family.  So for my slower children this was constantly in their face.   When they complain about this obvious injustice, I tell them, “The harder you work at something, the more valuable it will be you.”  Or “The harder you work at something, the stronger you become.”  Another statement I make is, “Right now this is not about (the other person).  This is about you getting your assignment done and doing it the best you can.  Focus so you can get it done.”
 At one point, I felt that one of my daughters was taking an inordinate amount of time to complete her homework. I sensed that part of the reason was that she was missing some basic skills.  However, since the homework took such a long time, I couldn’t work with her on the basic skills she needed.  So  I approached her teacher and asked if there was anything we could do to lighten the load.  The teacher was grateful that I talked to her.  She had no idea we were having this ordeal during the evening.  She agreed to modify my daughter’s assignments and then I had time to do work on some basic skills with her.    Another rule I gave myself about homework is that if they ever need my help, I help.  If I have something I am committed to that evening, I explain that I cannot.   But if I am home, I drop everything to assist in any way I can.  I never do the work for them, but I let them know that I am here if they need me.   We also have a set schedule about how we do homework.  As soon as my children come home, they get a snack.  After they eat, they begin working.  They are not allowed to have friends over to the house and they cannot go over to anyone else’s house Mon-Thurs.  They do not play video games or watch tv Mon-Thurs as well.  We also have incentives called Hinton Power Points that they can redeem Mon-Thurs for tv or video game time, but that is all.  Not only do they need to complete their homework, but they also lay out their clothes and pack their lunch as well. Once they have everything done, they can read, play a board game, play outside, or work on a fun project.   We have been doing it like this for so long that they are arriving at the self monitor stage.   There are times when Steve and I have to both be gone for the evening and we come home to disasters, but it is getting better. 

When our children were in elementary school it was much more time intensive.  In California, while they were attending Folsom Cordova Unified School District, part of their grade came from their homework.  So after we walked home, we immediately sat down and began working.  I was like a human popcorn kernel bouncing from one child to the next .  Once a child was done, I had to check it for accuracy and have them make corrections.  It was a TON of work.  Usually everyone was done in about an hour except for my daughter who struggles.  Sometimes we would be at the table for another hour and then an hour after dinner.  This was not the case every night, but it happened enough that I always had to be home after school.  There were times when I wondered if homeschooling would be easier because then I would at least be assigning my own assignments and not trying to help them do assignments that I didn’t understand or did not see the value in.  But in time the homework hassle did become much easier. 

While I was doing research about the effectiveness of homework there were rumors that Japan and Denmark had completely given up homework.  This was interesting because their students score very high compared to other international students on standardized tests.  I tried to investigate to see if this was true.  I found a Japanese website that contradicted the rumors.  It purported that Japanese elementary students have homework every day.  Their homework consists of math drills and learning Japanese characters.   It also said that on top of daily homework, they get homework assigned during the summer and winter breaks.  However the article did state that the homework assigned over the breaks is usually a project of their choice.  [1]  But Denmark is another story.  The rumors are true.  In an article the Danish author says that “no-homework programmes ….are backed by studies apparently showing improved retention and learning…” Denmark has not only dumped the assigning of homework, but the students even call the teachers by their first names.  As a teacher that would be a bit hard for me to swallow! [2] 

In conclusion, homework for elementary students is a burden that we have bought into as educators and parents.  It is definitely beneficial for middle school and high school students, but at this time there is no hard evidence that it is effective for elementary students.  But just because science does not support this wearisome chore for our elementary children, it still exists.  We still have to ask our students the same question when they come home, “Do you have any homework?’ and then feel secretly glad when they say, “No. I got it all done at school.”


What tricks have you used to get homework done at your house?  How have your strategies changed as your children grew older?  What are your personal opinions about homework?

[1] Explore Japan Schools.  A webpage with a question and answer format published at web-japan.org
[2] Don’t Let Homework Get In The Way Of Kid’s Learning as published in The Copenhagen Post February 9, 2012 and online at cphpost.dk/commentary/editorial


  1. I think homework at the elementary level should be on the child's independent level instead of instructional level. This is when the problems arise. If student's aren't lucky enough to have parents like you, they end of reinforcing bad habits and turn in incorrect work. Homework should be reading daily, practicing math facts, and spelling.
    I am just about to embark on the homework adventure from a parents perspective. I know who to come to if I need help;)

  2. With our middle child, we spent anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours a night doing homework during elementary. Because I don't have a frame of reference for not doing homework, I can't say whether or not it would have been better for her; but it would have been a lot better for me. I think this type of frustration level with her homework altered not only her but her relationship with her parents. We ended up becoming more militant teacher figures than fun loving parents. I went to the school many times for help or a change in the structure of her work. We were always told that they would send home helpful reading or ligthen the load. That never happened! I have been very surprised to see almost NO homework in her first year of junior high. I am not sure if she really finishes it all at school or if I should be worried that she isn't doing more at home.