Homework

When I first started teaching fourth graders, 22 years ago, I gave them homework. (I did lots of things I regret now. This is just one of so many.) All the teachers I knew gave homework. I had homework in elementary school. It didn’t occur to me not to give homework.

That lasted until I realized I hated it. I hated planning it. I wanted to just throw it all in the recycling bin after the kids turned it in. And then they went home with more homework, of course. More homework I hated planning and would want to recycle. That’s quite a vicious cycle I was in.

So I quit. Luckily the research backed up my decision. It’s been at least fifteen years since I gave any noticeable homework. A few parents have asked about it over the years, but have been understanding when I explained that the research doesn’t show improved achievement as a result of homework in elementary school and that I believe kids should have time to be kids and spend time with their families after school. (I would always say that if they wanted to get practice workbooks for their child, that is certainly an option. I just wouldn’t be the one to determine that.)

When I taught first graders we sent home an agenda every night. So before my kiddos left each day they wrote down their homework for the evening. It would look like this:

  • read for at least 20 minutes
  • TA: water science experiment (or some other thing we did that day)
  • Go to bed by 8

TA stood for talk about – part of their homework was to talk to their family about something we did that day. Some kiddos naturally talk about their day at home. Others say nothing. I couldn’t really force it to happen, any more than I could force kids to get to bed at a reasonable hour, but I could encourage it by making it ‘homework.’

Feedback from parents was positive. They liked hearing about what their kid did at school so the talking part was good. For some, me ‘requiring’ kids to go to bed by 8 helped because they used me as another authority figure about bedtime.

Our own kids are now in 11th and 7th grades. Homework is a much bigger part of our lives than I’d like. But in our little corner of the educational world, I’m noticing homework is less revered than it used to be. Both the middle school and high school let us know that our kids shouldn’t have had homework over the Thanksgiving break. It’s a start.

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