What No One Tells You About Homework

Tim Ihms Education, Life in the Classroom

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If you live in the Valley of the Sun, otherwise known as Phoenix, and you have school age children, you probably experience the joys of homework.

Homework has become the main instructional method of the higher rated charter schools and for many public and private schools also. Homework that involves up to 2-3 hours of the student’s after-school time.

Why? Here are a few reasons given in my quick research of parents and teachers on the web. One idea is homework is to remind parents that a child’s education is the responsibility of the parents. Another thought is homework trains students to increase self-directedness. One parent thought it was to teach students what they didn’t learn at school.

Personally, I have heard parents expect homework to keep their children busy until bedtime. Teachers often times give homework because their administrator or district said to. Some teachers are hoping the parents are able to instruct the child to some kind of understanding they could not.

Whatever the reasons, homework is marginal in its effects. At least, that is my experience and the findings of a study by Cooper et al. Cooper found in their synthesis of research on homework just marginal effects for older students with their academic achievement and no help at all for elementary.

When I first began teaching what now seems like many lifetimes ago, I assigned homework. But over time, the students who had the least amount of overall skills and learning confidence completed the least amount of homework while those who had the most confidence and skills completed their homework regularly.

That is when I decided any learning the students were going to be held accountable for would be completed in class under my supervision. It was not fair to the 38 students in my class and their parents to expect consistent expectations and instruction between their parents and me. And without the consistent instruction, the students who needed the consistency most would not be getting it.

Homework consistently added to the frustration of my students with newly developing skills and confidence and did little if anything for my confidant and highly skilled students. Many times parents had no idea how to help their child.

Often, the parents would teach their child a different method to solve the problem, causing more confusion for the student. Students more often than not say to their parents in the midst of the parents helping them, “But this is not the way Mr. Ihms does it.”, causing unneeded friction between parents and child.

I don’t know of any other teaching methods or ways of learning where the instructor sends homework home for parents to help with using what parents have learned as a basis of assisting a student with their homework. Or even worse, has the parent try and figure out how to teach the problem area.

Can you imagine a music teacher sending your child home with an hours worth of oboe practice and your child asks you to help? If you were like me, you would stare at your amazing child and say without remorse, “Good luck!”

Or your daughter comes back from an intense day of practicing how to code on her computer and she asks, “Can you help me to format the output in C++?” If your answer to her was “Sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about”, you would be in the same boat as most of the parents on your block.

From either example, your inability to help your child with their oboe or coding homework is not a poor reflection on you as a parent or on your responsibility to educate your child.

Parents have the responsibility to educate their children. In our culture, being able to read, write and perform math at some basic level is the expectation.

There are two examples given in the book, Talent is Overated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin about Tiger Woods and Mozart. Both had talented fathers in their fields and both began regularly teaching their sons at an early age. Both fathers relinquished their roles as the primary instructor in golf or music to teachers who were better than they were in order to continue to advance the skills of their sons.

The use of teachers other than themselves was recognition of the limits of their skills and teaching abilities and a reflection of their focused desire to see their sons advance.

My point is schools sending homework for parents to help with is wrong. If the schools are not able to teach the basics to the students they have for around seven hours a day over thirteen years, something is very wrong.

As a general rule, homework is useless and unneeded. It is time for schools and parents to quit this waste of time and seek other activities to find joy in.

 

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after 31 years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. I’ve been teaching engineering, science, and math at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career. I also sponsored my school’s MESA program, which prepares members to enter college and major in a STEM career, for twenty-one years. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team, and serving on my school’s literacy council. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education. During the 2017–18 school year I also served as an Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

  • Austine Etcheverry

    My concern with homework is that if a student does the homework wrong now you have to find a way to unlearn the skill they did over and over wrong. This leading to more frustration. While I believe that mistakes help us learn doing 20 math problems incorrectly for homework doesn’t serve the purpose of teaching the student the concept. I tell parents if they want homework, take their child to the store and have them do real world math or play a game with them where they have to problem solve and communicate. Make homework fun!

  • Treva Jenkins

    I am affirm believer that homework (if given) should be meaningful and reinforce skills learned in class. Sadly, as you mentioned in your blog, for some, homework is being used as a baby sitter…keep kids occupy and that is just plain wrong. Homework is 100% a teacher-student issue, not the parents. This is a great article by ASCD..”Five Hallmarks of Good Homework” by Cathy Vattero. She writes “Meaningful homework should be purposeful, efficient, personalized, doable, and inviting. Most important, students must be able to freely communicate with teachers when they struggle with homework, knowing they can admit that they don’t understand a task—and can do so without penalty.”

  • http://www.leadfromINtheclassroom.com/ Jess Ledbetter

    Such a great blog. I remember reading a lot about the harms and perils of homework in the book “50 Myths & Lies That Threaten to Destroy America’s Public Schools.” As a preschool teacher, no one really expects me to assign homework anyhow–and I won’t give it even when parents ask. Sometimes I wish I taught an older grade so I could take a more obvious stance against something I really don’t believe in. I hope many teachers read this blog, consider their own experiences and data, and dump this ineffective practice that stresses out parents and harms students.