Sunday, May 17, 2009

Homework Daddy

Since the divorce, I've been the primary homework helper. I spend time nearly every day reviewing work with her, checking on her progress, making suggestions on projects, and reading books. I was this way even before the divorce, but it seems to have become more intense after the divorce.

So, for two full school years now, I've had the opportunity to see her develop reading skills, math skills, writing skills, and critical thinking skills. I can see, hear, and intuit learning curves, learning deficits, and learning excellence.

However, there are two things I've noticed over these past two school years.

1. I'm a typical Asian dad with high expectations of success and perfection for my daughter.
2. Homework is getting longer and more complex without much reason.

In the past several years (2000 - current) several books and studies have been published relating to the issue of homework. Japan, the so-called leader of education, has even eliminated homework for elementary school children.

So why are American children seemingly doing more and more? Could it be our school year is shorter? Our classes less intense? Our standards just lower?

I'd probably argue it is a combination of these things, along with the notion that "grades" are the only indicator of success. The failed "No Child Left Behind" system of rewarding grades has completely screwed up any teacher's notion of creativity for younger children. Yes, elementary school kids still get to do fun things and projects and arts and crafts, but in a seemingly illogical way that puts the onus of teaching on the parent, rather than the teacher.

This past week, I helped Noodle create a butterfly habitat. The directions weren't specific, didn't have a "rubric" and didn't seem to indicate anything more than a few questions and a due date.

At first, I wondered what she meant when she said she had to create a butterfly habitat. I thought perhaps I'd have to find a huge water jug, drop in some plants, some water, put on a screen, and find a caterpillar.

However, Noodle informed me that other kids had to make habitats for pandas, cheetahs, and rattlesnakes. I figured those kids wouldn't be bringing in wild animals like that, so I was safe with a fake diorama of a butterfly world.

Anyway, besides making the project (about a two hours), and writing about it (20 minutes), and researching it (10 minutes), and doing the daily writing (10 minutes), Noodle probably put in three hours of work and planning for the diorama.

She's in first grade. While she did learn a lot about butterflies beyond what she already knew from Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the project was complex enough to warrant parental involvement.

And this is where I begin to wonder, what are they teaching in schools these days?

Nevermind that I am a teacher. But, I am wondering what they do in elementary school or even middle school. As a teacher, I am privy to incoming freshmen test scores. You know those entrance exams for placement are also used as indicators of a middle school's success in "teaching" children.

I've seen test scores on reading and writing as low as 19. That's right. 19 out of 100.

I don't mean this is an anomaly, but the low range seems to be between 20 and 40. I've also seen test scores very high, but not as often as I see low scores. Doesn't this seem to indicate that the children who are graduating from "A+" schools aren't actually learning anything beyond taking the state's standardized test? Give them a different type of test and suddenly they can't answer basic questions.

So, what's the solution? Teach "how" to learn, not "what" to learn. For example, if you show a child how they can figure something out, they are more likely to be able to solve similar problems later on. But, again, to what extent and how much?

Does a child need homework? Yes, and no.

Yes, because in American schools, there is very little time to teach everything a child is expected to learn within the single school year. And let's face it, we aren't going to make much change in this standardized testing thing until colleges decide they won't use it as an indicator of entrance.

No, because significant evidence suggests that in young children (K - 5) homework has a near zero affect on end grades on tests. That's right. Near Zero.

If you gave children no homework and kept their daily activities the same, they score virtually the same on tests as they did if you gave them homework. So why do we need to give young children homework?

Work ethic. It actually seems only to serve as early conditioning to value hard work and regular good study habits that can carry them through middle school and high school and beyond. And this is where parental involvement comes back.

I know that if a parent doesn't care, nor do they help with homework or read, the child is more likely to suffer in school. Not only because of a lack of reinforcement of school material, but because the child is "learning" that older people they care about dont "value" education. If a parent isn't involved, how can you expect a child to be involved?

But, if this is the only reason for homework, why assign so much to young children? I know of other teachers at my school with young children who complain that their child had nearly one hour of homework each night. One hour for a 3rd grader seems a bit extreme.

At the same time, I know that without practice, Noodle sometimes falters. And there is where my Asian Dad Syndrome kicks in and I drill her for an additional five minutes on a type of problem, a word, or some other thing.

So, to homework or not to homework? And, wasn't this the most ramblingest blog post from me you've ever seen?

Blog Photos of Noodle's Project

9 comments:

bigWOWO said...

No to homework. That's my view.

I'm actually enrolling my son in a program that has homework time at the end of the day. They finish the school day, and then they have study hall, where they do their "homework." If they have any problems, they can ask other people for help. Then they go home and don't worry about it. It's just like work (well, at my job anyway).

I just remember having way too much homework when I was a kid. It kills creativity, imho.

Firefly said...

Great post. There is a saying that every child is a born talent yet somewhere along the way of education that talent is subdued. While some form of guidance is necessary, a formal education in this country is likely to do more harm to creativity than good. It is brainwashing, IMO. Just look at today science, there hasn't any significant innovation in the last several decades.

thisislarry said...

P2H, I vote yes on homework.

As you allude to, it teaches work ethic. But not just for the child, but for the parent(s). Its taken me a while to get into a homework routine as well, and I'm probably pretty terrible at it compared to others. We as rice daddies have to demonstrate that the kids' homework (checking it, participating in it, etc) is important to us, even when we're tired or the season finale of Lost is on.

As for talent and creativity, I agree with bigWOWO and Firefly that homework does not help build it, I dont agree that it needs to be either-or, but sometimes, yes, you just run out of time and have to forsake the creative stuff to get the mandatories done, and that sucks.

KP said...

I think moderate homework is good. I am actually pulling my kids out of a private school because the amount of homework and the projects that they are assigned is riduculous. My 3rd grader was assigned a project that had to be presented on a tri-fold display board with facts about our city-past, present, and future. She was required to use a 5 page rubric and they wanted interviews with government officials. Everything had to be handwritten, with drawn pictures as well as photographs...THIRD GRADE!! What did she learn from all of this? Mostly that mommy resents having to do homework.

Anonymous said...

GREAT POST...
I AM ON THE NO LIST FOR HOMEWORK.
WHY NOT.. VERY OFTEN PARENTS DO MOST OF IT.. I FEEL VERY STRONGLY ABOUT THIS BECAUSE I HAVE 3 KIDS IN SCHOOL AND NEVER NEVER HELP OR DO THERE HOME WORK...BUT I SEE AND HEAR AT PARENT/TEACHERS CONFRENCES.REPORTS DONE BY PARENTS PICTURES DRAWN BY PARENTS AND TEACHERS TELL OVER AND OVER AGAIN PLEASE LET THE KIDS DO THE WORK SO THEY CAN SEE IF THE CHILD GETS THE LESSON..I LET MY KIDS RETURN HOME WORK UNFINISHED OR WRONG ANSWERS GIVEN..
2 OF MY KIDS ARE IN GIFTED PROGRAMS ..ON THERE OWN THEY MADE IT AND STAY IN IT..IN THAT PROGRAM THE COMPETION IS FIERCE BETWEEN THE PARENTS..
1 CHILD IS IN SPECIAL ED CLASSES. AND DOES THE HOMEWORK ALL BY HIMSELF JUST LIKE THE REST OF THEM..
SO AGAIN WE PARENTS SCHOULD NOT TAKE PART IN HOMEWORK..

Vincent said...

Great post! My wife and I are constantly going back and forth about "academic rigor." I think it is important to acknowledge the goal of homework. It is a way to assess if students understood the day's lessons or to set the stage for the next unit to be taught (as in a springboard activity). It is also a way to provide students with ongoing skill practice. That said, there is also a positive social application to homework. It is a way to engage the student's family and/or guardians in the student's academic life. If you do not see the point of the activity, you should ask the teacher. Finally I must completely disagree with Anon's comment. The teacher in me cannot condone the sink or swim philosophy of child rearing. While I honestly believe our generation needs to be careful not too coddle our children too much, withholding our concern and support can be equally as damaging. We must be vigilant about not leaning too far on either side.

J's mom said...

Sorry, I just wanted to correct one thing you said--that Japan has eliminated homework for elementary school students. This isn't true.

My child goes to a public school and has homework every single day. It is not a lot, but he is only in first grade and I expect it to increase.

There is a special school here near us, similar to what Americans call a "magnet school" I guess. It is for kids who pass a special test and interview. (We didn't apply.)
Anyway this magnet school does NOT give homework. I was confused by this, but I have realized that the reason why is that these kids--who come from achieving families--are getting homework from their parents or their cram school. Thus they can go at their own pace, rather than restricted to the pace of their school. It isn't as if they are going home and doing nothing.

I hope this helped!!!!

papa2hapa said...

Thanks J for the information. I believe I cited (of course without linking) a 2004 study that indicated schools in Japan were not giving homework.

There is something to be said for self imposed homework (or parent imposed) versus school imposed. I know a lot of pressure is put on students in Korea to perform at an exceptional level no matter what. However, all students can't be exceptional. Someone has to be average and below average.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Just wandered in here. I think there must be a lot of variation. We have a very good public school system in Newton, MA, and there's no homework in 1st grade. In 2nd grade, my son had a small amount of homework (a worksheet on math or English) two nights a week and that was it.

I suggest talking to the teacher about homework, if you feel like it's getting to the point that you have to put so much time into it.