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