Thursday, November 19, 2009

Globe crosses into the homework debate

The Globe and Mail has published a few things this week on the great homework debate. First was Tuesday's article on a Calgary family with two lawyer parents who wrote and got the school to sign a homework contract. Subsequently, Wednesday's paper and online had a followup article on other parents who've taken similar steps to intervene with their children's homework workload.
Both articles include parents seemingly at wit's end and on the verge of tears, or speaking about their children being on the verge of tears due to the homework load.
From Tuesday:
“It was a constant homework battle every night,” Ms. (Shelli) Milley recalled. “It's hard to get a weeping child to take in math problems. They are tired. They shouldn't be working a second shift.”
It's not as if, the couple pointed out, they don't value education. They know firsthand the work involved in earning university degrees. But they wanted the academic work done at home to be on their terms, based on where they knew their children needed help. Brittany, for instance, was struggling with spelling, but “we never had any time to focus on that because she had so much homework,” Ms. Milley said.
And there were plenty of frustrating nights, she said, when her kids were so tired, “we'd stand over them, saying, ‘write this, write that.' ” If that's what families are doing, she asked, “how do the teachers even know whose work they are marking?"
The lead in this story held a pertinent piece of information -- speaking to how the family would rush their kids home from soccer and skating to then have to deal with homework. A nagging question arose when I considered the lead with the graphs I've quoted above-- could the Milley children be overprogrammed?
Similarly, from Wednesday's piece:
It never even gets that far for Shirley Munk. “I refuse to monitor, remind about, and schedule time for any homework for my elementary school child,” the Halifax health care worker says. Her daughter, who attends Grade 3 at a private school, makes good grades and talks about what she learns in school. Ms. Munk meets regularly with her teachers. But homework, spelling words included, “is not a part of our family life,” she says. “I don't see why 61/2 hours of formal schooling isn't enough for an eight-year-old.”
This issue got a lot of press (as these things usually go) in 2008 when the Toronto District School Board completed a review of its homework policies. Other boards across Ontario, and the Ministry of Education, either followed suit or were already in the midst of their own homework reviews. A general guideline used by many schools is 10 minutes per night, per grade. So a Grade 3 student would reasonably be expected to have 30 minutes of homework per school night, and so on.
This issue very quickly gets into topics of how as a society we're raising our children and what today's parents are expecting from their children and are doing to raise (or not raise) resilient children able to deal with workload, stress, failure, etc. Not having kids myself, I don't know where a parent strikes a balance between helping their kids with their homework, monitoring that it's being done versus crossing the line and doing it themselves or going to the extremes these families did when they felt the burden was overwhelming.
The comments on the Globe articles beautifully get into these issues-- give them a read if you have the time.


educ8m said...

This article just points out that there is bad homework and good homework. What these parents had to put up with was garbage homework--because that's where it belongs.

Good homework reinforces what has been learned during the day. This is especially true when learning math or a musical instrument--practice makes perfect. It also makes the next steps of learning go easier and faster.

SQE has a good discussion of this at School For Thought today.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be great if we could focus such energy on what's going on inside those classrooms during class time to illicit so much homework, as we can on what's going on on the home-front?

Too many character building and awards assemblies, plus other disturbances by some school administrators during valuable teaching time?

Maybe instead of asking students during school time to raise money for any number of charities there might be time enough left during school hours for students to get a start on or even finish their homework.

But wait! Wasn't the Balanced School Day supposed to lessen the burden on just about everything and get more done during class time?

Anonymous said...

Homework seems to be one of those cyclical issues that crops up every few years.

It's also one of those issues that can be easily dealt with via a working school council.

I recall when the Ontario Tory government unwrapped the new curriculum and parents were being told that it was the reason for so much homework. It was just too hard and had too much to cover in class, so parents picked up the slack.

Students eventually learn which teachers are asking them to do legitimate homework and which are just piling-on. Word also gets out on which teachers actually follow-up to check that homework is done, even though part of the grade was based on completed homework.

I actually like the idea of writing a homework contract between parents & classroom teacher. To me the idea of standardizing homework policies is ridiculous.


Education Reporter said...

Anon 19 Nov. 14:52
There are always exceptions to the rule, etc. However, in the time I've spent in schools and classrooms, there weren't a cumbersome number of non-classroom disruptions. Many non-academic pursuits took place during lunch periods or recess. I've had the opportunity to witness regular and routine opportunity for completion of work in-class as opposed to at-home, to the point students not completing work (work that was never assigned as homework) were held back from recess to complete it.

One primary class I spent some time with rarely had much more than shared reading and a few math problems to review on a nightly basis. Re-reading the shared-reading text with mom or dad at home once a day doesn't seem that onerous to me, given most could be read in a few minutes.

Homework doesn't seem onerous in many of the schools I've had the opportunity to shadow, however they've been more elementary than high schools.

I don't buy the excuses we keep coming up with in Ontario with the change to a four-year curriculum-- particularly as it relates to course workload and homework. This was noted in the second article. The rest of the continent (Quebec is a little different) manages to get high school done in four years with curriculum that's just as rigourous (or perhaps even more) as Ontario's.

Homework is a reality, and though part of me can't believe I'm repeating a line I heard many times as a student, school should be a top priority. I can't shake the impression, even reading these G&M articles, that these are overzealous parents who would rather fight the school system than fight with their kids to make sure homework is done. If fighting the system is seen as being easier than getting your own kids to complete this task... what are the consequences of this to our society?


Anonymous said...

I find that perhaps more than homework students need more instruction on learning HOW to study that homework. Too many kids end up at post-secondary and have no clue what it means to study.

When I look back at when I went to school I'm pretty sure most, if not all homework was just practice of what we learned.

Sometimes homework came home with my kids that the teacher hadn't taught yet, or didn't have time to cover.