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In the world of teaching, fewer things can be more polarizing than the homework debate in elementary schools. Should teachers assign homework? While many believe that homework is invaluable and should be a part of any child’s curriculum, others – such as myself (did the title give it away?) – believe homework is just, well… not that important. In fact, I think homework in elementary school (at least the type of homework I often see being assigned to students) is a total waste of time.
Now, I know what you must be thinking… “This is a blog to support dual language and bilingual teachers! Why is she writing about homework?” Let me stop you right there! As a dual language teacher, I have seen how easily well intentioned elementary school teachers, hoping to help their students become fluent in two languages, have seriously outdone the amount of work they assign each night. I have also seen how little impact homework has had on my own students (yes, I used to give homework, too!) But you might be asking yourself, “If I don’t give homework, what will they do at home? What about those parents who WANT their child to do homework?” Don’t worry! I have some ideas up my sleeve that will take care of that for you!
The good… (?)
First, let’s dismantle the argument in favor of homework, shall we? Those who believe teachers should assign homework often say that students need more time to practice new skills. If students are struggling to learn multiplication, they should practice multiplication at home. More time practicing = improved performance, right? Not always! If you have a student who has parents at home who are able to support him, then I would say that practicing at home won’t hurt.
But what about those students whose parents can’t help them because they have to work two jobs or because they don’t know HOW to help their kids? Will those students get better because they practiced at home? Probably not! Dare I say, they will probably do worse. If a child is struggling to learn something in class where the teacher can offer support, how in the world is he supposed to get better doing it by himself at home with no support? The logic in this argument is flawed. And the worst part is that students who are NOT doing their homework often get penalized for not doing it – and they are often the ones who are struggling! Would you do your homework if you didn’t know how to do it and had no one to help you? I know I wouldn’t! Would you develop negative feelings towards homework and school in general? Do I even need to answer this one???
So we have talked about students not doing their homework because they don’t know what to do, and there is no one who can help them. But you may be wondering, “What about those who could do it on their own but ‘choose’ not to?” My question to you in this case would be, “Are you sure they are ‘choosing’ not to do their homework?” I have had students in the past share with me that when they go home, they take care of their younger siblings. Some go to their parents’ jobs and help them there. By the time they get home, they need to eat dinner, shower, and go to sleep, so they can get up to go to school the next day. This is not a child who “chose” not to do his homework. It sounds more like a child who didn’t have any time to do his homework.
“But we must teach them responsibility! They must be responsible and do their homework!” I would say that taking care of siblings and helping their parents after school is a much greater lesson on responsibility than any homework I can assign, wouldn’t you? Having teachers assign homework to students to teach responsibility is like using a text book to teach someone how to swim. Real life experiences will always be more effective than any homework teachers can assign.
Now, just in case you are still in the fence about it, let’s talk about the worst part of homework (in my humble opinion.) Think about a long, exhausting day of teaching – you worked so hard; your brain is fried; your head hurts! I bet you can’t wait to go home and work for another hour or two, right? Ok, ok, ok… no need to use such ugly words! I get it, you are done for today! Do you think your students would like to be done for today, too?
Think of all the things your students could be doing with their families right now. Think of the special moments they could be spending together! Why are we taking these away from them by adding the pressure of homework after a long day at school. I will be the first to say that if a student was goofing around in class and didn’t finish something, he will have to finish it at home. But if your students gave you their best, why can’t they go home and relax… be kids? Tomorrow they are going to be in your classroom again, and they will get right back to work.
No homework – what do we do now?
Now, you may be wondering, “If I don’t give my students any homework, then what DO I do?” The answer is simple: create a community of readers and inspire them to GO HOME AND READ. Reading is the most important thing students can do. It opens all doors! Students who are better readers tend to do well in other areas as well. If you inspire your students to love reading and provide them with books they can take home to read, hopefully they will read at home. No reading logs, no comprehension questions, no strings attached! Just reading for the joy of reading!
“Well, but how do I know they are reading?” Sometimes you won’t know, and that is ok. But when you do know that they are not reading at home, try to inspire them to read by sharing some books you think they will enjoy. Individual reading conferences can be great because you can easily find out whether or not they are reading at home and make some book suggestions. “But how will they develop their second language?” Encourage your students to take risks and read in their second language. Talk to them about the importance and the power of reading. Whatever you do, just remember that students who LOVE to read WILL read. No need for ultimatums! Let their love for reading open the doors to everything else and concentrate on the standards when you are all together in the classroom.
What about math, spelling, sight words? They need to practice that, too. I hear you! And my answer to that is… GET CREATIVE! Teach your students to play games that they can play at home as well. I love using regular game boards in my classroom during math stations, and adding fact fluency practice by requiring that students answer a math fact correctly before they can take their turn on the game. This can be easily done at home, and students can play with their siblings or parents. They get to have fun and practice math at the same time. The same could be done with sight words or spelling words if you want your students to practice those at home as well.
So… what do you say? Are you ready to kick homework to the curb?
Thanks for stopping by today… See you next time!