Of all the contentious issues that come up in schools—and believe me, there are a few—homework is the issue that causes the most strife between teachers and students, students and parents, and then parents and teachers. Personally, I am against homework. That position keeps me young and gives me some common ground with students. Still, regardless of my personal feelings on the issue, homework is a necessity in schools that have high academic goals for their students.
Because schools that are committed to providing a good education rely on some homework to help them deliver, it is important for teachers and families to take the homework as seriously as the in-class time. My aim here is to offer a few suggestions for making homework more productive and less contentious; in fact, I hope to help you see it in a whole new light.
Get the Time Commitment Right
This tip is mostly for teachers, but students and parents will have to help teachers refine expectations. First, schools have to set some boundaries when it comes to how long students should spend on homework. Is it thirty minutes for first graders and two hours for tenth graders? Whatever it is, that standard must be set and held. And everyone must understand that the standard will not fit every student the same. If, for example, the average tenth grader is expected to spend no more than two hours on homework, it is reasonable to expect the below average tenth grader to spend more time.
The teacher then must be realistic in her assignments. She should not learn on the morning after that an assignment she thought would take twenty minutes took an average of two hours for her fourth graders. A good teacher knows what her students are capable of in the classroom and will not expect them to be capable of more than that at home. Still, students should be capable of the same productivity at home. More on that below.
The time commitment gets even more complicated for older students who have several teachers each day, all competing for homework time. In these situations, teachers must plan together and communicate with each other to avoid overloading students. And this is where parent and student input comes in. If the teacher’s expectations of time commitment are not consistent with the actual time being spent on homework, the teacher needs to know that. For this feedback to be valuable, the relationship must be based on trust—the student and parent must trust that the teacher has the student’s best interest in mind when assigning homework, and the teacher must trust that the student and parent want to do the work that is necessary to master the skill being practiced in the homework.
We might think of this homework time commitment challenge as a dance that involves administrators, teachers, students, and parents. The first step is for administrators to set reasonable boundaries. The second step is for teachers to know what students are capable of. The third step is for teachers to work together to stay within the boundaries. The fourth step is for students to pursue the assignment diligently under the supervision of their parents. The music itself—the bonding agent—is the trust between administrators, teachers, students, and parents as they pursue the common goal.
(This is part one of a five-part series on homework. Next week we'll discuss settling in a routine with homework.)