(This is part three of a five-part series on homework. Here's a link to last week's post about Settling into a Routine in case you missed it.)
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.
Use Homework Time to Do Homework
That sub-heading may seem like some absurd statement of the obvious, but the truth is, sometimes when a student believes he has too much homework, it turns out he is not using all his homework time for homework. People generally believe they are good at multi-tasking, and while it is true that most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time, we are not as good at multi-tasking as we might think. To put a finer point on it, we may be able to do more than one thing at a time, but we will not do them well, and this is especially the case when one or more of them requires focus and concentration like, well, homework for example.
I am not charging students with deceiving anyone but themselves. There certainly are students out there who will say they have been doing homework when they have intentionally been doing something else, but those aren’t the students I am talking about here. I am talking about students who believe they are working diligently when, in fact, they are distracted. And if they knew how much time it was costing them and how ineffectual their distracted studying actually was, they might be shocked.
The number one distraction is, you guessed it, the phone. Researchers tell us that the mere presence of our phones on the desk or table beside us—even when muted and face-down—is more distraction than most of us can bear. We inevitably pick it up every few minutes. Most teenagers I know do not mute their phones or turn them face-down lest they miss something important to them. Most teenagers do, however, belong to one or more group chats made up of peers who may be on a different schedule or who simply aren’t as studious as they are. Responding to some of these chatty groups can be a full time job. If you think not responding to friends is an option for a teenager, then you have a terrible misunderstanding of what is happening among this generation on the phone.
And it isn’t just texting that is distracting them from homework—and everything else. Oh, it probably starts with responding to a text, but then someone references this or that post on this or that social media platform, and the next thing your teenager knows, he has spent thirty minutes in some click hole with nothing good to show for it. In case you are wondering, I am not demonizing the students here. I am simply telling you what happens. The truth is that if you ask him what he has been doing, he will say homework, and that is what he believes to be true. My point is that more often than not, students do not realize how much time they have been distracted while they were supposed to have been doing homework.
Certainly there are other distractions—music, friends, siblings, electric guitar, video games—the list is nearly endless. Anyone who does not really want to work can find a way to avoid it. That story is as old as the Fall. With phones, the distraction is more subtle. An otherwise excellent student can turn two hours of homework into five without ever intending it or even realizing she has done it just by insisting on having her phone with her. And what is worse, the work she does get done won’t be up to the standard of the work she does at school (if she is without her phone there). Parents will have to help provide boundaries and accountability in this area. I suggest no phone during homework.
(This is part three of a five-part series on homework. Next week we'll discuss using doing homework in community.)