(This is part five of a five-part series on homework. Here's a link to last week's post about Doing Homework in Community 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.
Perfection is the Enemy of Done
Being a bit of a perfectionist myself, I have never been fond of the saying in this sub-heading; however, it is often appropriate for high achieving students to hear. High school students find themselves juggling for the first time multiple projects with extended deadlines. Math homework assigned one day and due the next is a simple enough taskmaster, but papers for three different classes all due at the end of the grading period require self-discipline. Procrastination is a killer, and because most of us can tell horror stories about our own procrastination-lessons-learned, I’ll leave that subject for another day.
Perfection can be a killer too. Students have to learn to manage their homework load based on the time they have to complete it. While that may seem a simple enough precept to stand on its own, it actually is worth pursuing a little further. The driven student—which often just means the student interested in making the best grades—can run himself into trouble trying to turn in the best paper he possibly can if he ignores the restraints time puts on his best efforts. Now we are talking about the student who puts a whole world of pressure on himself without any help from mom, dad, or teacher.
It is fairly common for teachers to hear complaints about too much homework from these kinds of students, and the root of the problem is that the student is trying to do too much. He wants to write the final word on the subject when the teacher is merely trying to discover what he knows and if he can articulate it intelligently. Students who tend to be perfectionists will spend ten hours on a paper that should take three hours. The parents want to know why the maniac teacher assigns a paper that takes this long and the teacher wants to maintain that he didn’t assign such a paper.
Teachers, knowing they have such students in a class, must assign a word count or page count and penalize students for going over. They should also be able to give a rough idea of how long such an assignment should take. If they don’t, students should get in the habit of asking. If a paper is due in six weeks, and the teacher is confident a couple of hours a week will easily take care of research, first drafts, edits, and rewrites, even the driven student should stick to those parameters, give his best effort, and be content with what he turns in. Pulling an all-night-re-write the night before the paper is due and after already spending the twelve hours required is just overkill, and unfortunately for the perfectionist student, the A he gets in the gradebook for the twenty hour paper bears a striking resemblance to the one he would have gotten for the twelve hour paper.
The bottom line here is that all students need help with time management. We want them to give their best effort always, as unto the Lord even (Col 3:23), but they must understand that time is a major factor that determines what is actually possible. The student who is prone to slacking needs to spend more time, but perhaps surprisingly, the perfectionist student is the bigger problem. Parents need to help these students stay within healthy boundaries. If this lesson is not learned before college, trouble awaits.
(This is part five of a five-part series on homework. Check out the past four weeks for more great conversations about homework.)