In the Classroom: Parents and Teachers and Children and Homework

I have never been much for homework. Nothing I’ve read indicates it does anything to improve student learning for the 4th graders I teach.  I do require that my students read a minimum of 30 minutes a night, but I try to keep their accountability for that as simple as possible so that the reading doesn’t become a chore.  We also give them a small amount of math to reinforce what they did in school, a bit of word study, and that is pretty much it. What I hope they do away from school is whatever they wish — read more, Legos, soccer, fantasy play (which, I’ve noticed, every year seems to be more vestigial for this age group), video games (they aren’t all bad:), drawing, or just hanging out.

When I do give homework I’m pretty fanatic about the kids doing it on their own. That is, no adults should be involved. I’m not a fan of arty projects where some parents get so involved that the projects look professional while others look exactly like what you would expect a non-dexterous kid’s to look like. And some parents, in my experience, find it impossible not to get involved in a piece of writing. Some kids end up leaning on them for this while others hate it.  The bottom line for me is that any work done at home should be the kid’s 100%. Where the parent CAN help in is encouraging them to do it, find a good/quiet place for it, and otherwise help develop their child’s independence and good study habits.

I was provoked to write this after reading Judith Newman’s New York Times piece,  “But I Want to Do Your Homework: Helping Kids With Homework.”  While what she writes isn’t new, she does it in a wry self-deprecating way. With helicoptering parents finding it hard as hell to stay back, I think there can’t be too many articles like these supporting them in doing so.

4 Comments

Filed under In the Classroom

4 responses to “In the Classroom: Parents and Teachers and Children and Homework

  1. maryleehahn

    Great article! I especially liked the point about how important it is for kids to take risks and make mistakes.

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  2. Sophia

    Remember, too, that by doing it for them you are STEALING their opportunity to learn. If they make a mistake, the currency at 10 or 11 is FAR less costly, than at 19 or more. After all, what are you going to do, travel with them to college and into the workforce & correct their mistakes?

    As the mom of a bright (but sometimes lazy) 4th grader, I had to step back and let him fail a few times …. once I found a great tutor who encouraged him to figure it out for himself, he became MORE interested in completing his homework. May I also add that he went from a good public school to an International Baccalaureate … it was a HARD transition!

    Happily, we ended 4th grade on a high note and he is better prepared for the rigors of 5th grade.

    As a parent, you hate to see your child struggle, but no one learns without a few mis-steps!

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  3. ~mwt

    Hey Monica,

    You know that my dream is to be a fourth grader in your class and I love that you don’t give homework and love even more that you don’t want parents involved in projects. Two of my kids had to build California Mission Models in school. Parents were encouraged to help — by volunteering for a day to help ALL the kids. Everybody donated material for classroom use. The project was completed at school with three or four parents wielding the hot glue guns at the direction of the students. Then the students carried the projects into their classrooms to finish. And there were no tears or swearing at 2:00 am the night before the project was due.

    Our other school had a very different system that led to what I think is an inappropriate level of parental involvement.

    I think that if you have faith in your school system, you are more willing to let your child work on his own and perhaps fail at some things. If you know that there are critical downstream consequences of a C in algebra in 8th grade than you move Heaven and Earth to make sure that A) your son learns algebra and B) he appears to meet the arbitrary standards of a system that will determine whether he makes it into college with a scholarship sufficiently large that he will have access to higher education.

    I think it’s far better developmentally for that slowly maturing, unmotivated 13 or 14 year old to get a big fat F in Algebra and then to pull his act together at 16 on his own. But by then, he has missed the bus. He will not be in the higher math track, and worse, he won’t have the grades that accurately reflect his potential. Doors that should be open to him will be closed, probably permanently.

    Parents don’t helicopter in a vacuum. They helicopter because they think their kid will be hurt by a system that they recognize is bad for their kids but over which they have no individual control.

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