Homework Paradigm Shift

It was a simple, respectful but gutsy, short note from a concerned parent last year.

 “It took (Name withheld) over an hour to do the 28 division problems tonight.  Would it be possible next time to check for understanding with only 8 -10 problems?”  


Concerned Parent

I sat and thought about it for about 15 minutes.  I had nearly every emotion running through my head but eventually I got to, “Oh my gosh. What was I thinking?  I gave 28 long division problems last night and that was just in math!” I had always given homework because I was given homework when I was in school. 4th graders should have 40 minutes of homework right? (10 minutes per grade level rule) Sometimes even when I didn’t have homework to give out I would make something up.  I found my self really asking, “Why am I assigning this?”  I use to make the kids write their spelling words 4X’s each and they hated it!  What’s the point? (Let’s not get started on spelling!)

Now this year my family has gotten the opportunity to be involved in the life of an amazing 4th grade student. Wow – talk about busy!  Soccer, homework, snack, clarinet practice, good news club, dinner, reading, and shower. Of course she would NEVER procrastinate at any of these! (I need a drink, oops my lead broke, I know I got this assignment last week, but now it’s due tomorrow!!) Students are busier than I ever was!  For me, this school year is different. I’m giving WAY less homework. Sometimes the homework I do give is “Read for 20 minutes” or “study your spelling words”  Homework that can be done in the car, or at sister or brother’s game.  It just makes sense.

 Here are a couple questions for you to consider.

Who actually does the homework and is it a good representation of what the student is capable of?

 What types of students/family life really have issues with homework?

What is the real purpose of the homework? Is it just busy work?

I think the parents appreciate a little less homework this year, and I KNOW the students appreciate it!

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  1. #1 by Jenrunde on October 16, 2011 - 5:45 pm

    I totally agree.  The past few years I’ve really changed how I give homework, too.  Most nights, their only homework is to read.  Some nights they may have to finish up work they didn’t complete in class (maybe some math or a reading response).  All big assignments are completed at school, so major projects don’t become parent projects.  Part of my change was because as my life got busier, I realized how busy other family’s lives must be, and the other reason for my change was that the homework usually wasn’t completed anyway, and students were staying in during their breaks to complete homework, instead of me being able to help students who really needed it.  

    Runde’s Room

    • #2 by Anonymous on October 16, 2011 - 7:41 pm

      Great Points Jen!  Thanks for the comments.

  2. #3 by Jennifer Harper on October 17, 2011 - 1:26 am

    Have you read the book “Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs” by Cathy J. Vatterott?    It is an ASCD publication and is fantastic.  It truly supports your thoughts plus so much more.  I’ve taught 4th grade, 3/4 combination and a 4/5 combination.  I, too, gave “40 minutes” of homework.  This book changed my philosophy, and truly improved the home lives of every family.

    Check it out.  It will be worth your time.


    • #4 by Anonymous on October 20, 2011 - 9:44 pm

      Thanks for the tip on the book, Jennifer! 

  3. #5 by Teachers Unleashed on October 20, 2011 - 3:38 am

    I just had to chime in on this one.  I’ve always had my issues with busywork homework.  

    This past Christmas, I became a single parent to a 5th grader and a sophomore.  We have been so overwhelmed with dealing with the death of my husband/Dad- that homework has become a nightmare.  As a parent, I have overcome the worry.  If spelling 3x each doesn’t get done… so be it.  

    What’s important is dinner (the 3 of us- talking), ball practice (joy and life and exercise), and counseling (the more the better).  If we find a chance to smile- we take it.When homework came up during back to school night, I told my students’ parents exactly how I felt about this shift in my thinking.  When I finished explaining that their students would not be getting more than 30 minutes on any night, the sighs of relief from my audience was audible.  I offered to design “enrichment plans” for any student/parent interested, but truly, I think parents were just tickled not to have that worry.

    Thank you Jennifer for adding the information on “Rethinking Homework”.  I intend to find that book.

    Keep it up, Maniac!  I think it is commendable of you to be willing to flow against the stream, and to reevaluate your practices.

    Best regards to you and to your family,

    (half of Teachers Unleashed)

    • #6 by Anonymous on October 20, 2011 - 9:48 pm

      Thanks for your comments Susan.  Sometimes it can be real eye opening to hear stories about different families difficulties and even the loss of a loved one.  As teachers, I wonder sometimes about some of the challenges a family goes through and we never hear about it!  

  4. #7 by Kamertens on October 22, 2011 - 10:53 am

    I think occasional homework is ok, but it should be a check for understanding and not a graded assignment. I have some major problems in math where every thing they do is for a grade. Introduce and on the same day give a 5 problem assignment, grade it and the kid misses 1 out of 5 and gets a C .

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