It’s coming and you know it. By the time you read my next article, it will be here. Homework is such a common complaint in my office, from both children and parents, that I have become a reluctant expert on the topic. The truth is, I hated homework as a child, and if today it went away completely, I might be a happier adult. With that said, I would like to present a fair perspective of homework and some beliefs I have on the topic.
Homework isn’t all bad.
Homework is good for practicing material learned in school, and recent educational research and training is coming back to the power of practice, especially for children with learning disabilities. Also, homework provides opportunity to learn executive functioning skills like how to balance work and relaxation outside of the classroom. Finally, homework can promote generalization which is the ability to apply learning outside the context in which it was originally gained. Doing math at school AND at home makes the information more accessible and useful to the individual. Does, “When am I ever going to use this?” sound familiar?
When homework breaks bad.
My biggest complaint on this topic is about homework being used to teach new concepts. Teachers need to teach new concepts, and this task should not be delegated to books or parents. My second complaint is when practice becomes drudgery. For instance, 10 math problems might be sufficient to master a concept, but 20 problems were assigned. These two issues, not knowing how to do the work and having too much assigned, make up about 90% of the homework complaints in my office. They also make up a good percentage of the parent/child conflict reported in my office.
There is this pervasive false belief passed down from generation to generation that the responsibility for completing homework falls to the parent. I could publish a book of emails written by teachers to parents that say, “Please get your child to do his homework.” Not one parent I have talked to thinks this is an unreasonable request, possibly because of the role their own parent played in helping them do their homework. It is my wish that every parent have it in their mind that this school year their child would become completely independent in the completion of homework. This is a tall order and would mean evaluating what and how much homework is assigned, what academic, executive functioning and organizational skills children need to develop, and what the relevant systems (e.g., schools, parents) need to be prompted, and in what way, to help fill in the gaps that would lead toward homework independence.