Let's End (Most) Homework
As someone who owns a tutoring company, I spend a lot of time thinking about homework. You may find it surprising that I don’t like homework for students younger than 12. I think school boards across Ontario need to drastically change, and then enforce their homework policies. I make a living helping children with learning disabilities complete their homework and build academic skills. I have a decade of resentment for the type of work teachers send home.
Need for rest
Children need unstructured play time and rest. Children have little time for themselves: From after school child care, to extracurricular activities, to the kitchen table to complete homework, and then off to bed. One in seven children experience mental health issues, anxiety being predominately represented. Unstructured play time reduces anxiety and gives children a chance to work through their own concerns. Unfortunately, homework not only gets in the way of this, but contributes to anxiety (Pope et al. 2015). A study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that homework was leading to increased emotional and mental health issues. (Stanford, 2013)
Not All Practice is Good Practice
Nothing is more frustrating to me as a professional than when spelling words come home. Practicing spelling words does not increase a child’s ability to spell. Once that spelling test is over, the children are no more likely to remember how to spell those words than any other words. (Simonsen and Gunter, 2001) The student would be better served doing any other task. However, if a student wants to get a good grade at the end of the week, they’ll need to practice.
You know what does improve spelling? Reading, a pleasurable task (and that does not count as homework) (Johnson, 2013). So, why do spelling lists come home? It’s because teaching is not as research based as I would like it to be. Teachers do it because other teachers do it. Simple as that.
It’s not just spelling. Research shows that homework has no impact on future outcomes for students without learning issues (Harris Cooper 2006). Educational researchers assert that teachers lack the proper training in assigning homework effectively (Cooper 2010). Personally, I know that I received no training on homework during what I considered my rigorous Bachelor of Education. Homework is most helpful when teachers can justify how the assignment benefits students. Doing homework, for the sake of homework, does not help children achieve more.
All those hours spent pouring over textbooks, working on Bristol board presentations, last minute panicked completions are wasted hours. I know parents struggle with this fact. The truth is, not all practices or assignments have benefits. The homework that comes home is often about getting a better grade and/or doing better on tests—not actively trying to improve skills. That would be like only practicing running from third base to home in baseball because that’s the only way you score.
What Should Be Done
What should be sent home instead is concentrated practice on the areas that your child struggles. If you child has trouble in math, extra practice is beneficial. If your child has trouble grouping ideas together for writing, a journal can help. The intentional intervention we provide to our students, at Concierge Tutoring is designed to help them capitalize on their strengths and build up their weaknesses. I believe that if homework comes home that causes disharmony in the home, it shouldn’t be done. Please don’t be afraid to write a note in your child’s agenda explaining why the homework wasn’t finished.