Drudgery. Outside of the window is life: Cumulus clouds look like cotton balls stuck to a robin’s-egg sky with drops of glue. It’s fall, the perfect time of year, with a lit sky and a breeze blowing the curtain tails. Out there, a 7-year-old has room to grow.
Inside, a child who may have put in a 10-hour day, getting on a school bus as early as 6 a.m. and getting off at 5 p.m., sits down to a packet. It’s time to re-do everything the student did all day.
Does that sound productive? What if we up the ante?
Maybe the child came home to a tired grandmother doing the best she can to help, or a dark apartment because no one paid the electric bill. Some children come home to loving parents who desire to help, but can’t speak the language of the homework instructions. Even educated but increasingly busy parents strain to help their kids with homework.
Perhaps the child struggles to read all day and, after putting in his or her best effort to the point of exhaustion, must complete more. Or the opposite, a child who excels and has proved mastery of a particular skill many times still must complete more.
Nearly everything about the way we teach children has evolved over the past few decades, from phonics to rigorous math standards to children’s literature to classroom furniture. The academic vocabulary has changed and students aren’t being taught in the ways of the past.
Yet, homework has remained traditional.
Traditions can be great, but it’s always good to periodically step back and ask, “Why are we doing this?” If there is no benefit, then someone has to say the emperor isn’t wearing clothes.
That’s what I did last week when I sent home the note to parents of my second-grade class that unexpectedly went viral on social media:
“After much research this summer, I am trying something new. Homework will only consist of work that your student did not finish during the school day. There will be no formally assigned homework this year.
“Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance. Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”
The way I see it, homework is nothing more than a stapled packet of more.
If more isn’t accomplished, that child will answer to a frustrated teacher who is caught up in a high-stakes game of standardized testing. More scores, a moving target. Funny thing about this game, the kids aren’t standard, their families aren’t standard, and we as teachers can’t be standard anymore. The standard homework packet must also be tossed. It’s time for a fresh start. Let’s redefine more.
It’s time for non-traditional homework.
In his book “The Battle over Homework,” Harris Cooper noted that homework should have different purposes at different grade levels. For students in the earliest grades, it should foster positive attitudes, habits and character traits; reinforce learning of simple skills introduced in class; and permit appropriate parent involvement.
I’m focusing on that last reason for homework, and I’m giving the kids a break. Parents, the homework is for you now. Praise your children for a hard day’s work when they get off of the bus today. Let’s trust our teachers and allow our kids the freedom to love school and the chance to “sharpen the saw,” as Steven Covey said in “The Seven Habits of Happy Kids.”
I got into teaching because I love kids. Every child is unique and poses unique challenges. My job as a teacher is to spend my day meeting those challenges with a smile on my face. Because I truly love kids, I give every effort to monitor the mastery of the standards I am teaching. I know what my students can do, and I am able to use that data to effectively engage them in relevant learning.
As a teacher, I ask that administrators loosen the reins and trust their staff, the way the administrators at Godley Independent School District have trusted me. To reluctant parents, I ask that you partner with me. Let’s discuss your child’s needs, you most likely know them better than I do.
The reaction to my short homework note has been astounding because the concept is so simple. A child who feels safe at home will feel safe to take educational risks at school. They need a foundation. They need to sit at the dinner table and debrief with their support team. Eating together isn’t only about nutrition; it’s also about nourishing the child psychologically. Ronald Reagan offered this in his farewell speech, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.”
Because of a little note, we’re talking. Let’s keep the momentum.
Do what’s best for kids.
Brandy Young is a second-grade teacher in the Godley Independent School District in Texas. She wrote this for the Dallas Morning News.