An Idea from My Daughter Regarding Customized Levels of Homework
January 29, 2019
My daughter has an idea for how elementary schools ought to treat homework. I'm writing about it here because I would love input from teachers and other parents on whether something like this has appeal and would be remotely feasible.
First, some context. My daughter attends an excellent public school in a suburban area of San Jose. Many of the parents of her fellow students are quite academically focused. There is a fair amount of homework. (Or so it seems to me, particularly relative to my own personal view after reading extensively on this topic that homework in elementary school should be minimal.) Most of the parents seem to support the homework amounts. Some even push for increased levels, while a quieter minority would prefer to see less homework. I tried to raise the issue of scaling back homework levels at the school when my daughter started there, but this idea pretty much fell to deafening silence. I think that the teachers, most of whom are highly experienced, believe that this is what most of the parents want. Thus it's very difficult to argue against that at the school level.
My daughter (now in third grade) has once again been lamenting homework. The discussion started near the end of the Christmas break, when she was expressing concern over juggling her extracurricular activities in the coming semester (while being unwilling to drop any of the those activities). She proposed that the real problem wasn't the activities at all, but rather having to balance them against homework. Then she went on a massive rant, which continued at intervals over several days, about how homework isn't useful, and it's not fair of the school to take up her time at home, and she's fine with learning all day long in school but that should be enough, etc… She makes an exception, somewhat, for reading assignments at home (if it's just reading and looking up vocabulary words), but otherwise dismisses it all as unnecessary and an imposition on her valuable time.
Part of her specific problem with homework turns out to have been difficulty in setting limits on herself. So if she had to read a couple of chapters her reading group book and clarify (define on a sticky note) vocabulary words, she would take 90 minutes and clarify dozens of words. With pronunciation and examples. This was much more than her (wonderful) teacher was asking. Her teacher and I have been working together to get her to be more focused in her approach, and the situation for this school year has improved significantly. (As a side note, I highly recommend talking with your child's teacher about any such issues, because every situation is slightly different.)
So things are much better, and I am deeply grateful to my daughter's teacher. However, my daughter still grumbles sometimes over homework keeping her from spending time on other pursuits, including lying around re-reading graphic novels. A position for which I have great sympathy. We're also concerned about next year (fourth grade), when by all accounts homework levels will increase.
My daughter actually proposed a solution for elementary schools. She thinks that at the start of the school year, each parent should be able to check a box for the level of homework that their child receives (none, small amount, or larger amount). Then each family could decide for themselves how they want to treat homework (and kids who don't like their parents' choices could make their own arguments at home).
As someone who believes strongly in individual choice and personal responsibility, I see the appeal to this idea. It would be a fair way to balance the priorities of different families. Of course it also has clear drawbacks. It would probably be hard on teachers to customize things that much, and the jobs of teachers are quite challenging enough already. (Though, as an upside, there would be less homework to grade.) You also have to wonder if the kids not doing homework would fall behind in certain areas (even as they might increase their knowledge in other, self-selected areas). It's a complex issue.
Anyway, I'm wondering what all of you think. Has anyone tried something like this? Any input would be appreciated.
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