21 February 2011

The Homework Dilemma

As a teacher in a school in an Asian country, it has been interesting to see a very wide range of perspectives on homework from parents.

First of all, as a teacher, I believe that some homework is important, for two reasons. The first is that it allows students to consolidate some of their classroom learning through additional activities. The second is that homework in primary school can help students develop the home study skills that will be essential for academic success in middle and high schools. Having said that, I have no desire for homework to become a battle ground between child and parent, nor do I believe my third grade students should spend hours doing homework after school.

The homework I assign usually fits one of three categories. The first category is Reading, and an important part of this is daily reading practice. Children who read are much more likely to succeed academically than children who don't. So my 3rd graders should be reading for a minimum of 10 minutes each day. They can read aloud to a parent or sibling, they can read aloud to a favourite toy or pet, or they can just read silently to themselves. They can also actively participate in a family reading time where someone else reads to them, but they need to be actively listening and prepared to write a comment on what they hear in this case. I also assign a single page (occasionally double page) reading comprehension activity, which should take no more than 10 minutes to complete once a week. The second is Mathematics. This might take the form of daily practice of basic facts, or some problems to complete, usually linked directly to what we are doing in class. That's not always easy to maintain. If I was sure they would do it, I'd be happy for my students to simply spend 10 minutes each day practising their basic facts, using flash cards or on the computer (there are lots of good fact practice websites), and not assign anything extra. That leaves 5 minutes for completing unfinished work, and 5 for Khmer homework.

So that's the 30 minutes for third grade approach. There are two problems here. First of all, not all children work at the same speed, so what might take an average ability 3rd grader 10 minutes, may take a higher ability student 5 minutes, or a lower ability student 30 minutes. Ouch! Then there are the children who could do the work in 10 minutes if they concentrated on it, but because they "don't like it" or "find it challenging" it takes them an hour to do 10 minutes work! Another Ouch! The second problem is that not all parents are happy with 30 minutes of homework. They want their children to be learning more and more, and so they expect them to do anything up to 2 hours homework a night, even at 3rd grade. What do I do?

One of the reasons this has been on my mind is because I've been doing an after school program with Maths this quarter, and I'm discovering just how long it takes some of my students to get their maths homework done. Hmmm. There has to be a better way. Sounds like some differentiation is required, but how to do it, so that everyone feels like they have been treated fairly! Need to do some more thinking on this. I'd welcome ideas from other teachers and parents about what has worked for them, and how they manage differentiation of homework to meet student needs as well as parental desires as well as supporting classroom learning. At the same time, it has to be manageable for teacher administration! Keeping track of 10 different homework assignments for 20 students would be really hard to juggle. Looking forward to hearing from my readers.

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