One of my biggest parenting changes has been school. Specifically, the homework side of things has been a front burner preoccupation for me since almost the very beginning of their entry into the education system. Just today I saw a post by Rebecca Cuneo Keenan on facebook where she mentioned that dreaded past-time we all live alongside our children: homework, with a nice hashtag (#downwithhomework). She has a huge response to that post because face it, homework is not going to go away anytime soon for most of us.
(I wrote a comment in that thread under my previous blog name Javamom Javaline.)
I just don’t understand what is going on. I want to be clear: the teachers and schools the kids are enrolled in is not what I’m complaining about. I’m also not complaining about the amount of homework my kids get. At grade 3 and grade 5 Extended French Immersion, my kids have plenty of free time for the all-important free play, organized activities and downtime that is so essential to childhood.
But here’s the thing. When homework does come home, it immediately becomes a struggle. Why is that? Is it because my own expectations are different from the kids’ expectations?
I’ve always been of the type that routine, and habit, make for a happy household. This applies to homework as much as it does to household chores, with the exception that homework should be less supervised by a parent than the household chores. (Note to self: when exactly did making their beds stop becoming a habit? Must get back on top of this…)
One teacher, who has a fantastic rapport with the kids, sent home a homework package for the month. It was outlined on bright yellow paper and organized by grade (she has a split grade 2/3 class). I read this package word for word and then handed it back to my 8 year old and said ‘ok, here’s your homework for the month, did you discuss this in class?’.
The response was utter stress. My child immediately resisted all attempts to take ownership of this package citing she didn’t even know where to begin.
On the one hand, the teacher tried to accommodate the parents’ busy schedules by leaving the homework up to the families to organize and complete. I get this. She is respectful that kids have stuff and parents have work so she’s leaving it up to us to determine when an appropriate time is to complete something.
The due dates in the homework package were ‘end of October’ and theoretically they had several weeks to accomplish all of the various aspects of the homework. But my daughter had never had regular homework before, especially not larger research projects, and she was completely confused by how she was to organize her time. The schools hand out agendas that are mandatory, and for which we are charged a nominal fee. My question is, why are these agendas not used as tools IN CLASS to help the student plan out the work?
Despite the fact that the homework was discussed in class, the letter that came home was addressed to the parents in language at the adult level. I find this off-putting, not because the letter came home to me (I appreciate the communication) but because the student’s written instructions were omitted. Why didn’t that yellow sheet get written to the child directly in language that she can comprehend? Kids like things to be clear, don’t they?
Here I was, reading and translating the homework sections to my child and she kept interrupting me, arguing that this is not what the teacher said in class.
In addition to that, we had to take out the calendar, and plan homework. This was incredibly overwhelming for her. For a kid who never had regular homework before, to now be faced with five subjects to address over a period of four to five weeks was simply beyond her comprehension. Not to mention that her agenda, according to her perspective, was not used for that purpose. “It’s for you to make notes in, mom” she said.
What? They have to have agendas so I can write notes in it?
This is where my own perspective comes in with the ‘old school’ mentality of daily, or semi-daily, small amounts of homework. Not only does this prepare the child to develop habits that she can then apply later on when homework becomes a daily chore (middle school, high school), but it helps her to break down the homework in smaller, more manageable pieces. A list of words they can themselves copy out a few times in order to write them correctly, or an assignment that is self-explanatory to complete with minimal supervision by an adult is the type of homework I used to get, and expect for my kids today. But no…it doesn’t work this way.
Today’s school environment is all about family-enhanced supervision/tutoring. The amount of tutoring I do with my kids who are both smart and get good grades is like a second job for me.
There appears to be a missing link between what the parents’ responsibility is for homework and what the child’s responsibility is. And at what point you can expect the child to take ownership for his or her work. The challenge in my view lies in the consequences for incomplete work….what are they, exactly? A bad grade? What do bad grades mean to the kids?
My own son says that no child fails anymore, and he’s right. The educators ensure that no child is left behind, but at the same time, I wonder, at what point does the child actually take accountability for a poorly written test or badly researched assignment? If the low mark is a reflection of lack of understanding, that’s one thing, but if it’s just laziness, or an unwillingness to put in the effort ‘because my parents weren’t helping me’, well then I have a problem with that.
So what is the solution?
The thread on Rebecca’s facebook post has many ideas in it. It also drives home the fact that many schools, and many teachers, have different approaches to homework. So for my younger child with practically no homework habits, the shock to her system next year when she starts a bilingual class requiring daily review in addition to homework will likely be at least somewhat unpleasant during the initial transition. The only way to get her to practice some of these habits now is for me to become her supplemental teacher and assign her a worksheet a couple of times a week.