My 1st Grader Changed My Thoughts on Homework

My son is in 1st grade this year and it has been an eye opener for me.  When I first started teaching I was one of the really good math teachers who assigned 30 homework problems a night on a bad night or on a good night #2-30 even only.  I cringe now when I think of those early homework assignments.  They were so poorly planned out and were literally given just because I thought that is what math teachers did.

Enter Dr. Craig Schroeder in my life, first as my math coach and later as a colleague who began transforming my views on homework.  I really couldn’t argue with his no more than four homework problem philosophy as he explained that kids either knew how to do the work after the first four or did the first four wrong and every problem after that wrong all while making the misconceptions in their mind more permanent with each problem.  He also added that even worse is when the homework causes kids to hate math even more as they struggle with their 28th problem of the night.  I began to model my homework after his, giving three to five homework problems a night and making sure they were problems that were really worth my students’ time and effort.  However my 1st grader is making me question even that policy.

My experience on the parental side of homework has been interesting.  For the first time I see the time constraints that kids and parents are up against with homework.  Most nights by the time I get home from work, we eat dinner, bathe the kids, and get homework done it is straight to bed for our son with little time to no time for playing or family time.  Of course that is on a normal night, on nights when there is soccer practice or an event at his school we end up pushing bedtime back sometimes by an hour or more to make sure we get the homework done.  It really isn’t that his teacher gives an abundance of homework but by the time we get through the spelling, site words, and nightly reading it seems as though our time is up.  I will give his teacher a tremendous amount of credit for sending home math games weekly instead of the usual worksheet as they do provide us with an activity that is fun and educational.

Although we do spend a great deal of time on homework as a family that is not what has caused me to shift my view points further on homework.  Instead my thoughts have shifted as I sit and work with my son nightly helping him finish his tasks while thinking about all the students who don’t have a parent at home to support them.  So many of my students have parents who work in the evenings, who have other responsibilities, or who simply don’t make homework time a priority.  Homework must be such a struggle for those kids.  And what about the kids who are over committed due to sports, clubs, or even extra responsibilities at home?  I have received e-mails from kids asking homework questions well past 11:00 at night and when I asked the kids while they were up working on homework they very honestly say it is the first chance they have had to get started.

More and more I am starting to see that maybe homework doesn’t have to be a required part of math class.  I am currently still giving those short three to five problem homework assignments but am beginning to work through other ideas in my head of a math class with no required homework but maybe just suggested problems to help check for understanding that students could do by choice.  I don’t know what the answer is yet but I know there must be a better way for all students.

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5 thoughts on “My 1st Grader Changed My Thoughts on Homework

  1. “And what about the kids who are over committed due to sports, clubs, …” I mostly have the same ambivalence about homework you do, and tend toward short homework assignments like you do (except I also ban weekend HW, so they can have catchup/recovery time), but this part bothers me. What message are we sending families if we reduce homework because kids are doing sports instead? Why are sports keeping them busy till late evening, sometimes about as many hours as academic subjects at school? Our priorities are out of whack in this country if sports or club are so time-consuming.

    I find the equity issues much more compelling. If homework is more about who sits down and does it with you, is it worth it to make kids whose parents can’t/don’t do that feel bad about themselves as students?

    • Thanks for your comment and bringing that up. I think I should have been more careful with the wording there because I certainly agree with you that we need to be careful about our priorities in regards to extra curricular vs. school. And I love what you said about is homework really worth making the kids who can’t/won’t do it feel bad. I am going to keep working through it in my head until I can find a good solution. Thanks again.

  2. I do not think that kids should have homework. They are at school 6 or 7 hours a day. By the end of the day they need time to relax, and enjoy family and friends. There should be enough time during the school hours to finish lessons without homework. When I finish work, I like to have the time to unwind with my family, not sitting down to more office work. Kids now, have so much homework, they hardly have time for play, or to be a kid. So teachers, though you do a wonderful job, let the lessons stay at school, and the play time for home.

  3. Brooke, You know that I have always bought into the “little or no homework” philosophy; however, I understand that in math you need practice. What about a flipped class a few days a week where they can view the lesson from home (or lab if necessary) and you can work on all of the problems in class. That way they get the practice when you are there to help them, and their homework is kept to a maximum of 15 minutes for math a few times a week. Just a suggestion….Miss you!

    • Thanks so much Tracie. I have toyed with the flipped class idea and may head that way at some point! I just know that kids doing 30 math problems a night isn’t what I want to do! I totally agree that 15 minutes back is the way to go!

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