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.