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A Brief History of Homework

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Even though there is no research to support this belief, many people continue to tout homework's nonacademic virtues Kohn, Responsibility is often a code word for obedience.

When we say we want students to be responsible , are we saying we want them to be obedient —to do what we want them to do when we want them to do it, to be mindless drones, blindly obedient to authority? One teacher said she thought not doing homework was a sign of disrespect for the teacher! When we say homework promotes discipline in students, does that mean being self-disciplined enough to do something they hate to do because it's their duty?

Many teachers are fixated on homework as the way to teach responsibility, as though we have no other avenues. Even in the task of homework itself, children are rarely given responsibility for choosing how they wish to learn, how they might show what they have learned, or how they might schedule their time for homework.

True responsibility cannot be coerced. It must be developed by allowing students power and ownership of tasks Vatterott, Chapter 4 presents more about how to do this. Another supposed virtue of homework is that it teaches time management. Does time management really mean the ability to delay gratification—to work when we want to play? Homework does not reinforce time management if adults have to coerce children into doing it; if children are coerced, they are not in charge of scheduling the time or making decisions about the use of the time.

If we are using homework to teach responsibility, won't 10 minutes of homework work just as well as 60 minutes? If we are using homework to teach time management, don't long-range projects that require scheduled planning do a better job of that than daily assignments? Lots of homework is a sign of a rigorous curriculum. Many people equate lots of homework with a tough school, regardless of the type or length of assignments Jackson, Parents will often brag: If some homework is good for children, then more homework must be even better.

If 10 math problems for homework are good, then 40 problems must be better. This belief, more than any other, is responsible for the piling on of hours of homework in many schools today.

Yet we all know that those assignments could be busywork, of no educational value Jackson, Ah, if it were only that simple. More time does not necessarily equal more learning. The "more is always better" argument ignores the quality of work and the level of learning required.

Rigor is challenge—but it is not necessarily the same challenge for each student. Given the diverse nature of students, challenging learning experiences will vary for different students. Good teachers give homework; good students do their homework. Probably the most disturbing belief is the belief in the inherent goodness of homework, regardless of the type or length of assignment. Homework advocates have believed it for years, never questioning whether it might not be true. This belief is born from both the belief that homework teaches responsibility and discipline and the belief that "lots of homework" equals "rigor.

This mindset is so ingrained that teachers apologize to other teachers for not giving homework! Yet we know that some very good teachers don't give a lot of homework or give none at all. Instead of being apologetic, teachers who don't give homework should simply explain that they do such a good job of teaching that homework is not necessary.

The danger in the belief that good students do their homework is the moral judgment that tends to accompany this belief. To children who dutifully complete homework, we often attribute the virtues of being compliant and hardworking. To children who don't complete homework, we often attribute the vices of laziness and noncompliance. But is a lack of virtue the reason many children don't do homework?

Therein lies the problem. Students without supportive parents or with single parents overburdened trying to make ends meet , with inadequate home environments for completing homework, or with parents intellectually unable to help them are less likely to complete homework Vatterott, Are these less advantaged students bad?

These beliefs form a dogma, a homework culture. The foundations of that culture are a trinity of very old philosophies. Homework culture is a complex mix of moralistic views, puritanism, and behaviorism.

The beliefs that underlie the homework dogma have been fed by our moralistic views of human nature, the puritan work ethic that is embedded in our culture, and behaviorist practices that still reside in our schools. The five beliefs and these three philosophies are so well entwined, it's hard to tell where one idea begins and another ends.

An exploration of these philosophies will illuminate the foundations of the dogma that is homework culture. Historically, one mission of the school has been to instill moral values. Unfortunately, much of traditional schooling operates on the theory that children are basically lazy and irresponsible, that they can't be trusted, and that they have to be coerced into learning.

They must be controlled and taught to be compliant. Therefore, it follows that it is necessary to use homework to teach responsibility. If students naturally have a tendency to do evil, then they cannot be trusted to use time wisely. Idle hands are the devil's workshop, and therefore children should not be idle. This philosophy assumes not only that children don't want to learn but also that learning is inherently distasteful.

No one would dispute that we want to encourage students to work hard. After all, hard work is what made America great, right? The Puritans believed hard work was an honor to God that would lead to a prosperous reward.

That work ethic brings to mind the stereotypical stern schoolmarm, rapping a ruler against the desk and saying "Get busy! Hard work is good for you regardless of the pointlessness of the task.

Hard works builds character. Hard work is painful; suffering is virtuous. Here we see the origin of Belief 4, that more work equals rigor, and Belief 5, that "good" students do their homework and "good" teachers make students work hard. Unfortunately, when it comes to learning, the bleaker side of the puritan work ethic has also taken hold: If it is "rigorous," or better yet painful, then it must have merit.

The work ethic is obvious in views that homework is a way to train students how to work—that homework trains students how to study, how to work diligently and persistently, and how to delay gratification Bempechat, Along similar lines, homework is also viewed as practice for being a worker: Homework is work , not play. So it helps to have the right attitude. Homework means business, and the student should expect to buckle down.

As in the workplace, careless efforts and a laissez-faire attitude are likely to make the wrong impression. The premise of Corno and Xu's article is that "homework is the quintessential job of childhood"—as though children need a job. Which begs the question: Is our job as educators to produce learners or workers?

No philosophy is more firmly rooted in education than behaviorism. The idea that behavior can be controlled by rewards and punishment is so embedded in the day-to-day practices of school, one rarely even notices it Kohn, Discipline, grades, attendance policies, honor rolls, and even the way teachers use praise and disapproval—all reflect this philosophy that behavior can be controlled by external stimuli.

So it's no surprise that teachers believe rewards and punishments are the way to make students do homework. When punishments don't work, teachers often increase the punishment, as if more of the same will accomplish the goal. If we believe that good students do their homework and lazy students don't, then it becomes morally defensible to give failing grades for incomplete homework, thereby punishing the vice of laziness and rewarding the virtue of hard work.

Behaviorism is most evident in the use of late policies and zeros for uncompleted homework more about that in Chapter 4. The moralistic, puritanistic, and behavioristic foundations are so firmly entrenched in homework culture, traditional homework practices may be accepted without question by both teachers and parents, as if a sort of brainwashing has occurred. To use a s metaphor, "if you drank the Kool-Aid," you may not realize how the cult affects your attitudes about homework.

Homework beliefs and their historical influences affect the debate today in insidious ways. The arguments today are strongly reminiscent of the earlier arguments for and against homework, yet something is different. This time around we face new and unique challenges.

Never before have we lived with the specter of No Child Left Behind and the accountability it demands. The pressure to meet standards has never been more intense, and homework is seen as a tool for meeting those standards. The pressure has changed education even at the kindergarten and 1st grade levels. A Newsweek cover story called it the "new first grade": In the last decade, the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and more like SAT prep.

Thirty years ago first grade was for learning how to read. Now, reading lessons start in kindergarten and kids who don't crack the code by the middle of the first grade get extra help. Many parents complain that homework is now routinely assigned in kindergarten and 1st grade. YouTube hosts a now famous call from a 4-year-old preschooler who needed help with his "takeaway" math homework. In the desperation to meet standards, even recess has been affected. One survey indicated that only 70 percent of kindergarten classrooms had a recess period Pellegrini, Media and technology have broadened the homework debate to be more inclusive than in the past; more people are participating in the conversation.

The Internet has given the public more information, served as a forum for many pro-homework and anti-homework blogs, and given us a window to similar debates in other countries. Today the homework debate is played out on iVillage and other parenting Web sites, as well as on radio and television and in the print media. Web sites such as www.

Technology has reduced the isolation of parents; their private homework struggles can now be vented in public with the click of a mouse. Just as years ago the Ladies' Home Journal writings sparked a movement, over the last decade the media have been a friend of homework reform.

Since the release of Cooper's comprehensive study, major news magazines and talk shows have conducted a national dialogue about homework and have brought increased attention to the anti-homework movement.

With a seemingly endless supply of television talk shows, quasi-news shows such as Dateline , and round-the-clock cable news coverage, issues affecting families—including homework—have received more coverage.

The availability of online media has allowed us to access that homework story on Today or that homework article in the New York Times long after publication, and without leaving our homes. Media and technology have helped to accelerate the growth of the anti-homework movement.

But the media has also been an enemy of the anti-homework movement. Every year, around back-to-school time, the media buries us with books, magazine articles, and television segments that reinforce a blind acceptance of homework as a good thing, endorsing the importance of homework and offering parents the same stale tips for getting children to do homework "without tears.

But the most recent study to examine the issue found that kids in early elementary school received about three times the amount of recommended homework. Published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, the study surveyed more than 1, parents in Rhode Island with school-age children. The researchers found that first and second graders received 28 and 29 minutes of homework per night.

Kindergarteners received 25 minutes of homework per night, on average. Some parents, in fact, have decided to opt out of the whole thing. The Washington Post reported in that some parents have just instructed their younger children not to do their homework assignments. They report the no-homework policy has taken the stress out of their afternoons and evenings. In addition, it's been easier for their children to participate in after-school activities.

In , research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, and alienation from society. That study, published in The Journal of Experimental Education , suggested that any more than two hours of homework per night is counterproductive. However, students who participated in the study reported doing slightly more than three hours of homework each night, on average.

To conduct the study, researchers surveyed more than 4, students at 10 high-performing high schools in upper middle-class California communities. They also interviewed students about their views on homework. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor. The researchers asked students whether they experienced physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and stomach problems.

More than 80 percent of students reported having at least one stress-related symptom in the past month, and 44 percent said they had experienced three or more symptoms. The researchers also found that spending too much time on homework meant that students were not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills. Students were more likely to forgo activities, stop seeing friends or family, and not participate in hobbies.

Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills. Should schools screen children for mental health problems? A smaller New York University study published last year noted similar findings. This will help them learn to divide study time effectively.

Help your children learn to plan for finishing assignments on time. They should start working on major assignments or reviewing for major tests well ahead. Help your children expand their concentration time. At first they may be able to concentrate for only 10 minutes. Parents can help their children build up this length of time gradually, so that homework takes less time.

Even high school students should take a 10 to 15 minute break after studying for 45 or 50 minutes. Otherwise, they lose the ability to concentrate.

Encourage your child to circle the verbs in directions. Encourage your child to review class notes and add details, make corrections, and highlight the most important information. Encourage your children to improve reading skills by having them pre-read non-fiction reading assignments reviewing the headings, picture captions, reviewing tables, charts, and graphs.

Children can pre-read fiction by reading the front cover, back cover, and introduction, and skimming the first quarter to determine setting, character, and plot. Encourage your child to determine the meaning of unknown words by using the context or by looking them up in a dictionary and writing them down. Help your child learn effective reading techniques such as SQ3R, where the reader: Looks over the material before beginning to read to obtain a general orientation.

Writes down questions about the material before beginning to read. Reads through the material in the normal way. Writes down or gives the answers to another person. Goes over the material several times before being tested. Encourage your child to outline or "map" reading material for better understanding. To "map," a child places the main topic in the middle of a blank sheet of paper.

Then a branch is drawn for each subheading, and supporting details are placed on smaller branches going out from the subheadings. This creates a visual aid that increases organization and comprehension. Make sure your children are able to understand their textbooks.

Children should be able to read 9 out of 10 words accurately and answer correctly a least 3 out of 4 questions. Help your child predict outcomes, distinguish fact from opinion, discern emotional appeals, recognize bias, discern inference as they read. Encourage your children to organize thoughts before beginning a written assignment, and write at least two drafts. Have your child proofread and check for success or failure in answering the purpose of the assignment, legibility, neatness, spelling, complete sentences, and punctuation errors.

Help your child to see tests as an opportunity to "show off" what they have learned, rather than something to be feared. Help your children predict test questions as they study for tests. Encourage your child to space learning over several sessions instead of cramming the night before. Five hours of study spread over a week is better than studying five hours the night before the test: Avoid acting as a tutor for your child. If a child needs a tutor in a particular subject, call the local high school and ask for a student tutor through the Honor Society.

Provide and enforce logical and meaningful consequences Each week, have your children assess their own homework completion by reviewing returned papers, tests and quizzes, and current grades. With your children, note their progress, improvements, areas of need, and jointly plan how to solve any problems.

Display well-done work in a prominent place, such as on the refrigerator door. With their help, graph your children's grades. Include the grades for each class, the average grade for all classes, and an agreed upon target line. The target line should be the grades that you and your children agree are reasonable and obtainable if your child is now receiving D's, a reasonable goal is grades of C: Discuss the graph with your children, help your children identify any patterns of poor performance, and jointly develop solution plans.

Teach your children to bring all necessary materials home.

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Homework, or a homework assignment, is a set of tasks assigned to students by their teachers to be completed outside the homework assignments may include required reading, a writing or typing project, mathematical exercises to be completed, information to be reviewed before a test, or other skills to be practiced.. The effect of homework is debated.

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