"Quantity" homework is a relic of the past

If we allow ourselves as a society and a culture to debate over how much homework a child should be given, we are lost. We should instead be concerned with what kind of homework should be given, and to understand its purpose.
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Sept. 4, 2012 - PRLog -- Dear Dr. Fournier:

Both my son and daughter attend private schools.  We have been happy with the education that both are receiving, but homework has been a constant source of irritation.  My children both complete their work, but the amount that they are expected to complete is almost ludicrous.  It has reduced our family time to almost nothing, and has defined our lives in the evenings.

I am writing to you not for advice, because what could you reasonably do to affect the school policies for homework?  I am writing because it just feels like something is very wrong with this picture, and wonder what needs to change in the future to get it right.

Jennifer A.
Nashville, TN

Dear Jennifer,


If we ask the wrong question, we will get the wrong answer.  If we allow ourselves as a society and a culture to debate over how much homework a child should be given, we are lost. We should instead be concerned with what kind of homework should be given, and to understand its purpose.

Since the post-Depression era led by the Baby Boom Generation, there has been a mentality of affluence that has rooted itself in our thinking as a culture.  This mentality equates "more" with "better," and as a result, too many of us have confused quantity with quality. Families who spend hours together on homework every night are justifiably concerned about the quantity of work their child is expected to complete and the toll it takes on family life.

Many times I have heard parents judge a teacher or a school by saying, "They are really good. Those kids spend four or five hours a night doing homework." Unfortunately, parents can recite the quantity of homework but not its purpose.

Homework should allow the child to practice the skills needed to succeed in the workplace of the future, such as independent learning, self-motivation, the ability to initiate and prioritize work, time management and self-assessment.

Properly assigned homework should respect family time and parental authority, and should not expect a parent to become a surrogate teacher any more than we wish for teachers to be surrogate parents.

But quality homework does have a place in the educational process.

Quality homework is work that is worthy of the thought and time spent on it. The right kind of homework respects where a child is in his or her learning and does not simply prescribe tasks for the sake of busy work designed to turn a child into a robot.  

Technology allows us to approach teaching and learning in more creative ways than we could just 15 years ago.  Digital connectivity, lapware, efficient storage and ease of integration have opened the doors to real reform.  When discussing the possibilities with parents, a simple yet effective possibility I mention is the system used by the Khan Academy  to give them a sense of what is possible when it comes to variant methods of communicating with the children.  

Streaming videos mean that should a teacher choose to do so, he or she can pre record a leture or demonstration on a topic and assign the lecture for homework instead of the written work.  Class time, then would be the time to work on applying the meat of the lecture, with the teacher in position to answer any questions that the students encountered, as well as identify those who are having trouble with the concepts so that they can explain the process on a student to student basis.  

If a student misses class, was daydreaming, or needs to her the concept explained again, the e-video could be watched as many times as it takes.  Pauses for bathroom breaks or to take a quick exercise break are now optional.


Rather than jumping on an "abolish homework" bandwagon, I believe parents and teachers must work together to develop a program of quality homework that is purposeful, encourages independent learning, respects family time, and strengthens a student's individual skills. That is a tall order, but the path is now accessible for honest collaborating - and perhaps a revolutionary idea or two just might create the change we all need.

What you can do during this transitional time is to cope with the position you are in.  Start by helping your children assess their homework assignments for at least one week.

•How much time is required to complete the tasks?

•What is the purpose?

•Does this homework help my child master skills he will need throughout life, such as independent learning?

• Does this homework respect family time and parental authority?  Do I have to try and re-teach maerial myself?

• Is this more than just a robotic task?  Does it promote independent thinking?

Rather than abolish homework, I believe that we must customize assignments to fit individual needs and produce quality - not just quantity - work.  As we wait for culture to catch up, share your findings with the school guidance counselor and principal.  Change may not happen overnight, but we must plant the seeds for there to be any chance for them to grow.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at drfournier@hfhw.net.
Source:Dr. Yvonne Fournier
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