Homework is a hot button issue among a lot of parents. But what should parents know about homework, according to teachers? Because while the debate rages on — online, at the dinner table, and in parenting groups — it's the people who are usually responsible for issuing (or not issuing!) that homework that are often left out of the conversation.
That there's a debate is understandable. Some parents (and educators) argue that homework has become too much; that children couldn't possibly have enough hours in a day to finish all their after-school assignments, especially when they're also involved in extracurricular activities. They point to studies that indicate that homework doesn't appear to have a significant effect on learning or academic outcomes. Others argue that homework is an essential tool for teachers regularly tasked with accomplishing more and more in the classroom, and with less and less support to get everything done that needs to be done.
To say I'm ambivalent about homework would be an understatement. As the parent of a soon-to-be-third-grader and a soon-to-be-kindergartener, it's something I've been dealing with for a while and thinking about a lot. On the one hand, I'm very much of the opinion that kids need time to kid — to run around and play and sometimes they just need to do nothing whatsoever and learn to be bored. On the other hand, I'm a goodie-two-shoes, grades-obsessed nerd and I want my kids to engage as fully in their education as possible. #JeSuisHermione And I believe in teachers, so I'm inclined to think that if they're assigning something there's a good reason.
Still, the struggle is real.
So I asked some teachers for their perspective and, to be honest, their answers were really refreshing. The real name of the game, it seems, is communication. If you're confused or concerned (or your kid is) talk with their teacher! They will take the time to try to make everything clearer. But for the specifics, I'll let them speak for themselves:
Candy, 3rd Grade
"I do not want you to spend hours struggling at the kitchen table over homework. If your child doesn’t understand, write it on the paper and send it back. I will pull them during the day to work on it. Frustration will only it make it worse for everyone."
Sarah, High School
"Read. Have conversations with others in your home. Engage in deeper and more meaningful thinking about the concepts and ideas we're learning about in class. If I'm assigning 'homework' that's not reading ... it's most often the kind of thing that cannot be done in the classroom. For example, I might say to have a 10 minute discussion with a parent about why they think the first amendment is important, if that's what we're learning about, and jot down the top three best ideas shared in that discussion. I value my time and I value my students' time outside of school, and the last thing I want to do is require they waste it. Also, read."
Amanda, High School
"Please hold your kids accountable for doing their homework! The amount of times I, as a high school teacher, had parents blame me when their students didn't turn in multiple assignments was astounding.
Ask your child what their assignments are, ask to review their work, and have consequences when they don't complete something. Most schools now have online grade books so you can see if your child is missing something, or received a low score. (So please don't harass your child's teacher to call you if they're missing things or getting low grades. It already takes them hours to grade and upload those grades to that site, so please use it!)
The students who improved the most were the ones whose parents made them accountable for their grades, and the students who tended to not improve were the ones whose parents made excuses. All I asked is to see that my students tried and put in effort. Encourage them to try and come in with questions, rather than not do the assignment at all!"
Irene, Middle & High School
"If families/guardians (kids aren’t only raised by parents!) don’t understand the purpose/value or the homework, please don’t hesitate to ask why! If I, as the teacher, can't articulate that, I have no business assigning it."
Jana, High School
"I think parents should know... if a child is coming home with tons of homework every night, there is some type of issue. It’s possible that they aren’t working on it in class. That could mean that need more help academically or behaviorally. Call the teacher to talk about what is going on."
Adam, Middle & High School
"There are three types of homework. One is the work that should have been done in class but wasn't — usually the stuff that a student did not have a chance to complete for various reasons (student requires additional support, student wasn't paying attention, you name it). The second type is 'getting ready for next class' homework, which is background information prep, pre-thinking/pre-learning, building vocabulary, and stuff like that. This is possibly the most essential.
The third type is straight-up practicing skills that have been taught. It can be helpful to pay attention to which *kind* of homework, or how much of each type, the student is doing. If the homework doesn't clearly meet one of those criteria, then there should be a conversation with the teacher about why this homework is happening. The same thing applies if a student is overwhelmingly only doing one type of homework — that should also bear scrutiny.
Ultimately, how much a person learns comes down to how much work they do on a subject. If a child isn't practicing their skills in a subject, you won't see improvement. Sometimes the only way to practice those skills is homework if there isn't enough class time; other ways to practice the skills are for actively engaged parents to incorporate those skills into daily life. The more practice, the better someone will become. Without budgeting enough time for practice, there won't be the chance for improvement."
Stephanie, 3rd to 5th Grade
"If a child is struggling, they should let the teacher know. Not do it for them. Reading every day is so important."
Tracy, 5th Grade
"We assign homework as a way for parents to see what their child is working on in the classroom. In addition, it is teaching them time management habits that will help in middle school and beyond. Reading for just 20 minutes a day improves your vocabulary! I addition, if your elementary-aged child is spending more than 90 minutes on their homework, it’s time to have a talk with the teacher. The homework I assign is designed to take around an hour to complete. I want to know if it’s taking them longer and why."
Marie, High School
"I don't give homework. I'm a first-gen everything. Growing up, I didn't have adults to help nor a space for homework and many of my kids are in the same boat, plus many have jobs. So after school stuff is for work they didn't finish or projects. For many of my kids, this is their third language and it takes six to eight years to acquire a second language (same for adults), so my whole classroom is geared around those factors.
A language teacher in the [sub]burbs and Spanish teachers have different challenges and are more likely to have homework and more traditional classrooms. I'm more project/comprehensible input based. So I'm a bit of an outlier in language teaching."