In yesterday’s post, I wrote that guidelines issued by the New York State Board of Education provide that when a school requires summer homework, it must comply with a set of rules. But from what I can tell, schools don’t comply with those rules and continue their summer homework assignments as they have in the past.
If your children have received summer homework assignments, or are about to, why not nip the problem in the bud?
Here’s what you can do:
1. Call your school’s principal. If you’re in a state with guidelines like New York’s, ask your principal whether your school will be following the guidelines. If s/he’s unaware of them, offer to send a copy. Tell the principal what the guidelines say. It’s pretty difficult for a school not to follow the guidelines once a parent’s asked about them. After all, the guidelines were issued in response to litigation, and non-compliance leaves the school open to wrath, scrutiny, lawsuits. Get several of your friends to call the school principal as well. There’s power in numbers.
2. If you discovered that your school doesn’t have any rules about summer homework, open up a discussion on the topic now. If you wait until your child brings home an assignment it’s too late. (Of course, you don’t have to make your child do the assignment. And how many children, especially those in elementary school, would actually do an assignment if they didn’t have parental help? Let the school see what happens when parents resist.)
3. Get together with a few of your friends and ask the principal or department head for a meeting. Tell them how summer assignments affect your family. Read a little about the problems with assigned reading so that you can make strong arguments:
- * An article on summer reading in USA Today, cites a recent study by Richard Allington, a researcher and author of many books on literacy. Allington and colleagues selected students in 17 high-poverty elementary schools in Florida and, for three consecutive years, gave each child 12 books, from a list the students provided, on the last day of school. No assignment came along with the books–no reading log, no essay, not even an order to read them. Three years later, researchers found that those students who received books had “significantly higher” reading scores and read more on their own each summer than the 478 who didn’t get books. (I’m sure that any school that gave students books from a list of their own choosing would see the same results–students who like to read more and, as a result, students with better comprehension, better written and analytical skills and yes, even higher standardized test scores.)
* This op-ed by my co-author and me published in The New York Times four years ago. I think it’s still relevant.
* An article on reading books you like from The New York Times.
Given the pressures most students face during the school year from high-stakes testing, homework, and extracurricular activities, summer should be seen as a time to explore passions, get outside, read for pleasure, hang out with friends, work a summer job (if one can be found), become a little more independent, etc. These are where students learn to problem solve, be responsible, make good use of their time, in short the kinds of learning experiences most students don’t have time for during the school year. And these life skills are ones that will serve them well in the future, undoubtedly more than most of what they learn in school.
In sum, gather a few of your friends and talk to the people who assign homework at your school. Explain why summer homework doesn’t work in your family and why you’re opposed to it. And let me know what happens.
Posted in category General on June 4, 2010 at 6:00 am
Permanent Link | 63 Comments »
Personally, my view is that homework is totally unnecessary for primary school pupils and those in the first three years of secondary school education. However, I will concede that it is necessary when students reach their crucial exam years.
At that stage – from year 10 and higher – homework assignments serve a purpose; they provide opportunities for students to develop valuable skills in independent research, academic citing, and the fundamental principles of academic honesty.
>> Parents paid £600 'to help their children with homework'
Ultimately each school, teacher and parent will draw their own line in the sand when determining the correct age for pupils to be given homework; but discussions over homework should not stop there.
What must be asked is the value homework provides to students and, in my opinion, that debate should be based upon three questions:
• Is that homework beneficial for the student’s personal education goals?
• Will homework assignments help to develop the student’s independent learning skills?
• How can educators guard against placing undue pressure on students and help parents support their child’s learning?
Today, league tables and exam results have created a mechanistic education system. Schools, pupils and teachers are too often focused on achieving scores and targets.
In my view, this underpins the homework debate, and it completely negates the truest goal of education, which is to inspire and nurture a student’s love for learning.
For parents, when it comes to homework, there is a fine line between helping your children and doing the work for them. Just as teachers should avoid placing unwarranted pressure on their students, parents should appreciate that by doing the work for them, they are in fact hindering their child’s ability to think independently.
Homework becomes an exercise in futility if children aren’t allowed to take charge of their own learning. Instead, parents should put their efforts into providing an environment which helps to instil a real desire to learn.
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As I have already stated, there will always be times, such as exam preparation, when parents and teachers need to ensure students are studying at home. In my opinion, the true issue isn’t whether students should work at home, it’s whether homework should be routinely assigned?
If schools are teaching correctly and engaging students, the majority of homework becomes irrelevant. In my experience, engaged students regardless of age will, on their own initiative, actively seek to advance their knowledge and learning outside of school. In such cases the teacher and parent roles should then act to support this drive in whatever way they can.
In my own school (which I should mention is an international sixth-form boarding school), we try to use experiential learning to engage and enthuse our students. We do this by providing a dual programme which sees students split their school time equally between academics and corresponding extra-curricular activities.
Frequently, students themselves will take the lead in setting up extra-curricular activities outside of school hours.
>> Extra-curricular activities are worth the extra effort
Having taught in many kinds of schools in the UK and abroad, I can honestly say that no-other curriculum does more to encourage students to become actively involved in their own learning.
While I accept that not every school will have the luxury of adopting a co-curricular programme to the extent we have; it’s an option I actively encourage them to try, and I believe it would be more readily welcomed by their students.
Personally, I don’t think schools should routinely issue students with homework (particularly below GCSE classes). Ultimately, as a parent your question shouldn’t be “why are schools giving so much homework?” but rather, “is this homework relevant, interesting and does it encourage independent thinking?”
John Walmsley is principal of UWC Atlantic College