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Blog: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

What, No Homework?!

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

I am going to state right of the bat, that some of the positions I take below may not sit well with everyone. Homework seems to be one of those things about which everyone has an opinion, in part because we all went to school. But just because homework made you miserable as a child, is not a reason for you to perpetuate it for your kids. Homework is not like taking Buckley’s, and it does not necessarily ‘build character’, as I used to say to my kids. My main point is that we need to be clear about how homework will help our children develop the essential competencies enshrined in our revised curriculum.

It has been a while since my kids were in middle school, but I generally think this is where the homework conundrum typically starts for kids. The biggest contributor is that kids may have multiple teachers who sometimes do not have a consistent homework policy, and do not communicate when they will be assigning work. So, rather than coming home with 30 minutes of homework assigned by one teacher, as they did in elementary school, your kid comes home with two hours of work, assigned by three different teachers. This is how the ‘homework wars’ begin in your house (at least this was the case in our home). Mom/dad are invested in getting kids to complete homework, while the kids are keen on finding ways to escape it, or at least complain bitterly about it hoping that parents will give in. Fun, huh?

Despite questioning the value of some of the homework assigned to kids, I admit now that as parents we won the homework wars. The fact is that most parents expect their kids to have homework, not because they see a clear purpose in it, but because it is part of being acculturated to school (I hated it when I was young, and doggone it, so will you!). Despite the curricular shift sweeping the world, we still hold true to some outdated habits and traditions. Students don’t need to know the same things as the previous generation because technology provides them access to the entire world. Students need to learn how to think instead of what to think, and the homework they get should advance that cause.

Kinds of Homework

Let me say before I go on that not all homework is a waste of time. I just think that when it is not purposeful and connected, then we lose more than we gain. If homework is not purposeful I would much prefer to see kids playing outside, talking with friends, helping out around the house, or working on a passion project. So, what is good homework? That depends. There are different kinds of homework, and purpose comes from knowing what we are trying to accomplish.

  • Completion homework includes any work assigned during the school day but not completed in class. Completion homework helps students keep up-to-date with the classroom program. If a student has completion homework on a regular basis, then it is a sure sign that the classroom program should be further differentiated.
  • Practice homework includes any work that reinforces skills and concepts taught in class. To be effective, practice homework requires students to independently perform the skills required. Practicing the long division algorithm is most useful if you understand the concept of division in the first place.
  • Preparation homework includes any work that prepares students for upcoming lessons or classes. It encourages students to acquire background information or to bring their prior knowledge and experiences to upcoming units of study. For example, in a study of conflict, you might ask students to interview their grandfather about their military service.
  • Extension homework includes any work that refines learning in new context or integrates and expands on classroom learning. Extension homework encourages students to problem solve, think creatively and think critically. Again, structured properly, this kind of homework engages kids and keeps them from fighting with their parents around the dinner table.

Options to Consider

Having escaped the homework wars with my kids, I can now sit back and give some advice to parents who are still fighting them. How might you fill the time previously spent toiling over hours of homework? Eat dinner together! Research has found that there is a major decline in North American children's health and wellness, and perhaps one important step to correcting this is for families to sit down together more often (without technology) and share the day’s experiences over a meal. Talking to children about their experiences, and learning about their accomplishments and challenges can be far more powerful than any worksheet.  If in fact your child does have some legitimate homework, the best way to help is to give him/her a quiet place to study and to nurture his/her self-help skills. This will go a long way and may ultimately end the homework wars.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.