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Homework 2

Air Date: 08/31/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723, or at cheryl.erwine@sbcglobal.net.By now, all the kids who are still on a traditional school calendar are back in the classroom which means the daily battles over homework are about to begin for another year. I wish I had a dollar for every time the word "homework" is mentioned in my office. I'd be lounging on a tropical beach somewhere sipping one of those drinks with a little umbrella. I've talked about homework before. And I recognize that homework is a fact of life. For high school students, homework can be useful, especially when it teaches organization, research, and cooperative skills. There are several surveys that show parents are more likely to believe their children don't have enough homework than that they have too much. And the Washoe County School District is unlikely to change its approach to homework because one grumpy therapist thinks that it's often a waste of time. I do, though. And I have company. In fact, more and more often recently, educators and researchers are questioning the long-term value of homework. A good friend of mine is a teacher in a Bay Area middle school. She sent me the following letter that a local principal sent to parents recently. Here are a few excerpts: "The preponderance of research clearly shows that homework for elementary students does not make a difference in student achievement. . .There is no research that demonstrates that homework increases a child's level of understanding, improves their attitude toward school or inspires a love of learning. For a large number of students, we know the opposite is true large amounts of homework stifle motivation, diminish a child's love of learning, turn reading into a chore, negatively affect the quality of family time, diminish creativity and turn learning into drudgery." Wow. A principal wrote that. In most communities, the amount of homework has increased dramatically since the 2001 No Child Left Behind act. But a study at Duke University showed that there is no correlation between homework and achievement. A few brave schools are bucking the trend, reducing or even eliminating homework for elementary school students. And they're finding that children often respond by reading more, becoming more involved in their school work, and becoming less resistant to learning. Why? Most academic learning, it turns out, takes place in the classroom. Homework can be a useful way of building skills when it's used sparingly and appropriately. But all too often, worksheets and reports are assigned "just because" and the results for parents and children are frustrating, to say the least. One school in the Menlo Park School District in California has adopted the following policy. Homework, they promise parents, will promote reading, preferably something the child has chosen. They will ensure that weekly assignments are adjusted to varying student needs. They will not assign homework for homework's sake that is, each assignment will have a specific purpose. And they will assign homework only when necessary to practice a skill or complete important work. Not a bad approach, I think. Kids often tell me that they never see their homework papers after they turn them in; they're simply checked off and no feedback is given. Parents tell me they're exhausted by the constant power struggles involved in getting cranky kids to do one or two or four more hours of school work each day and tired of getting notes and calls from the teacher implying that the parent is at fault when homework isn't turned in. Teachers are tired of assigning work, of having students resist and rebel, and of having to deal with irritated, overwhelmed parents. No one, it seems, likes homework very much. So, what's the point of my diatribe? It's highly unlikely that homework will disappear any time soon. But if you're a parent, you might consider lightening up a bit on the homework battles. Homework is between your child and his teacher. Period. You can help, coach, and occasionally, remind. But you should not be nagging, lecturing, doing the worksheets yourself, or spending hours prodding your child to fill in the blanks. If homework is a huge struggle in your home, consider making an appointment to talk with your child's teacher. Ask him or her respectfully and kindly what the purpose of the assignments is. Talk together about your child's strengths and weaknesses. And involve your child in finding a solution. It is, after all, his homework. Be sure there's time in each day for simple conversation, for play, and for exercise. Spend an hour on homework, and then shoo your child outside to get some fresh air. The break will do both of you good. And remember, there are many more ways of measuring intelligence and worth than academics and homework results. Go to "Edline Anonymous" meetings if you must, but wean yourself off those daily email bulletins and keep in mind that teachers make mistakes sometimes, too. For better or worse, no one will check your child's third grade homework record when it's time to apply for college or look for a good job. Keep your sense of humor, and remind yourself (and your child) of his amazing strengths and gifts. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.