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Motivated to do Homework

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Having been out of school for about a year and a half now, I have to admit that one of the things I enjoy most about the working world is that when I go home, I don't have any homework. When I turn off my computer and put on my coat, that is officially the end of my working day, and I'm not required to think about it anymore. It is a luxury I always envied when I was a student.

But then again, as I've mentioned many times before, I did a lot of homework when I was in school, and I truly believe that those hours of reading, writing, and studying contributed to a much higher and more comprehensive understanding of what I was learning in class.

So I was pretty torn when I read this column in the Los Angeles Times. It links homework to childhood obesity and depression, decreased motivation, and even strained family relationships. While I identify with the author's plea for a "Christmas miracle"--no homework over break--another part of me agrees with the eloquent sentiments of eighth-grade student Maggie Moreton: "GET OVER IT LADY."

Maybe the question to be asked here is why aren't kids motivated to do their homework? What makes them so opposed to it that homework, in some cases, is causing fights within their households? Is it a lack of responsibility? Are there just plenty of other things kids would rather be doing? Or is it something else entirely?

My parents never had to bug me to hit the books, and I think, in large part, it had to do with a very clear understanding of what a zero on an assignment could do to my overall average. As my teachers never failed to point out, a missed assignment could send my grade plummeting from an A to a C, or worse. That alone was enough to motivate me.

5 Comments

I'm the lady to which Maggie responded "Get Over It". I'm not the author of the article in the Times (it was written by reporter Sandy Banks) but I am the parent advocate who started the homework reform movment in San Marino.

All too often, I have been painted as a "mindless soccer mom" and a "homework hater". I am neither. I am a former "big eight" C.P.A, now a stay at home mother. I have been very involved and supportive of my daughter's education. But over the years, I began to see problems with the effectiveness of homework. I have read extensively on education theory and about homework research findings. Almost all parents (and likely most educators) are unaware of the truth. Homework, especially before middle school, may be counter-productive to learning. And even in the middle school years, it may serve only to increase scores on standardized tests, not result in real cognitive learning.

My daughter is expected to do an average of 2 hours of homework a night -she is in the 6th grade. This CANNOT be right! If we wonder why students aren't movtived anymore, maybe we are burning them out early. Research shows that homework in grade school bears NO correlation to improved academic achievement, yet students in our district usually do 1 hour minium per night in 4th and 5th grade. A majority of students see tutors by the time they are in middle school. Why? They aren't learning disabled, but simply overwhelmed.

I have been appealing to our school district to both limit homework in the younger years AND to make homework more meaningful, interesting, and most of all, EFFECTIVE.

Maybe the kids are smarter than we think. They resist doing the homework because it isn't stimulating their minds. Shame on the educators who continue to force uninspired assignments on our children and expect that they will beg for more.

Tracy Mason
San Marino, CA

I'm tired of the assumption that parents and students who think the homework load is too much are lazy or dumb. It's hard for an eight year old to figure out how much time an assignment should take, and how much effort is appropriate. It's well-nigh impossible for a parent who wasn't in school that day to figure it out. An assignment that was intended to take half an hour can easily stretch to an hour an a half of reminders, resistance, and revision. By the time it's over everyone is tired and unhappy.

Tracy has provided an articulate and well-supported argument. I have to point out that she is also a parent. Schools should be responsive to research with regard to the timing of homework and seek to increase student engagement, not only in effective take-home work, but in classwork as well.

I have to confess that after many long hard-fought years of battle, I have lost the homework wars. There are whole years of my life in which every at-home evening was spent in its entirety in supporting, assisting, goading, pushing and otherwise trying to be the good parent whose children hand their assignments in the next day.

At this point, I am simply burnt out by the prospect of any more pushing through work sheets (at the high school level, no less), trying to teach the correct mathematics algorithm without a teachers manual, or any course overview, and especially trying to fill in required concepts that may have been "covered" in class, but clearly are not accessible to my student's brain by 8 PM. In the end, what kept me in there fighting the longest was the prospect of blame that is loaded onto parents who aren't "involved," when their kids aren't learning.

Katie--I am glad that you can recount positives that came from your homework experience. But you need to know that there are districts who have responded to the fact that upper level kids can't/don't do homework by loading on more (meaningless worksheets) for kids in lower grades. Some kids grow up in environments that reinforce (in school as well) that their efforts will produce little change in their lives. There is no reason to trust that doing homework will make the difference between a C and an A when D's have always been the order of the day.

Heaping on meaningless homework worksheets is really a symptom of classwork that is based on a drill and memorize mindset--and providing a fill in the blank environment so that schools can establish that they presented the right material and the student "knew" it.

As a teacher, I think parents need to remember that our students are compared to other countries - where long hours after school at a young age are the norm (think Japan). I have a substantial amount of material to cover and have, to the best of my ability, mapped out the year. I only give homework I think is meaningful - who wants to grade useless material? I often hear complaints from parents about that 20-30 minutes of homework dragging out for hours....why won't the child finish the homework? And what is the difference in the child that works diligently in class to get all the work done, versus the child who wastes classtime and ends up with homework? Some things need to be repeated over and over (like math or genetics problems) and I do not have the class time available to do that. If the homework is meaningless, then complain. Be specific but listen also to a teacher who tells you where in the larger scheme of things this works fits in. Also, listen when a teacher tells you that the child does not work in class; don't make excuses for them. We have been pushed and pushed to leave no child behind - and yet we are pushed to not work them too hard. Even 20 years ago, I too did homework every night, without being yelled at, and I competed in sports and I had chores. It was expected. I usually did not watch television during the week, and obviously, we did not have cell phones and computers. When I had my students keep time logs, I found that they spent 3-4 hours a school day hooked up to some electronic device. Often that comes in 15-20 minute bursts and they were quite surprised at how many hours it came to overall. Not surprisingly, those that didn't do homework, usually spent the most time with some sort of electronic device.

I think useless homework should be eliminated, but make sure you have taken the time to understand the big picture before declaring something useless. With many multiple choice tests facing these students, they must know their facts and that comes from repetition. It is sad to see a large number of seventh graders who do not yet know their multiplication tables. I can come up with many other "facts" that many kids have not yet mastered. Memorization has been shown to be good for brain development, and that requires repetition.

I also am a parent of two kids who usually do their homework, and occasionally have to be "talked" into the stuff they don't see as important. But again, it is expected and the rewards for doing the work are present.

We're still not getting it as far as homework is concerned. Homework makes it matter what teacher a student gets, since some teachers are well-informed and current on research and some just assume.

Homework qualifies as a formative assessment. As such it should not be graded, yet many teachers grade it severely (without even correcting it) in order to "motivate" students to complete it. It makes no difference if zeros would have motivated the teacher, what matters is that students may not see from the middle class perspective of teachers. Zeros don't motivate everyone. In fact they discourage many students.

Why do we continue to give homework? Because that's what teachers do. Too much of who we are as teachers is the simple result of our experience as students, not as educated, research-oriented professionals.

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  • Harvey Craft: We're still not getting it as far as homework is read more
  • Cindy Book: As a teacher, I think parents need to remember that read more
  • Margo/Mom: Tracy has provided an articulate and well-supported argument. I have read more
  • Rachel: I'm tired of the assumption that parents and students who read more
  • Tracy Mason: I'm the lady to which Maggie responded "Get Over It". read more

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