Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Potentially dangerous report that homework is too easy

There is story today that is making the news cycle that is worth taking note of. I’m finding references to this story “Many students find their homework too easy” in newspapers around the country. Here’s one link from the Seattle Times.

For those of us who seek homework reform, reports like this can be disconcerting, not that we wish to cover the truth – if many find it too easy, then they find it too easy – but because of the conclusions that will be drawn. The report says that about one-third of all children have expressed this feeling. It goes on to estimate up to three quarters of children understanding their homework while drawing some distinctions based on economic class.
These results are not surprising and quite consistent with what I’ve been saying in The Homework Trap.  If we think of performance in most areas as falling on the normal curve, whether it is how fast a child can run or how quickly a child can do his homework, we see that the average child falls in the middle with some who run or do their homework quite quickly and those who run or do their homework quite slowly. The kids who run quickly are often drawn to athletics. The kids who run slowly get drawn to other things. The kids who do their homework quickly receive lots of rewards. The kids who work slowly are made to sit at the table for hours on end until the work gets done, even at the cost of teaching them to dislike education and hate school.

We may put the slow running child in gym class, but we don’t make him run the entire school day. He participates in a time-bound setting. Gym class is over and he goes on to something else. If he loves to run in his free time, that’s what he does, but it isn’t foisted on him any more than anything else.
This is why time-bound homework containers are so needed. I think teachers really try to be fair, and based on the normal curve, we can predict that about a third of the kids will find the work quite easy, a third will find it hard, and the majority will say they understand the work and can get the work done.  
The homework-trapped child is also capable of succeeding, but not without boundaries on what he’s required to do. Place a time cap on the work, he’ll get the work done. Make him run the full homework marathon and that sets him up for a bitter experience with potentially dangerous consequences.

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience in dealing with many different psychological issues. He is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and currently works in his own private practice.

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