Saturday, November 17, 2012

Recommended Article on Homework

I came across this article, "What About Homework," by Dr. Jane Bluestein. I recommend reading it. It's quite good.

There were a few points in the article that I thought were worth commenting on. They are as follows:

Dr. Bluestein refers to a student who says "I don't know what I'm good at. I know it's not school." The student goes on to discuss responsibilities he has because his stepfather is in jail. Those responsibilities include fixing the roof and the electrical system, handling a problem with the plumbing and fixing the door." The article goes on to talk about how the child has many responsibilities and that we are "myopic about the importance of the content we teach."

These are good points but I'd like add something. The kid doesn't know what he's good at! What about fixing roofs, repairing doors, handling plumbing and electrical problems? It's pretty sad when a young person talks about the things he can do as if those talents do not count.

Later in the article, Dr. Bluestein mentions moms being upset about a policy at school which gives children, in first grade, two hours of homework a night. I don't know the policy of that school, but I have two thoughts. First, it is possible that the school does not think it's giving that much homework but that it is taking some of the kids two hours a night. This speaks to a concept I discuss in my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers, the under-the-radar learning disorder. Since homework has no boundary, the child's work pace plays a substantial role in how much work that child has. The child who is taking two hours to do first grade work (unless the school really intends to assign two hours of work) may have a problem, perhaps a minor issue with auditory processing or handwriting, that is being overlooked. If we back off from making the child do the work and observe the child instead, we might see that we're asking him to do something he cannot really do.

But the other issue that is important here is the question of parental authority. Why are the moms upset? I think because they feel powerless to make their own best decision. If they felt they were in charge of their homes, as parents of young children ought to be, it wouldn't be a problem. So what if the teachers thought two hours of homework made sense? It just won't happen, end of issue. We really have to reevaluate the notion of who is in charge of activities in the home, the parent or the school. Once we make it clear that the home is the parents' domain, conflicts will reduce because homework can be assigned but will only be done with the parents' consent.

Later, the author says, "I've met a number of teachers who do not assign unless the student needs practice on a particular skill." There's a problem here that should be considered. If the child is not developing the skill, then it calls for more attention by the teacher in school, not in the home. Forcing a child to practice something he does not understand and pressuring his parent to get on his case is a set-up for defiance and one which may compromise the child's long term prospects.

My comments notwithstanding, please read the article. It is good.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

 I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.

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