Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Response to homework blog

The following comment is given in response to a post on a blog titled Autism From the Lighter Side.

Your story appears to have had a happy ending, but I would like to use it as an example about what is wrong with the system. The fact is that you got your child back on track with a fairly simple punishment, which is fine, as long as the punishment need not be used again. The problem with homework punishments, and punishments in general, is that they are only good if they work, and the only way to know that a punishment works is that you don’t have to use it again. Unfortunately, there are many parents who get caught in the cycle of using the same punishments over and over again, and that is not good. So let’s consider what happened here.

The teacher enacts a penalty, low grades despite the fact that your child is learning and can do the work. The penalty impacts you more than it does him, so you employ a punishment that he responds to and gets his work done. He does it in 15 minutes, so it takes little effort for him to comply. What if the assignment took him an hour or two hours, and what if he was a child who had trouble with work, not just the occasional missed assignment or foray into ordinary teenage life? That child would not be able to do the work on a continuous basis, so for that child, no punishment would get him going.

Now, let’s look at the teachers and what “homework” they have done. In reality, teachers are not routinely taught homework in schools of education and teachers do not have continuing education courses on homework. Teachers are generally not acquainted with the research, theory and practice of homework unless they make special efforts to look into it, and those efforts are not easy to do because teacher training does not demand it. In effect, your child faces potentially low grades (Ds despite A levels of competence) for failing to do something that is not clearly needed for learning and is not adequately studied by those who give it out.

Hopefully, this will be the end of your child’s “homework problems.” Unfortunately, it is not the end for many youth. And for kids with autism spectrum disorders, it can be a double-edged sword.

Most kids, who have trouble with homework, have problems with pace. Pace involves the speed at which one can work, typically impacted by difficulties with working memory (think attention) and processing speed (think handwriting). If a child cannot work quickly, he has two choices: do the homework and give up socialization and play; don’t do the homework and get poor grades. Typically, the more social and sometimes more athletic kids will accept the bad grades to play with their friends. The more awkward and socially isolated youth will do the work at the expense of play. But they cannot do both. There are only so many hours in a day.

My own recommendation is to limit homework to time by the clock. In the case of a child who can do the assignment in 15 minutes, there is no real problem. For the child who cannot accomplish this goal, it is quite important to place limits on what he has to do. I would also prod teachers into doing their “homework,” their own study about homework, too.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 

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