Thursday, January 14, 2016

Wasting Precious Time

The following reflection on homework at the elementary level comes from Allison, who teaches 5th grade here at #Cantiague Elementary. Her perspectives as a parent and educator shed light on the homework debate from two angles - she definitely gave me a lot to consider. Most importantly, Allison addresses the age old question... does more homework better prepare children for middle school? Read on to find out what she thinks... 

I spend countless hours each week sitting on the sidelines of Tyler’s basketball games with other parents of elementary and middle school aged children. The one “hot topic” that consistently comes up is…HOMEWORK. Inevitably, someone is complaining about the fact that their child is spending too many precious hours completing meaningless and ridiculous homework. First graders expected to read 20 minutes a night and struggling to fill in reading logs, Third graders writing monotonous spelling sentences each week, second graders writing responses to literature on a daily basis, and 7th graders doing pages and pages from the math text book every night. Knowing that I teach in the #1 school in New York  (yup, that's right), they always turn to me and say, “Allison, what do you think about all of this homework? In Jericho, your kids must be spending HOURS on their work at home.” 

Everyone is shocked to hear my response when I explain that my principal has shared several research based articles which show that homework in elementary school has no impact on academic success. I share that my fifth grade colleagues and I have made a conscious decision to do away with reading logs, and really limit the amount of homework we give each night. My friends are shocked to hear that we have done away with our vocabulary workbook and instead we have looked for authentic ways to have our kids engage in meaningful word study work. Friends are surprised to learn that on most nights our kids are given a maximum of five math problems to practice at home, and that our students are never told what to read or write about at home - we try and give our kids freedom and flexibility. 

Instead of excessive amounts of homework, we encourage our kids to explore their interests and passions in their free time. We want them to read for pleasure and write for real reasons. We expect them to play outside and enjoy time with their families whenever possible. We respect the fact that our kids have very busy extracurricular lives - whether they go to an after school religious school or a sport, they are growing in other ways and pursuing other interests. We recognize that during the school day we challenge our children and expect a lot of our ten-year old "babies" - they are still children. Everybody deserves a little “down time”. 

Does everyone agree with our practices? Not necessarily. Do we get questions? Yes. In fact, the parents in our class used to question whether or not our students would be prepared for middle school, given our homework philosophy (or lack thereof). Our answer is that our kids are prepared for middle school because we foster a positive attitude towards learning, make connections with our kids (and their families), build self - esteem, address social emotional skills, and create a learning environment that fosters independence and empowers our kids. In my opinion, these skills are way more important than any book report, spelling assignment, or workbook page that so many teachers and kids are wasting precious time on each and every night. 


  1. Allison,

    Thanks you so much for sharing.

    So many families need to learn about how stressed kids can become by the time they get to middle school. By the time they get to high school, the level I teach, fostering a love for learning seems fruitless. It's as if school is about work, not learning.

    I have a 15 minute policy. Three or four days a week, my AP history students do 15 minutes of homework. If they are struggling and 15 honest minutes is not enough to finish, they communicate via Remind or email. This almost never happens because the assignments are of a reasonable design.

    Homework is an issue that I feel passionate about because I've seen achievement increase with fewer minutes. As a parent, my kids homework is very reasonable for elementary-aged kids and I am thankful for that.

    Thanks again for sharing. The convo needs it!

    - Kevin

  2. I've not given homework for ever - never believed in it. I always thought parents wanted homework to keep their kids busy =)