Striking out against homework burden
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Oct 31, 2012  |  Vote 0    0

Striking out against homework burden

Ottawa East News
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If you’ll forgive me, I haven’t slept much in the past few weeks. My three-month-old, like her siblings before her, is consistently sleeping in 10-hour stretches. My six-year-old, on the other hand, is suffering night terrors – a condition that affects approximately six per cent of kids in his age group, thought to be caused by stress and fatigue.

When he’s thrashing about uncontrollably in the dark, he’s screaming, “I’m not doing the homework. No! No! No!”

Now, I don’t know if this is the only thing that’s playing on his little unconscious brain. Six-year-olds have a lot on their minds these days. But certainly, the daily battles over his one hour of Grade 1 homework is having some negative impact. Last week, I wrote about some of the creative ways we were going to tackle homework. We have failed.  We’re as stressed and frustrated as ever about homework. And apparently, we’re not the only ones.

The value of homework has been widely debated in the media these past few weeks, in the wake of French President Francois Hollande’s call for a nationwide ban on the practice. The head of the French Parents Association, Jean-Jacques Hazon, summed it up well in a clip interpreted on CBC’s The Current on Oct. 18:

“Forcing (children) to read the same page over and over is useless and it puts inherently fragile children under enormous pressure. It stresses kids out, turning them against school forever, and they bring all that stress home.”

A 2008 study out of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto appears to affirm these assertions.

The authors of “Homework Realities: A Canadian Study of Parental Opinions and Attitudes” surveyed more than 1,000 caregivers of 2,072 children across the province. The majority of parents surveyed said they believe homework puts undue stress on children and families, takes away from family time and forces kids to be sitting still when they should be out running around. Moreover, the study found that the more homework children are exposed to in the early years of school, the less likely they are to approach it with enthusiasm in later grades.

To its credit, in the wake of the study and another similar study of teachers’ opinions on homework, The Toronto District School Board all but banned homework for primary school children, excepting special projects and daily reading. Other school boards have mandated what is widely known in education circles as “the 10-minute rule” – take the grade level of the child and multiply it by 10.

But timing out the homework may not be the only answer. One of the problems with the 10-minute rule, as noted by one of the study’s authors, Dr. Linda Cameron, on CBC’s The Current last month, is that teachers frequently miscalculate the time it takes various children to do the assigned homework.

“We had parents saying, as young as kindergarten, children were taking hours to do what was assigned,” Cameron told the CBC. “It’s really not necessarily a fair or a good rule.”

And as author Annie Murphy Paul noted in The New York Times last year, “the quantity of students’ homework is a lot less important than its quality.”

True. And perhaps this is why I don’t necessarily support an all-out ban on homework.  I’ve witnessed homework that works well and homework that doesn’t. As proponents of the practice suggest, homework that is well-designed and time-limited can have a positive impact on autonomous learning and the development of time management skills. Plus, parental involvement in school work helps children to see that what goes on in the classroom all day is important and valid in everyday life.

But my six-year-old?

Despite his love of literature and the fact that he is among the strongest readers in his class – having benefited from sitting in on his older brother’s homework last year – it takes him an hour to read through the list of monosyllables each evening. (And probably another half-hour to whine about it). When asked what he’d rather be doing, he answers “read real books.”

He simply has too much homework. And in my mind, it doesn’t meet the quality standard. So we’re officially on a homework strike. OK, maybe it’s more of a “work-to-rule.” He reads 10 minutes of monosyllables per day and then we close the homework books and open the real ones.

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