• by Blaine Helwig

Why Give Kids’ Homework, Anyway?

As both an elementary classroom teacher and a principal, a few parents each school year have questioned the modern need for nightly homework. A select number of parents seem to believe that since the advent of the personal computer and related technologies, nightly homework has apparently evolved into an obsolete concept. Well, it has not, and it never will unless an ingenious inventor discovers the means to effortlessly put knowledge and skills in human beings’ brains.

So, why do we give kids’ homework?

There are two primary reasons I have used with parents to justify nightly homework. Since no parent has ever aggressively opposed me on the subject in a quarter century, these two simple reasons below must be fairly sound and persuasive.

1. It provides repetition/practice while reinforcing the concept presented in

that day’s classroom work.

2. It establishes a daily regimen of personal discipline patterned at an impres- sionable age.

Classroom teachers take heed on reason number one. An elementary student should never – absolutely never – be given homework on standard curricular core material that was not previously covered in the classroom during the day. Otherwise, elementary children are teaching themselves via exploration or the trial and error method. If the parent complains, the principal is placed in a position defending a teacher's "self-inflicted wound."

For example, it is difficult and quite frankly, indefensible, for a principal to support the classroom teacher with the following statement: “Yes, I agree with the teacher. It is a good idea for a 10 year old to self-teach addition of proper fractions with unlike denominators.”

Teachers, please align nightly homework with daily classroom work. The homework provides additional practice or needed repetition of the classroom’s core lessons. I recommend teachers memorize these two reasons or reasons of their own rationale on homework, so they are mentally prepared for a confident, pragmatic and professional response, if and when questioned by parents.

How much nightly homework should teachers normally assign?

It depends on the grade level, teacher’s philosophy or school culture. An old rule is to multiply the grade level by 10 minutes to compute the expected time a child spends on nightly homework (i.e. 1st grade – 10 minutes, 2nd grade – 20 minutes, etc.). However, the teacher should focus on skills and content that matters. Homework should not be busy work, and homework should always be monitored the following school day for completeness and accuracy. If not, children discover that his or her teacher does not value their nightly efforts, and either they do not complete their nightly assignments – or their work is of poor quality.

Finally, an elementary student should always be tasked with an independent nightly reading assignment. Nightly – home reading should be based on page requirements per grade level - and not time. Recommended page limits per grade level (i.e. 2nd grade – 15 pages, 3rd grade – 20 pages, 4th grade – 25 pages, and 5th grade – 30 pages). A one-page document that describes an efficient and effective independent, accountable nightly reading program is available for free download at www.thenew3rseducationconsulting.com – under the ‘Expertise’ tab.