Homework! We’re talkin’ ’bout homework!

An ode to one of my favorite sports rants of all time, Allen Iverson, as he proclaimed, “Practice!  We’re talkin’ ’bout practice!” 

I wanted to talk about an often dreaded, always opinionated topic in the world of education: homework.

Over the past several weeks I have come across a significant amount of Facebook and Twitter posts, blogs, and articles that debate the amount of homework given by teachers, the long-term, detrimental effects on the child’s well-being, and how homework stemming from the Common Core is ruining America.

This blog post will not be addressing any of this.  That discussion is for another time, another place, and most likely another person (because it’s a debate that no one wins).

Instead, I want to focus on something that has been irking me a bit.  Two words.  Two simple words.  Two words that we use multiple times a day.  The words has and gave.

Why you ask?  Why are such small words causing me such distress?  In the context of discussing homework, I have come across these sentences too many times now: My child has (fill in the number) hours of homework tonight.  My child’s teacher gave (fill in the number) hours of homework tonight.

These sentences are often followed with general concerns over the child not being able to be a kid, lack of family time, going to bed late, etc.

So why the concern about such small words?  For one, by using “has,” this is promoting the assumption that each child in the class is spending the exact amount of time on homework, which is highly unlikely.  This would be metaphorically equivalent to saying my child has twenty-two minutes to run a 5k (which would personally be a pipe dream for me these days).  Some people can complete a 5k much quicker, while other, like myself, are going to need some extra minutes.  Though the assignments are the same, we are going to work at our own pace, accomplishing the task in our own amount of time.  Next, by using the word “gave,” one is assuming that the teacher has the power to assign times to homework, which would be a pretty awesome super power to have if it were feasible. [Before anyone tries to argue here, I know teachers do assign x amount of minutes of reading each night, so I concede in that scenario.]

So instead, I want to offer the alternative wording that would be much more appropriate: My child has worked on homework for (fill in the blank) hours.  [add in general concerns afterwards]

I don’t want to just leave the conversation ending like this though, because it is not addressing the problem that the general parenting public faces.  What about the child who is taking three, four, or five hours to complete homework, and you think it’s too much?  Is it possible to become a better homeworker?  In many cases, yes.  Oftentimes, it takes reflection and subtle changes to make it happen.  If this problem is ruining your household, here are some questions to consider:

1) Is your child in a distraction free environment when doing the homework?  The television, computer, cell phone, siblings, and video games are all distractions that can take away from a consistent focus on their assignment.  So an assignment that may have taken 10 or 15 minutes all of a sudden is taking 30 minutes to complete.

2) Does your child have a good working space?  While some children can work efficiently on the couch or the floor, some need to have a working space that is more conducive to a “work environment,” like a desk or table.

3) Is your child asking the right questions?  It’s been a long time since some parents stepped into a school, so they are not able to necessarily help with homework like they want to.  It is the child’s responsibility to ask questions when they are confused.  If the child is coming home from school without an understanding of what to do, teach them to ask questions, either for clarification or misunderstandings before they leave school.  This can prevent frustrations when the homework begins.

4) Do they have a network?  Questions certainly arise at home as well.  Does your child have a friend(s) or do you have a family friend who you can call upon when content questions arise if the content is beyond your realm?

5) Are you setting goals and time limits?  This is something I personally had to do a lot of, especially in high school because of my hectic sports and extra-curricular schedule.  Before I started my homework each night, I mapped out what assignments I had, the priority in which I needed to get them done (since some were not due the next day), and how much time I would spend on each.  This helped me stay on task and it created a checklist for me as I finished assignments.  It’s always fun crossing things off when you finish them.

Good luck and feel free to add your own homework strategies below!  And don’t forget to order your copy of Inside the Trenches for your favorite teacher!

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