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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Homework blues

March 2, 2010


Do your kids ever feel this way? This was written by a 7 year old, a student facing many years of homework.

Homework has been around a long time, and has had its supporters and critics since the very beginning. Critics say homework cuts into quality family time and leaves students with no down time or time to pursue non-school interests. Proponents believe that homework teaches responsibility and provides important time to reinforce what is taught during the day.

The research on homework has produced mixed results, and it's clear that additional, carefully designed research is needed. The little research that has been done suggests this: homework doesn't help students who don't do it, but very likely does help students who actually complete their assignments. Not too surprising.

An article from Today's Parent suggests that the real homework issue is the quality of the homework, not the quantity (although many parents and students take issue with quantity too!)

I think the quality vs. quantity issue is it for me. It's the every day, yearlong slog "read and record the title" type of reading log and the "write 5 sentences a day" writing journal that really get to me. On both, there's little feedback from the teacher and little to no individualization of the assignment. Once assigned in September, the same assignment and expectations exist in May. I think homework like this causes kids to form negative attitudes about reading and writing that don't serve them well as learners.

I don't think homework should be abolished all together (as some do) but I do think it needs to be more carefully considered and planned. What do you think?


Kids won't "sink" if they don't do homework before high school. Success is determined by support and motivation. Children can be taught responsibility in a number of ways, homework not being one of them. Let's base our answers on research: more often the research is showing negative consequences, not positive. The thinking that homework is required to teach children responsibility, etc. is old fashioned. This is 2010 and let's realize we live in a time when more than ever our students are coming from dysfunctional homes and need family time above all.

Michelle: What an interesting idea! What grade(s) do you teach? I'd love to hear more about your use of online homework for your students!

I don’t think that anyone would argue against the benefits of reading homework, although the way we structure it could render it more or less effective and could potentially lead to negative attitudes about reading. (There’s a great discussion going on right now about home reading on the MOSAIC email group.) I struggle with what to do when children don’t do their reading homework, especially when I know that their living conditions make it difficult for them to do so. The best answer, I think, is to provide that oh-so-necessary time to read during the school day, while encouraging and building enthusiasm (and stamina) for voluntary reading.

Joanne's got it right when she wrote that homework presents a conundrum. That's basically because it can be done in relatively more and less effective ways. Kathy Ruhl and Charles Hughes (Penn State) produced a marvelous guide to more and less effective homework practices for It was originally available only for members of our organization, but I'm posting it here for everyone to download for free. As the fine print says, please feel free to pass it along to others.

As a former classroom teacher (first grade), I used to assign weekly homework that varied little, but the parents appreciated knowing what was expected and the children began to require less time to complete it because they knew my expectations as well. However, years later, as a working mom (I am a professor in a School of Education), I am finding that I really dislike homework. My first and third grade children spend so much time on homework that we barely have opportunities for family time. My children get home from school at 4:15. On nights when they have activities (scouts, dance, track), they end up going to bed much later than we’d like because of the time it takes to do their homework. Chances to run around and be free are limited. Afternoon play dates are essentially non-existent. After being in school all day, all my kids really want to do is run around and then relax a bit! Moreover, I wonder how all of this homework impacts the childhood obesity problem? If we have to have it, I prefer quality over quantity. Ten minutes per grade level sounds reasonable. Anything more is just busy work - and a recipe for burnout.

I have to say I very much agree with you. When the homework is not varied, it becomes a monotonous chore that isn't reinforcing anything. The children are so used to doing the same thing they are disengaged and no longer put effort into their work. At the same time, as a teacher, it is "one more thing" to plan and check on our exploding list of responsibilities. I am finding that the online homework I have been assigning this year has been much more engaging. Naturally, this creates a whole new set of issues (Do all students have a computer with Internet access? How comfortable are parents with allowing their child to spend the time on the computer? The cost of certain sites or accountability that an assignment has been done?). I am finding blogs to be a fun way to create assignments. I can post info, add links, and interact through the blog ( much like this!) :)

As an elementary school teacher, I believe homework is above all else necessary for learning responsibility. If we don't teach them how to be responsible in elementary school they will sink when they get to Jr. High!

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"If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book." —

J.K. Rowling