A Day In The Life Of Scott

If it can't be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion

Homework causes stress in students… and parents

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According to Canadian researchers giving students homework is not particularly effective, especially for kids in kindergarten to grade 6. Apparently homework causes a great deal of stress and burnout among children On average Canadian students spend approximately 33 minutes per night doing homework. Of course, the actual time spend ranges from 10 minutes to over 45 minutes.

While there is some evidence to suggest that getting some homework in junior and senior high school is beneficial, this is not the case for elementary school children. It does not seem to help students in younger grades. What they recommend is that younger children spend time reading each night with their parents so that they can hone this essential skill, rather than trying to use their time to “learn” new concepts at home.

Parents who were surveys say that they agree with the work ethic homework promotes, but it seriously cuts into valuable family time for many families, as parents are left to help their children with the “evil deed” that their teachers assigned.

Read the article as it was written in the Calgary Sun on Feb. 10, 2008

I do agree with many parts of the research. Having been there, done that, and been in many an argument with my parents over getting homework done (and before the due dates), I agree it creates a lot of stress. It did take away from quality family time that could have been spent sitting in front of the TV or video games. Maybe I shouldn’t harsh on it so much, my parents were big on getting a good education, so it was not TV so much as homework (they’d help it necessary) and (I seem to recall) “family reading time” where we had to read something, anything, as long as there were words on pages.

As a teacher, I don’t think homework should have the emphasis that it does in high school. I think we expect (or hope) that parents will help their kids with homework when they are younger. I don’t think that younger kids should be expected to bring work home just for the sake of bringing work home. When they get to junior high we can introduce them to world of doing work without the teacher’s guidance (and possibly without the parents’ too). Having said that, I don’t think we should assign work just for the sake of assigning work, but rather give students time to complete work in class, and have it be homework only if it is incomplete. Granted, there are some cases where class time cannot be given, and it is expected that all the work be completed outside of school, these help to promote responsibility, work ethic and self-discipline (not that it worked for me, I still procrastinate everything I do).

When I first started teaching, three years ago, I assigned work in a similar way to how my high school teachers assigned it… Teach a lesson then assign the work to be done entirely at home. (How much did that suck? Well, a lot, but it was what I knew best). During my second year in the classroom, I seemed to become more aggressive with homework, and I ended up spending all my time marking. Since I was stressed from the marking, I knew how the kids must have been feeling, since I had some of them for two or three different courses. More recently, I have changed my ways, only one or two assignments per chapter, and it is all completed in class (only assigned as homework if it is not completed during the allotted time). This seems to be working for me, and hopefully for the students too. This means that if it is done in class, then they have no homework… and thus more free time to spend with their families or whatever.

This is not to say I never assign homework, because sometimes it is necessary, class time cannot always be giving for all assigned work. This is especially true for grade 12 classes, where we need to prepare them for college or university. Professors assign work, there is no class time given, and the only help they get is if they e-mail or visit the prof at their office or after class. The grade 12 students need to become more independent learners in order to succeed in post-secondary institutions. (Take it from one who knows, I spent 6 years in post-secondary education). In high school teacher tend to “nag” on students to get work submitted on time… and if it is late it shows poor responsibility on the student’s part, but most times we still accept the work. This almost lets them off easy, because they will be in for a big surprise then they get to university where, deep down, the profs often could not care less if you even showed up to class, let alone passed in your 10 page research paper on the causes of evolution.

Having said all this, I think students need to get used to the idea of having some homework. If they feel they have too much work, then maybe they should try talking with their teachers. I tell my own students to tell me if another teacher schedules a test on the same day as mine so that I can change the date. As far as I am concerned it will ease some test anxiety, and leave more time for any other homework that may also need to be done that night. Homework assignments should be no different; I think if students are feeling bogged down with work because they have 3 – 6 different teachers who each assign work without really communicating with each other, then they should speak to the teachers. I, for one, can be forgiving and change deadline if the student comes to see me BEFORE a deadline and explains the situation to me. More often than not small extensions of even 1 or 2 days can ease both the students’ and the teacher’s workload.

The research says that Canadian kids spend an average of about 33 minutes doing homework. Personally, I would hardly think 30 minutes of homework would be enough to cause a great deal of stress. Of course, from experience, that 30 minutes per day can feel like 30 hours sometimes. Some students should probably spend 30 minutes per night doing work, it would seriously reduce the stress from leaving it all to the last minute and having to do it in 6 hours the night before it is due. (Been there, done that… My mother was not impressed.. and I still have no learned… ok, well maybe a little)

Too much more than than 30 minutes may be pushing it though. I know what it is like to have long school days, I was on the bus by 7:30 AM, at school by 8:30, then home by 4:00 PM or later. That is nearly a 9 hour school day, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time to be a kid, spending time with family or friends (unless you were like my brother and opted not to do homework or get suspended enough to have lots of free days off). So, if homework was started at 6:00, and there are 3 courses with assigned work, that does not leave a lot the evening free. Not to mention after 9 hours of school and travel the ol’ brain is getting pretty tired. Hmm, I wonder how I ever managed to get through school now that I think about it… oh yeah, I used homework as an excuse to avoid chores, so that gave me extra time.

Anyway, while I think homework has it’s good points, for the most part I don’t think the students are really getting that much out of it. No more than if they did the work in school. Having some homework is good, but too much is just stressful for the kids. Teenagers often have enough crap to deal with in their lives today, let alone having to bring school work home to do it too. So, teachers, lighten up the workload for the kids and you, reduce homework.

Now, don’t even get me started on tests, they are another story all together.

Author: Scott Oosterom

I live in Cut Knife, Saskatchewan, Canada. I teach high school math/ science at Chief Little Pine School in Little Pine, Sk.

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