Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Dog Ate My Homework!

“The dog ate my homework!” is still the classic no-homework excuse it ever was. While I think it’s incredulous that so many dogs enjoy eating paper, I can honestly say our dog actually DID eat someone’s homework one evening because they dropped peanut butter on it, Our dog was a peanut butter lover and had half of the page gone when we discovered his transgression. I rescued it and we sent it in with a note that the dog had indeed eaten half of it.

As a kid I was no fan of homework and nothing changed when I became a teacher. I still stand by the idea that homework is not necessarily a good thing. Let me expound.

When I was a kid in school, homework was used more as a punishment than anything else. If the class was good, there was minimal homework. If not, then the homework was piled on thick. I remember one year in particular was a nightmare. We started the year with Sister Carmencita, who was a doll, despite being universally feared by the rest of the school. She even gave grades over 100 if you got everything right and then some. When she had a heart attack in January, we got a substitute nun who apparently had never taught third grade. Or maybe she had never taught at all. She truly was someone to be feared and it was in her class that I got my first and only F in history. She ran her class by intimidation and accepted no mistakes from anyone.

One day we were having trouble with long division (they don’t teach it now until 4th-5th grade). She assigned to us every long division problem between 1/1 up to 144/12, including all problems with remainders. I remember trying to explain to my mother what we were expected to do. She couldn’t see how an 8 year old could be expected to do all those problems in addition to the rest of the homework. She called around to the other parents, who were equally confused with what their kids had told them was homework, My mother was inclined to have me NOT complete this homework, but I insisted, otherwise I’d have hell to pay at school in the morning. She did a tag-team thing with me, she’d make all the long division signs and subtraction lines on one page, and while I was working on the problems, she made the long division signs and the subtraction lines on the facing page. I worked for 4 hours that night, well past my bedtime, until Mom called it quits. When I woke up the next morning I worked on them until it was time to leave, still not finished. I was terrified. Mom wrote a scathing letter to the nun as well as to the Mother Superior. I don’t know who else’s mom may have done that but I was grateful for her support against the evil one.

I don’t remember much else about third grade, but that year colored my psyche against homework. Now, I always did my homework in the rest of the grades, but I surely did not enjoy it. Writing homework was particularly hard for me, as I could never think of something to write. I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table crying almost every night we had to write. I’d eventually think of something, but I don’t know how Mom tolerated my incessant whining about it. I eventually got over it, and actually enjoyed writing term papers in high school. Go fig.

Fast forward to college education classes.

We took methods courses where we learned how to teach the various subjects we’d have to be experts about in our classroom. During these classes we often talked about what kind of homework and how much of it to give. One of the teachers said something that gelled into my philosophy today. She said the purpose of homework was to practice what you learned in school. The math professor advised us not to give more than 5 problems for math, because “If the kid can do it correctly, he can prove that to you in 5 problems, and if he can’t do it correctly, any more than 5 problems will do nothing more than reinforce his mistakes.”

What a revelation! I took that concept and ran with it. It made total sense to me. I had to give homework according to the school district, but they didn’t say how much in each subject. My default reading homework was to read a book of your choice for 30-45 minutes, which we’d chat about the next day. Math homework was often to play a math game with someone and have the person comment about it, or to teach someone a new way to do computation. I’d often give them interview questions when we learned certain topics in science or social studies. Or they could make up 1 or 2 problems for a math test and solve them. The collected problems would be their test on Friday that week.
If a child did their homework consistently, they would get a pizza party or game time or some such thing. If they didn’t do it consistently, they got a phone call asking why. All I asked of the parents was to write me a note explaining why the kid couldn’t do the homework and that was that. I don’t agree with counting homework as a percentage of your grade, since many times I wonder exactly who did the work the parent or the child. When I taught 2nd grade it was pretty obvious who did the homework from the look of the handwriting. And it wasn't the kids.

My hubby has tales of homework pushback in high school. One of his teachers counted homework as 33% of the grade for the subject, the other 66% was evenly divided between class work and tests. Vic got 100s on all the tests and did enough problems for homework to get him a passing grade. Even though it was obvious he knew all of the course work, his final grade was only 70, due to missing homeworks. He challenged the homework policy that he thought was flawed, and I’d have to agree with him on the concept. I didn’t have the guts to do anything like that in school, but our children are very familiar with the concept, and it made for some interesting parent-teacher conferences. All that being said, I can’t see where hours of homework should be given every night. They’ll get enough of that in college.

I know too many parents standing exasperated over their school-aged children as the kids cry over all the work they have to do. Too much homework only makes the parent-child relationship harder than it needs to be. If the child can’t do the homework, notify the teacher and explain what you’ve gone through Ask the teacher to strike some sort of deal about homework, something you and your kid can live with. Sometimes it’s better to just relax, read and play at home than spend hours with both of you stressed out. Many kids are involved in after school sports, which are important because of the decreased time allotted to recess in school these days. If they eat dinner, then go to practice for an hour or two, by the time they get home, there’s really not time enough for more than 30-45 minutes of homework. A kid has to relax and sleep sometime!

Dog eat your homework? No worries in my class.


Still learning!

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