Archived Story

Guest Column: homework doesn’t have to be hard work

Published 8:31am Friday, October 18, 2013

By Dewey Schara

Neveln Elementary School Principal

Although I don’t have too many clear memories of eighth grade, one that still haunts me is Sister Kathleen’s test on “prepositions.” I fought with my parents every night trying to memorize all the prepositions. Although I did end up getting a good grade, I would not have been able to tell you what a preposition was or how it worked. So, was that homework worth it, was it purposeful? Some would say, “Yes you got a good grade.” Others would say, “No it was busywork and only caused a fight with your parents.” It depends on your perspective.

At the elementary school level we work on developing skills and routines that will serve students later in their academic careers. We teach students to learn to read, at the secondary level the students read to learn. There is a significant difference between the two. If your children bring home work from an elementary school, they should already know how to do that work. The purpose isn’t to learn it but to reinforce the learning that already took place in the classroom. The teacher presents the information, the students practice it with the teacher, the students practice by themselves with teacher supervision, and finally they take work home to complete independently. For new learning to take hold, there should be a four- to six-hour gap between the instruction and the independent practice.

A parent should never fight with his or her child about homework (due to lack of understanding). If the student doesn’t understand the work, then the learning didn’t take place and will need to be reinforced again at school. Forcing children to complete work they don’t understand can lead to some serious problems. If a lesson is practiced incorrectly, it will take at least seven correct practices to fix the problem.

What can parents do to help? There are three essential elements to successful practice at home. First, establish a set time when homework will occur. Some students eat a snack or get some exercise before getting to work while others need to sit down immediately and dig in. Second, have a location in your home for your child to do homework. A distraction free location is obviously the best. Finally, establish a concrete time frame with a start and stop time. As a parent, you know when your child has reached the point of no return. This is where the fight begins. For most students working when they are emotionally exhausted doesn’t produce work worthy of turning in.

So with the correct perspective, homework can be an important part of the learning process. Yet, if homework is misused or misunderstood, it can be counterproductive. One thing I can tell you for sure is I know my prepositions: aboard, about, above, across …

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