March 2008
Vol 5 No 3

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Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.5 No.3
March 2008
Cover Story by LaVerne Hamlin
Show Me The Money!!!
If you can develop a lesson plan for your class, then you can write a grant. Here's how!

Harry & Rosemary Wong
Effective Teaching
Coaching is six times more effective than class-size reduction

»A System Is Superior To Talent Marv Marshall
»What Writing Isn’t Cheryl Sigmon
»The Busy Educator's Monthly Five Marjan Glavac
»Privacy in a Technological Age Rob Reilly
»10 Tips for Difficult Parents Barbara & Sue Gruber
»Problem-Based Learning Hal Portner
»Understanding Autism Leah Davies

»Spaceship Toilets
»March 2008 Writing Prompts
»Internet Assisted Interactive Classroom
»Our Civility Footprint
»First Grade Family Reading Night Meets Speed Dating
»Your Students Are Watching, Listening, and Learning
»Teachers Lounge - To Go or Not to Go?
»Retirement Guide for Teachers
»Daily Lessons: Humility

»Chatboard Poll: So What About Homework?
»Teachers.Net Craft Favorite: Arrow to the Sun
»Featured Lessons: March 2008
»Video Bytes: Merit Pay; Tai Chi; Asperger's and More
»Today Is... Daily Commemoration for March 2008
»Live on Teachers.Net: March 2008
»The Lighter Side of Teaching
»Editor's Pick: Picturing America Program
»Apple Seeds: Inspiring Quotes for Teachers
»What Do You Want In A Co-Op Teacher?
»Newsdesk: Events & Opportunities for Teachers


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Teachers.Net Asks...

Chatboard Poll

Teachers.Net Chatboard Poll...

So What About Homework?
Regular Feature in the Gazette
February 1, 2008
Every month, Teachers.Net asks an education-related or just fun question of our community, and assembles the responses in the Teachers.Net Gazette. Recently the following thread took place on the Teachers.Net chatboard (

Alfie Kohn's Rethinking Homework article in the February 2008 Teachers.Net Gazette prompted "abcteach" to initiate this month's poll with the following post:

"I think homework helps. I suppose the critics would call it "busy work," but I feel it is reinforcement and practice of concepts we have introduced in class due to the fact that we have a limited amount of time in class. What do you think about homework?"

Well, according to the research the one size that fits most kids is: no homework.

We, need to start doing what the data shows to be best practices rather than our personal opinion if we ever want to be taken seriously as professionals. The fact is, though it has been looked for, there has never been proven a correlation between higher academic gains in elementary school and homework. In fact, high amounts of homework have the *opposite* effect.

I also see it from the point of view of how it affects my family. I don't take homework home myself nor does my husband. I used to before having my family, but I want family time to be family time. Too bad some of my kids' teachers don't get that. There have been evenings where we have had to cancel a planned outing because of homework demands. I don't know why teachers feel that we have the right to dictate what people do in their own time. We get the kids for 7 hours a day. Isn't that enough?

I also get my feathers ruffled when teachers make comments like"he's just plain lazy." While, in fact, there are lazy kids; many kids have situations that are unknown to the teacher. We don't know for sure what goes on once they leave our doors. We shouldn't judge when we don't have all the facts.

Also, if a teacher is not able to go on to another concept because kids didn't do their homework, then I'd have to say that is not a very effective teacher. If we are going to give homework, it should be to practice concepts taught... not to fully learn a concept. Homework should not be a tool to enable learning. If that were true, what do we need credentialed teachers for? They can just go home and learn it! Along the same line, does this mean we punish kids because they have a parent who can't help? My own husband who is a college graduate and very intelligent, esp. in mathematics, was trying to help our son the other day. He had to call me in because the directions were confusing. I came in and had to spend 30 minutes reading and re-reading the materials and learning the concept so I could help my child. It was totally inappropriate to send that homework home... but that is not even the point.

I have no problem with teachers who send home optional projects that spark interest. The key being: OPTIONAL. Some of the projects described here sounded great. One of my kids likes science so we jumped on the science fair project and had a blast! But we chose what we wanted to do with our time.

In my 20 years as a classroom teacher I have never had a group where most kids learned the same way. That's why we differentiate and use different modes of instruction. The teacher's job is to teach the kids, the parent's job is to parent the kids. We lament the fact that parents don't spend quality time with their kids or don't teach them appropriate behaviour, but then we don't make it easy for the ones who try to!

~Posted by Stellaluna

What if one size does fit MOST kids?? What if 20 kids in a class do very well under one way of teaching a subject, but the other 5 do not? What is that ONE teacher supposed to do? Should she throw out ALL homework because those other 5 students either won't or can't do it, either because of lower ability or poor home situations or just plain laziness? Do the other 20 not get to go on to another concept because those 5 didn't do the practice work (homework), which enabled them to learn the previous concept? What does she do?

~Posted by AM

I agree, but I still rarely assign homework. If students take anything home, it's usually work that isn't completed during class or study hall. The exception is when we read novels. They have to read at home and fill out a take-home open-book quiz each week. Otherwise, I really don't assign homework because the students just don't do it.

~Posted by Karen

I think the result of homework reinforces the " Matthew Effect" as in the book of Matthew where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. What I mean by this is we all know that there are parents who rush to help little junior complete his homework to perfection and little Susie down the road has illiterate parents who can't help her one little bit.  Homework in the elementary panel is not fair. I never marked any homework, and would not have given any if not made to by the admin. I also refused to hand over " homework" for those going on holidays in mid term. Doing that reduces the teacher's role to nothing but a paper pusher. I always told the parents that their child needed to be in school for the lesson that went with seatwork. If they persisted, then I told them to keep a trip journal, including addition of expenses, distance traveled, and description of interesting things seen or experienced.

~Posted by Can-Anne

I, as a working parent, have limited amount of family time at home. And my kids have a limited amount of time to play outside, read books of their own choosing, call their grandparents, play cards, help with dinner, wash the dishes and other things that help teach responsibility and life skills, and yes, even watch tv. School time is for school time... the teacher gets to plan the day. Home time is for family time... and the family should get to plan the day.

By the time my kids finish their homework after school it is getting cold and dark outside... no time to play...certainly not safe to go to park and/or ride bike.

The fact is... homework does NOT increase achievement in elementary and middle school. It causes a lot of stress in many households... including mine.

I give homework because I am required... but if I had my way I would never send home another pack.

~Posted by Stellaluna

I give "assignments." Sometimes the students have time in class to complete the assignment; sometimes they need to take it home. I always give some in-class time to begin the assignment. I think it's difficult to get through everything we need to get through without students completing some work on their own time. However, I don's assign homework just for the sake of assigning homework.

~Posted by Shelly

We know from studies that even adults only learn for about 5-6 hours a day. The research shows that if you push beyond, kids' brains will start dumping what they learned earlier in the day to try to make room for the new. Problem is that a tired brain won't hold that new material very long either. So in actuality we are diminishing what was done in school in a strong way.

Human beings, particularly children, need several hours of leisure a day. Our kids are not getting time to develop in a balanced way. No time to process emotions, no time when they are not under pressure.

If you know how to do it, you shouldn't have to do more of it in the evening. If you don't know how to do it, you shouldn't be trying to teach it to yourself or expect the parents to be the teachers.

People will shout about practice. Practice should be happening during the school day and the brain should be having time for it to cement without adding more. Exercising an hour or so a day is good. School work 5-6 hours a day is good. Exercising all day long is NOT good, and schoolwork all day long, including the evening, is not good.

Just as a side note. I spoke with a parent from one of our local middle schools last night. She said that 4 years ago when her son was in that school with the same teachers, he had 1.5 to 3 hours of homework a night. Her daughter who is very much the same kind of student and is in that school now has about 1/2 an hour a night on an average of 3 nights a week. She said they have ended all projects and ended all cooperative lessons requiring kids to work in groups. She said this reduction in homework has made a much, much more balanced kid, fewer fights with parents, a kid who has hobbies and reads, and a kid with less overall pressure.

~Posted by pubschtchr

Some of the crap I've seen my third grade niece saddled with did nothing to reinforce skills or help her learn. I always gave homework. I always believed in homework. I always thought my homework assignments were helpful. Frankly, I'm not so sure any more.

~Posted by maxine

My students are expected to read 30 min. per night. 150 min per week. The year started with 20 min. and at semester was upped. Is that bad? That's the only homework I give.

What about Side B of Saxon math? Is it designed to do Side A together in class. Then Side B is to be done at home. Help is on Side A because the problem types are the same. Is that bad?

If a writing teacher gives writing to be done at home, is that bad? What about reviewing for a test in Science or Social Studies? What about studying for a spelling test? What about a child who can't count coins, can't do multiplication, can't read a clock??? Is practicing that at home bad?

I remember taking Spanish and I'd have to study the vocabulary words at night to do the next day's lesson. I think I probably needed more practice than some.

Is doing a book report crap homework?

We always have this discussion and I've never been a homework assigner. Just finish what we started in class, but I've always wondered whether it is that the work is crap or that our lives have changed so much that we just don't want to do those things at home because we have all these tech toys and activities to fill our time with.

Many parents who complain about homework around here are the same ones that let their kids go to their rooms and spend hours texting or IMing or talking on the phone.

I'm not being sarcastic or smart alecky, but I'd really like to know what the bad
homework is because I don't see how you can go through school and not study at

~Posted by Emmy

Bad homework is having homework that involves staying up until 11 p.m. and waking at 5 a.m. to finish prior to the start of the new school  day. Bad homework: begun after football/baseball practice ends at 4.

I also despise coloring as part of the homework. My son is an honor student in 9th grade. He has mastered coloring and I do not see "coloring with crayons" anywhere in the CA Content Standards for his classes. If a homework assignment involves a lot of coloring, my son will pick the colors and I will do the coloring. That is the extent of me "doing his homework."

I believe there are many creative ways to teach geometry, however the instructor needs to make sure the student is not overwhelmed. If you are giving a big project that will take 36 hours, two students, 3 parents, and an older brother to complete, then limit the amount of nightly homework during the project. Also, perhaps it would be best to "chunk" the assignment to keep from overwhelming the student. The parents and older brother had to help make practice models until the bridge could bear the required weight and drive around town looking for local bridges to photograph.

On the last day of the semester after completing the final, the science teacher should not give 4 worksheets (double-sided) and have the students complete them over the weekend.

I teach English to 10th and 12th graders. I never assign homework that is due the next day. I give my students a calendar at the start of each quarter with due dates for assignments already noted. They will get the instructions for the assignment at least 4 days prior to the due date. Larger projects will have approximately 2 weeks between instruction and execution. I purposely model my classes after the college classes I had. I want them to begin to plan their own lives. If they see that I have a big assignment coming up, then they should allot the appropriate time for my class. However, children (including teenagers) learn from experiencing life.

How can I expect my students to analyze if I never give them time to question, think, and ponder their own thoughts and experiences? Learning does not only occur through an institution. My toddler amazes me with her questions and observation. She does this because she gets the opportunity to experience life rather than learn about it from a book.

~Posted by Laurie/HS CA

Crap homework? Here's one example...extensive at home time-consuming projects that are impossible for a child to do alone. Projects that are sent home with specific instructions for what the parent must do in order for the project to be completed (including instructions to the parent to read non-fiction books to the kid because the teacher knows the books are over the kid's head). Projects done alone by the child that are down-graded because they are not polished enough. Projects that are not related to the curriculum but are something the teacher thought would be fun.

Here's another example: 40 math problems!!!! My niece starts her homework sheet off just great, but 40 problems (some of them complicated word problems) is too much! She is so tired that the last 15 problems or so are always wrong...even though she demonstrated her understanding of the skill in the first twenty.

As I said, I always believed in homework until I saw some of the junk coming home with my niece. A project where the parent has to lead the kid through it step-by-step should not be sent home. It needs to be done in the classroom. Let the teacher lead them through it if it is over their heads and too hard to do on their own. That is not the purpose of homework.

Maybe you're not sending home assignments like this, but many teachers are. It is wrong.

~Posted by maxine

Here are some examples of bad homework:

    Looking up word after word in a dictionary.

    Doing word searches/crosswords, etc.

    Page after page of math problems.

    Creative writing with no focus.

    Coloring maps.

    Flat out busy-work.

    Projects that require lots of taping, stapling, glue and glitter but have no real substance.

    Being required to cook an ethnic food for international day and bringing samples for the

    Collage posters about "Who I Am."

    Memorizing poetry that the student cannot even understand.

    Sewing a banner for a country you invent

I could go on and on, but I am too tired to make a list miles long, but you get the idea.

~Posted by pubschtchr

First of all let me say that since the research does say that more time reading makes better readers, if there has to be homework I'd say that yours is appropriate.

But I do want to comment about what you said: "Many people that complain about homework around here are the same ones that let their kids go to their rooms and spend hours texting or IMing or talking on the phone."

The other side to this is that whatever the parents allow their kids to do on home time if is not the job of the schools to dictate the private lives of its students. In my household, probably due to the fact that I am a teacher... if my kids weren't doing the silly pages that they are assigned to do, we would have time to do some much more worthy educational type activities.... (or not!). But if a family chooses to do other things that *in the opinion of the teacher* is not the best use of time... it is really not the business of the teacher what the family chooses to do! I know, I know... there are some kids who come from scary homes where what they do at home negatively affects the kid's schooling... that's not what I am talking about. I have had meetings with parents where I had to explain to a parent why allowing her struggling 1st grader to stay up until 1 a.m. watching tv was not a good idea... seriously! But let's face it... they weren't going to be doing homework whether I assigned it or not!!! (we were successful at getting the kid a bed donated so he could sleep in a different room from the tv.. turned out the problem was the kid's bed was the couch! - not making this up!)

As an "anti-homework advocate" LOL I am not saying that all homework that comes home is "crap homework". My daughter has had some interesting thought provoking stuff. But no one stops to ask if this would be a good night to send home the project (or math page, or science test info etc.) and when we have to rush from school to help my ailing mom, then rush off to music lessons (since here in CA we have none and as an educator with interests
in brain research I know that music education will create pathways in the brain to enable other learning) and then I make dinner, and try to fold a load of laundry, and spend quality time with my family.... most nights just aren't good nights to continue doing school work after they have already been at school for over 7 hours! Yikes! Give the families a break!

If you look at the research it really isn't saying that there is bad homework. Simply that after looking extensively for a correlation between schools that assign homework and higher academic gains, they couldn't find one. It doesn't help, and hurts other areas of students' lives. In high school and of course college, that all changes. Achievement is related to student effort outside the classroom. Now, I am not sure if the research has isolated struggling students. As a parent, if my kid was struggling I think I would want to do extra things at home to help him/her catch up. That, in my opinion, is a whole different ball of wax. Or if a parent comes to me and asks for things I can suggest that will help his/her child. I am all for that. The difference is that the parent is choosing what goes on in the home.

And of course that is not even touching on the fact that many teachers want the parents to work with their kids but don't take into account that some parents are not ABLE to work with their kids.... illiterate, disabled, and so on.

~Posted by Stellaluna

All good points, Stellaluna. After reading your post I am re-thinking my position on

To be perfectly frank and brutally honest, I don't think I was being totally honest with myself in that there is a GREAT deal of pressure on my team and at my school to send home a lot of homework. I think I've been influenced by that pressure somewhat.

But when I look back on my own elementary years, I don't remember doing homework.

~Posted by unknown

My daughter's school just had their inventor's fair (4-6th). Each student had to come up with an unique idea, keep a journal of ideas, decide if they could do them, research them, modify and test them, try them out with people, and then finally do a poster board and present their work to the judges with an oral presentation. They received the assignment over a month ago and did literally none of it at school, but did have several small assignments due at various intervals.

Walking around the fair today, you could easily see which of the students' parents helped and how much they helped. Some of the students had absolutely no help and their boards and project showed this. On the other hand there were other students who learned how to use a medal lathe, power tools, and the sewing machine. Their parents took the opportunity to show them how to use this equipment to actually do their projects.

Yes there was a lot of busy work involved, but my daughter learned several things that she would never have learned in school. Things that I might not have thought to teach her either, especially at her age.

I am not sure if you all would consider this bad homework or good homework. It was definitely UNEQUAL homework, "where the rich got richer and the poor missed another learning opportunity." I hate the fact that the kids whose parents didn't get involved missed this opportunity, but is that enough of a reason to not do this? No child left behind in its worst form. If the "all children don't get the opportunity to learn equally then none should get the opportunity" philosophy is equally unfair.

~Posted by Coral

The post earlier in this thread from the parent who criticized homework because her home life is busy enough made me wince.

Let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here, folks: PARENTS AND TEACHERS SHOULD BE PARTNERS IN THE EDUCATION OF OUR CHILDREN.

When my daughter was in third grade, all the parents of her classmates were complaining about how ineffective the third grade teacher was. I didn't join the complainers. Instead, I provided additional learning experiences for my child.

Before one of you points out that not all parents are capable of doing the same, let me state that a parent does not need a degree in education in order to provide learning experiences for his/her child.

We ALL are our children's first teachers.

For one thing, how about getting back to parents teaching their kids some important CHARACTER lessons? My goodness, many schools have been compelled to add character development to their curriculum!

Spending quality time with our children (this does not mean carpooling to the soccer practices) goes far.

The problems many teachers face these days is that too many parents are dumping the full responsibility of their children's education on the schools. And worse, many teachers have resigned themselves to this. This is why our students lag behind their peers from many other nations.

~Posted by elemtchr

Some time ago, there was a list posted on this site about all the things that have been added to our curriculum. It was broken down by the decade it was added. Everything from bus safety, to sex education, to computer skills was on it. It went on to say what had been generally removed from the curriculum, which in the days before NCLB decimation of the art and PE, was next to nothing (except handwriting).

That list was an eye-opener. Our curriculums are so much wider now than they were a half century ago. We are teaching things they never dreamed would get covered in school.

There has to be a place for all that new material being taught. Maybe the reason we have so much less time to get the work done in class is because we are required to cover so much more.

I don't remember that much homework in elementary. I know we had to read, do spelling words and if we didn't get finished, our math. But we also didn't have computers, typing, health class, half of the history that is taught now, multicultural curriculum and reams of other things that are taught in the same grade as now. When I compared an old math sheet of what I did in 6th grade math to one my daughter is doing, there is no comparison. Her math is probably two years advanced than what we did in the same grade.

Maybe we need the homework now to make up for the time spent doing all that new curriculum that never had to be taught in the past.

~Posted by LbP

This sounds like what goes on in the science fair. Some parents get really involved and others are totally nonexistent in the process. My nephew is working with his grandfather to build some type of solar power thingy. Not only is he learning about solar power, he is learning how to use power tools. His mother is showing him how to take notes from the research he is doing. While taking a lot of time, he IS learning something. Lessons by the way he would probably not be learning if there hadn't been an assignment.

I agree it is not fair to all students to eliminate projects like this for ALL students because some students do not have the extra help at home.

This is one of the reasons that NCLB will ultimately fail. We only have them for a portion of the day. The learning opportunities during the rest of the day, weekends and summers are not equal so the gaps will continue. As much as I want to get rid of those gaps, I cannot in good consciousness support doing away with things like the science fair, inventor's fair, History day, etc.

~Posted by Laura

Well, I can honestly say then that our school doesn't do a lot of crap homework judging from the examples put here. The science teacher does have a science fair. Most of the research etc is done in class. One grade does habitat dioramas during that section of science. The math teacher has a mini society project that seems to be enjoyed pretty much by everyone.

We have a jump-rope team, a basketball exhibition team, track team, honor chorus and academic teams. All of them take up time after school to practice and nobody complains. I guess because it is something you enjoy or you wouldn't have tried out for it.

I think that if you give a variety of assignments and you base them on different learning styles that there will be kids and parents who enjoy some of the things and don't enjoy other of the things.

~Posted by Emmy

So here is something that I've noticed, I was looking at our spelling teacher's edition and for this week a suggested assignment was to take a picture from a magazine and write a caption for it using as many of the spelling words as possible. That isn't a low level thinking activity. I can name several kids in my class who would go ga-ga over doing that. I think a couple wouldn't "get" it.

One of the papers that I have for higher thinking activities has these activities for the highest level:

    Prepare a list of criteria to judge a ___show. Indicate priority and ratings.
    Conduct a debate about an issue of special interest.
    Make a booklet about 5 rules you see as important. Convince others.
    Form a panel to discuss views, e.g. "Learning at School."
    Write a letter to ___ advising on changes needed at ___.
    Write a half yearly report.
    Prepare a case to present your view about ___

    for synthesis
    Invent a machine to do a specific task.
    Design a building to house your study.
    Create a new product. Give it a name and plan a marketing campaign.
    Write about your feelings in relation to ___.
    Write a TV show, play, puppet show, role play, song or pantomime about ___.
    Design a record, book, or magazine cover for ___.
    Make up a new language code and write material using it.
    Sell an idea.
    Devise a way to ___.
    Compose a rhythm or put new words to a known melody.

    Design a questionnaire to gather information.
    Write a commercial to sell a new product.
    Conduct an investigation to produce information to support a view.
    Make a flow chart to show the critical stages.
    Construct a graph to illustrate selected information.
    Make a jigsaw puzzle.
    Make a family tree showing relationships.
    Put on a play about the study area.
    Write a biography of the study person.
    Prepare a report about the area of study.
    Arrange a party. Make all the arrangements and record the steps needed.
    Review a work of art in terms of form, colour and texture.

I think I'm pretty much sticking with my original thought that it isn't the work itself but the time it takes that gets people riled because the bottom line is that there are other things they'd rather do.

PS - I'm not saying the little lists I included are the best examples.

~Posted by anon

I can only speak from my own observation... no data to back me up, no periodicals of ponderous support nor books with tricky titles and fancy authors.

In my district, I see a lot of teachers who MAKE additional work and stress by assigning homework at unbelievable levels. One next door to me assigns several hours worth of homework DAILY. I know this because I have her class for a different subject. I also see the stream of parents to and from her room at all hours of the day, before school and after school. I think the woman likes the added stress and attention. The principal has been on her case for quite some time due to parental pressure.

On the other hand, there is a new teacher that never assigns homework. There have been some complaints there also.

I look for a balance in my assignments. I only assign homework when we are covering some difficult concepts in math that require more than a turn at the board in class and a few problems scratched out on college ruled paper.~ Posted by Encino Man

[We can't change] until teachers at the HIGH SCHOOL level back off. Otherwise we are not preparing our kids for that.

High school homework is insane, preparing kids for this is part of our job

~Posted by TD

What if one size does fit MOST kids?? What if 20 kids in a class do very well under one way of teaching a subject, but the other 5 do not? What is that ONE teacher supposed to do? Should she throw out ALL homework because those other 5 students either won't or can't do it.... either because of lower ability or poor home situations or just plain laziness? Do the other 20 not get to go on to another concept because those 5 didn't do the practice work (homework) which enabled them to learn the previous concept? What does she do?

~Posted by anon

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