Yes Homework Notes

My wife and I both spend time working with our kids on their homework. We have also made a family tradition of “Saturday School,” a routine that my wife and I instituted a couple of years ago because our kids’ school was using a pre-Common Core math curriculum that wasn’t keeping pace with the standards. It has become a weekly exercise for the whole family’s brain. On my personal blog, I’ve shared some of the math problems that I’d written for Saturday School so that other parents could use the problems at home if they wished.

On busy nights, most parents (including me) are hard-pressed to find time to help with daily homework. That’s why my first piece of advice for parents is that they help strengthen their children’s work ethic and accountability by ensuring that homework is completed. My kids have their own dedicated space at home for schoolwork. When they get home from school, the next day’s homework has to be complete and correct before there is any screen time or other activities.

Parents can also help at home with skill building and fluency practice—things like memorizing basic math facts. When it comes to skills, practice is essential. It helps students to have someone to flash the cards or pose calculations to them. I have made flashcards that we use at home, and my kids sometimes use digital apps like Math Drills.

If you’re surprised to hear me recommending flashcards, it’s likely because the Common Core has been mischaracterized as “a move away from all of that.” However, according to the Common Core, students are expected to know their sums and products from memory and to be fluent with the standard algorithm for each of the four basic operations (the traditional “carry” method, in the case of addition). These expectations are unlikely to be met without extensive practice. Parents should never feel that they are doing something wrong by doing math at home.

Sometimes I make up math games for my kids. After Christmas, we were all bored during a long drive, so we played a doubling game. My younger daughter went first by doubling small numbers: 2, 4, 8, 16. Since she doesn’t yet know multi-digit multiplication, and she’s still working on two-digit addition, there was a limit to how high she could go. When she got as far as she could, my elder daughter took over. When she got as far as she could, my wife went next. (I went last, because I have lots of powers of two memorized.) I’m also known to make “Dad jokes” about math. Why were 10 and 11 mad after the race? Because 20 won!

Parents can and should be involved with their children’s learning at home; this includes being involved with homework when they have time. When I look over my kids’ shoulders and see an error on their homework, I ask them to do the problem again. If everything is correct, I select a problem and ask them to tell me how they got the answer. If a question is left blank, then I pull up a chair and we talk about it. A useful conversation starter is, “Tell me what you know so far about this problem.” If it’s a word problem, we might act it out; if it’s a computation, we might warm up with a simpler version of the problem.

What if a parent is unsure about what a homework assignment is asking the student to do? For example, an assignment might use terms that were defined in class and that are specific to the textbook in use. Faced with an assignment that isn’t immediately clear, I try to model persistence and productive struggle to my kids. The underlying message I want to send is, “We can figure this out if we keep at it”—not, “If you aren’t sure, just quit and wait for an authority figure to tell you what to do.”

If I still have questions about what an assignment is asking for, I ask the teacher about it. Parents might try asking the child to help write the question to the teacher. Then let the child know that you are eager to hear what the teacher has to say.

Some readers may have seen online articles suggesting that my advice to parents is not to help their children with math homework. Nothing could be further from my belief. Home can and should be a place where children strengthen their skills and learn to enjoy mathematics. I don’t always have as much time or energy to participate in my kids’ learning as I would wish, but I consider it one of many important jobs that I have as a parent. I hope some of the ideas I’ve provided here will be helpful to other parents as well. 

Jason Zimba was a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and is a founding partner of Student Achievement Partners.

For Teachers Updated December 7, 2017

The Homework Debate: How Homework Benefits Students

By Monica Fuglei November 21, 2013

This post has been updated for accuracy and relevance as of December 2017.

In another of our blog posts, The Case Against Homework, we articulated several points of view against homework as standard practice for teachers. However, a variety of lessons, content-related and beyond, can be taught or reinforced through homework and are worth exploring. Read on!

Four ways homework aids students’ academic achievement

Homework provides an opportunity for parents to interact with and understand the content their students are learning so they can provide another means of academic support for students. Memphis Parent writer Glenda Faye Pryor-Johnson says that, “When your child does homework, you do homework,” and notes that this is an opportunity for parents to model good behavior for their children.

Pryor-Johnson also identifies four qualities children develop when they complete homework that can help them become high-achieving students:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Time management
  3. Perseverance
  4. Self-esteem

While these cannot be measured on standardized tests, perseverance has garnered a lot of attention as an essential skill for successful students. Regular accomplishments like finishing homework build self-esteem, which aids students’ mental and physical health. Responsibility and time management are highly desirable qualities that benefit students long after they graduate.

NYU and Duke professors refute the idea that homework is unrelated to student success

In response to the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education’s findings that homework was not conclusively related to student success, historian and NYU professor Diane Ravitch contends that the study’s true discovery was that students who did not complete homework or who lacked the resources to do so suffered poor outcomes.

Ravitch believes the study’s data only supports the idea that those who complete homework benefit from homework. She also cites additional benefits of homework: when else would students be allowed to engage thoughtfully with a text or write a complete essay? Constraints on class time require that such activities are given as outside assignments.

5 studies support a significant relationship between homework completion and academic success

Duke University professor Harris Cooper supports Ravitch’s assessment, saying that, “Across five studies, the average student who did homework had a higher unit test score than the students not doing homework.” Dr. Cooper and his colleagues analyzed dozens of studies on whether homework is beneficial in a 2006 publication, “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987–2003.”

This analysis found 12 less-authoritative studies that link achievement to time spent on homework, but control for many other factors that could influence the outcome. Finally, the research team identified 35 studies that found a positive correlation between homework and achievement, but only after elementary school. Dr. Cooper concluded that younger students might be less capable of  benefiting from homework due to undeveloped study habits or other factors.

Recommended amount of homework varies by grade level

“Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?” also identifies the amount homework that serves as a learning tool for students. While practice improves test scores at all grade levels, “Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.”

Dr. Cooper’s conclusion—homework is important, but discretion can and should be used when assigning it—addresses the valid concerns of homework critics. While the act of completing homework has benefits in terms of developing good habits in students, homework must prove useful for students so that they buy in to the process and complete their assignments. If students (or their parents) feel homework is a useless component of their learning, they will skip it—and miss out on the major benefits, content and otherwise, that homework has to offer.

Continue reading: Ending the Homework Debate: Expert Advice on What Works

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

Tags: Leadership and Administration, Pros and Cons, Teacher-Parent Relationships

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