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May 22, 2009

My Cause for the next School Year: Homework

StudyTime Here in California, it's easy to just focus on the budget problem of our public education system, but there are many more obstacles inhibiting our children from getting the best education possible. For most of the school year, I've been floundering around, trying to pinpoint where I can actually make a positive difference for my daughters.

Of course there's the usual parental involvement. I've become an active member of the PTA and will be serving as the Secretary next year. I've written to my politicians, voted in all of the elections, and even contacted my local school Board members. At home, I ask my daughters about school and make sure they get their homework done. I go to the parent-teacher conferences, and participate in most of the fundraisers. It still doesn't feel like enough.

A couple of weeks ago, Riley (my third-grader) started with the homework battles again. At first, I thought it was due to the break in routine. They'd recently completed their standardized test weeks, when the homework load lightens considerably. Still, the more she resisted, the more I began to see her point.

She was supposed to be doing three pages in her workbook of cursive letter writing. She was supposed to a page of l, a page of m, and then one of n. Talk about boring!

Nevertheless, I tried to reason with her - the more practice she got, the easier it would be. "Just do it for 5 minutes, and see how much you get done," I offered. She was having none of it.

Riley blurted out, "We shouldn't have to do homework!" And with that, my thoughts started racing.

I remembered reading articles about The Homework Myth and The Case Against Homework. I remembered talking to a Principal about them, and how even he didn't agree with giving homework, but left the decision up to his teachers.

I decided to do things a little bit differently. I told Riley to write a convincing paper to her teacher, in cursive, about why she shouldn't have to do homework. She went right to work. She would read me a sentence, and I'd probe her for more information, and bring up arguments to her point. She would write some more. (She did her draft in print.)

Once we were satisfied with it, she went to work on copying it in cursive. She would get frustrated as she realized she didn't know how to connect letters since all they'd done so far was write the same letters. However, she was determined to finish the task, and completed her paper in cursive with pride. I wrote an accompanying note to explain to the teacher why we did it this way instead.

When the teacher and I spoke about it later, even she agreed that Riley probably got more out of writing the paper than she would have doing the l, m, and n drills. I'm pretty sure it took longer than the drills would have, either, but at least we weren't fighting about homework anymore.

This is not to say that all homework is irrelevant. Not even practicing cursive is irrelevant. I just think there are more ways to accomplish the goals of homework than I sometimes see in what is given.

I'm making it my own homework assignment to read more about homework and its value over the summer, and to find out more about what actually reinforces learning in the classroom that we can do at home. I intend to look at their homework carefully, and even change it if I feel it's in my daughter's best interest to do so. My goal is to put an end to the homework battles while still encouraging their love of learning.

So I may not be able to get more money into my district's budget. I still intend to do all that I can to ensure that my children get the most out of their education. 

This is an original LA Moms post. April, a single mother of two, is also the LA Single Parenting Examiner, and writes at her personal blog, It's All About Balance.

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