Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Making homework worthwhile
My oldest child just started first grade, which in our district is when homework officially begins. It's supposed to be light at this age (10 minutes a night) and is done more for the idea of building the habit than anything else. My son's teacher also has the good system of assigning homework on a weekly basis. You turn it all in on Friday, so if you want to get it all done on Monday and not do it the rest of the week, fine. If you want to cram at the end, you can do that too. I think it will probably be a valuable lesson in time management, since much of life requires us to manage our own deadlines over multiple days. Of course, homework can be done well or done badly. It's no surprise that in many schools, a lot of it is done badly. It winds up being busy work covering the exact same stuff done in school that day. That time could be better spent reading for pleasure. Or playing outside. But some forms of homework can be very helpful. Annie Murphy Paul wrote, recently, at Mind/Shift on how to make homework worthwhile. A few ideas? First, try spaced repetition. Rather than cover what the kid did at school that day, homework can revisit topics from earlier in the year. Or preview topics coming later! A history class may have moved on from the American Revolution, but revisiting the founding documents later in the semester may remind children of the ways those documents influence later events (being covered at that time in class). Another option is "retrieval practice" -- which is basically quizzing yourself to make memories stronger. Tests don't just show what you know, they change what you know. Paul also notes that knowledge is better burned into our brains if we have to work harder to learn it. People retain more knowledge from reading passages that are smudged, or in hard-to-read fonts, because they're working to decode them. Schools aren't really relying on those awful mimeograph machines anymore, but homework's difficulty level can be upped by putting different kinds of problems together. You don't get 30 subtraction problems in a row, you get a mixed bag of different functions and different numbers of digits. That keeps your brain working. What kind of homework do your kids get? Do you think it's worthwhile?