Do Kids Need Homework

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What has eight letters and strikes fear into the hearts of students around the world? No, it's not broccoli, but that was a good guess! Give up? HOMEWORK!

Did you just gasp in fear and anguish? We're sorry, but homework is a fact of life and it's time we took a closer look at it. Even though it might get in the way of playing outside or watching your favorite television show, it's necessary and, believe it or not, good for you!

Homework creates a bridge between school and home. Parents rarely get to spend much time with you while you're at school. Homework allows them to keep up with what you're doing in your classes on a daily basis. But you don't have homework purely for your parents' benefit. It's good for you, too!

Homework can help you become a better student in several different ways. First of all, homework given in advance of a particular subject can help you make the most of your classroom discussion time. For example, before beginning a discussion of a complex period in history, it can be very helpful to read background information as homework the night before.

Homework also gives you valuable practice with what you've learned in the classroom. Often, the brief period of time you have during class to learn something new is simply not enough. Repeating classroom concepts at home helps to cement in your mind the things you learned.

For example, you've probably experienced the value of homework when it comes to mathematics. A new concept explained in class might seem foreign at first. With repetition via homework, however, you reinforce what you learned in class and it sticks with you. Without homework, a lot of classroom time would be wasted with repetition that could more easily be done outside the classroom.

In these ways, homework expands upon what is done during the day in the classroom. Your overall educational experience is better, because homework helps you to gain and retainmore knowledge than would be possible with only classroom work. As you learn more, you know more and you achieve more…and you have homework to thank!

Homework teaches lessons beyond just what's taught in the classroom, too. Bringing homework home, completing it correctly, and turning it in promptly teaches a host of other important life skills, from time management and responsibility to organization and prioritization.

Despite these benefits found by researchers, the topics of who should receive homework and how much homework are hotly debated among educators and researchers. In one study, researchers found that academic gains from homework increased as grade level increased, suggesting homework is more beneficial for older students. Some researchers have found that too much homework can lower or cancel its benefits and become counterproductive, because students become burned out.

How much is too much? That depends upon many complex factors, including the individual abilities of the child, other demands upon time, such as sports, part-time jobs, family responsibilities, and types of classes. If you feel overburdened by homework, the best thing you can do is to open a dialog with your teacher. Be open and honest about your feelings regarding homework and work with your teacher to strike a reasonable balance that helps you achieve your educational goals.

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Acacia School in Thousand Oaks is part of a small but growing movement to change how kids do homework, at least in elementary school.

Some schools are getting rid of graded homework altogether.

Others, such as Acacia, no longer give kids traditional homework packets filled with math worksheets and spelling lists. Instead, they're asking children to spend their time after school pursuing something they're excited about. Building with Legos, maybe. Perfecting their soccer kick. Or, in the case of a student at Acacia, building a working telegraph.

"Kids love coming to school," said Kirsten Walker, principal at Acacia. "What they don't like is homework. ... If we believe in developing kids' passions, we need to give them time."

The homework issue clearly resonates with parents, teachers and kids across the country. At the start of this school year, a Facebook post about a Texas teacher's no-homework policy went viral. The second-grade teacher suggested that, instead of doing homework, students have dinner with their families, get outside and go to bed on time.

Generally, educators suggest students get 10 minutes of homework per grade level, a policy many school districts follow. So a first-grader would have 10 minutes, for example, and a high school senior would have two hours.

But some students are doing more than that, and families are starting to push back.

In a poll conducted by the Star, almost two-thirds of parents said their kids were getting too much homework.

The motives behind the homework rebellion vary — stress and the benefits of privilege among them. A school in Tennessee decided not to give traditional, graded homework because less affluent students may not have a computer at home or internet access, or parents able to help them, putting them at a disadvantage. Instead, students are expected to review what they've already started learning or to prepare for what they'll be learning the next day.

Other schools are stepping back because parents are complaining that their kids are stressed out from too much homework.

What research shows

Broadly, research suggests that children, at least in elementary school, don't benefit much from traditional homework — the math worksheets and spelling lists that many of us remember, or try to get our kids to do.

But the Duke University researcher who came to that conclusion also said older children, particularly high school students, benefit most from homework.

That sounds about right to Goutam Ghosh, whose daughter is in fourth grade at Acacia.

The new homework policy "lets us relax," Ghosh said. "But when they go up in the higher grades, they should have homework."

There are many educators and parents who believe homework has its place, even for younger kids, if it helps them develop study skills, curiosity and self-discipline.

Advocates say homework allows kids to review and practice what they've learned, reinforcing the lessons. Students also can prepare for what they'll be learning next, giving them a foundation and context for what the teacher is introducing.

Some teachers also say that if kids don't have homework, they need to take valuable class time to cover what could be done at home.

Robert Fraisse, a former superintendent who now teaches at California Lutheran University, said Acacia may have found a middle ground: tailor homework to each student. That way, a student who needs practice gets it, but a student who already has mastered a lesson can work on something else.

"It would be a mistake to say, 'Let's do away with homework,' but also a mistake to say, 'We're fine with homework,'" Fraisse said. "It's such an emotional topic. Unless parents understand that you're not going doing something draconian, you don't always get buy-in from them."

Acacia parent Julie Lewis, however, appreciates the school's new approach, saying it has eliminated stress at home and given her two kids time to enjoy music and sports. At the same time, if her kids need to work on something they're learning, they do, she said.

"My son is very smart, but busywork had ruined his life," Lewis said. "Homework was a real stress. He had to give up piano during track season. Now he more follows his own interests."

Acacia's philosophy

At Acacia, students take more control over their learning, so their homework has a clear purpose.

On the strictly academic side, students set goals for what they want to learn: knowing their multiplication tables through 9, for example. They're also expected to identify areas where they need more work. In those cases, the school provides additional resources families can use.

"We're having kids recognize a weakness, then ask 'What do I need to practice?'" said Rose Crystal, who teaches first grade at Acacia.

Children also are expected to read — a total of four hours a week.

Beyond that, they identify a passion they'd like to pursue when they go home from school and on the weekend. They then share that passion with their classmates, through something they've built, or with photos, or simply talking about it.

"We're creating a culture of sharing, of having passions," Walker said. "If you have nothing to say, hearing others just talking about what they're doing will be inspiring."

Giving children time to figure out and pursue their passions will benefit them years later, said Carrie Sonstegard, who teaches kindergarten at Acacia.

Sonstegard speaks from experience: She has seen with her own teenage children what can happen when students don't get that chance.

"Many high school students graduate with no sense of who they are," Sonstegard said. "They're master of nothing. They don't know how to get to a goal."

How it's going so far

Acacia introduced its new homework philosophy this fall, so teachers are five months into it.

Younger children have embraced it, but it's been more challenging for older students, Sonstegard said.

"It's hard for the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders," Sonstegard said. "They've had years of homework. They think there's no homework. There is homework."

Parents, meanwhile, have wondered whether their kids will be ready for middle school if they've never had traditional, graded homework.

Walker believes they'll be well-prepared.

"We have kids who are self-directed," she said. "They will know how they learn, where to spend their time."

At least one Acacia teacher had her own misgivings.

Crystal at first wondered whether the new approach would work with her daughter, a fourth-grader at Acacia. Her daughter used to hate homework, to the point where she'd hide it, Crystal said. She worried her daughter might treat the new approach as a free pass.

The opposite happened.

"She's doing more work now than she ever did with her packets," Crystal said. "She's reading more than she ever did, and the books she's reading are more challenging."

Crystal's daughter also has apparently absorbed the thinking behind the new homework philosophy.

Recently, she told her mother that she'd already mastered something, so practicing it "is not a good use of my time."

That thinking could be the foundation for the future of homework, Fraisse said.

"Change is going to happen," he said. "This is the age of technology where we can individualize it. Why should kids do 40 math problems when they've already mastered it? ... If it's more individualized, we don't have to fight it."

Homework poll

We recently conducted a poll asking parents how much homework their kids got. In the most recent results:

  • 63 percent said their kids got too much.
  • 32 percent said it was about right.
  • 5 percent said their kids didn't get enough.

Want to take the poll yourself? Go to http://bit.ly/2iG0AoB.

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Read or Share this story: http://www.vcstar.com/story/news/education/schoolwatch/2017/01/04/do-kids-need-homework-acacia-school/94733886/

From pro football to government, local leaders discuss how homework has played a role in their lives. JEAN COWDEN MOORE/THE STAR

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Alysson Giles, a first-grader at Acacia School in Thousand Oaks, shows her butterfly, Mr. Whoopsie, an at-home project she completed. The at-home projects have replaced homework for students at the elementary school.(Photo: DAVID YAMAMOTO/SPECIAL TO THE STAR)Buy Photo

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