Homework that WORKS!


A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal sent moms into a tizzy with the book review of the “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” At the time, the  story got more hits on their web site than any other ever had.  Talk about hitting a nerve.  Following were many rebuttals in defense of the “lazy Western moms.” What we really need is moderation.


The recent documentary “Race to Nowhere” points to many dangers of the “tiger” method.  One of the ones that is particularly concerning is that without the opportunity to play, kids are in danger of not learning critical thinking skills.

One of the points that was made in the documentary is that, for the most part, homework is ineffective. Yes, all of those hours spent with your child slaving over their latest assignment probably made very little positive impact on his or her learning. In fact, it has been demonstrated that increasing homework can actually have a detrimental effect on kid’s learning. Combine this with the other negative impacts, including added stress and family friction and you have to wonder–what are they thinking?

I am not completely against homework. In fact, I think that some assignments can provide an opportunity for great learning and increased bonding with family members. The problem is, the homework that is assigned typically does not take advantage of that opportunity.

Here is what I would assign:

Each week, elementary students would be required to:
*read 3 times with an adult (15 minute sessions)
*read 3 times independently (if they are able)
*play two board or card games with a family member or friend
*discuss two current events with an adult (5- 10 min)
*1 memorization activity (3-4 min, 5x per week) (for ex., multiplication tables)


First, this type of assignment encourages flexibility and the development of the executive brain functions. Executive functioning includes our ability to plan ahead. By creating “weekly” assignments, students can look ahead at their schedule and decide when it makes the most sense to complete the work. If they have swim lessons and a playdate on Tuesday, maybe they keep that night “homework free” and use Monday night more productively. It is funny to me that homework is often assigned during the week and not on weekends. For some, particularly those families with two working parents, the week nights are so hectic that they would welcome the homework on weekends instead when there is a bit more time to do it peacefully. This leads to the next reason.

Secondly, the assignments hit the number one most important factor in the lives of youth: adult/ child meaningful dialogue. Traditional homework sets a negative dynamic between parents and children. Parents nag their children to finish homework, often in a rush because they have too much to do in a short period of time. This continual negative interaction can be very detrimental to parent/ child relationships. Particularly in the age of so much media and so little time devoted to family interactions, homework assignments are the perfect means to foster this communication.

The assignments that I chose encourage parent/ child interaction, social language opportunities, critical thinking skills, reading, and memorization. I include the memorization because learning facts such as the multiplication tables are best done in small chucks, repeated daily. Our brains are not set to memorize large chunks of information, so this is best done at home in short periods. It also allows for more individualization, given that in a classroom a teacher might have students working at a number of different skill levels.

Teachers don’t like homework, most parents do not like homework, and students certainly don’t like homework. However, it is not that we need to get rid of homework, we need to change the type of homework that is given.




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