The Great Homework Jam

Last year, when he was in Grade 4, my son got a lot of homework.  Every week, there were spelling words: alphabetize on Monday, write out the words five times each on Tuesday, define on Wednesday, use in a sentence and study on Thursday, test on Friday.  There were also two weekly journal assignments (one to two paragraphs each), one or two days with math homework, and regular larger projects to be completed at home (four novel studies over the year, science and social studies projects).  In addition to these, there was independent reading every night.  It added up to at least an hour of homework a night, and parents had to sign off in the student agenda that the work had been done.

This year, there is no regular homework.  There are no spelling tests.  His teacher prefers all written work to be done at school so that he has an accurate sense of what the students are capable of without extra help.  They write daily journal entries in class first thing each morning.  They are expected to read independently at home each night.  I haven’t signed his agenda yet this year.

I know lots of parents who prefer this year’s model, but I am not so sure. 

My son aced his weekly spelling tests last year.  Except when he didn’t study.  The results were not so stellar those weeks, and those weeks were rare because I was usually the one to remind him to study and then to quiz him on his words.  After all, I had to sign off that he had studied in this agenda.  At the end of the year, he was able to see for himself how much his writing had improved in his journal.  Homework, at least that kind of homework, produced measurable results.

I liked those results, but they meant a big effort from me, too.  His homework would not have been completed if I wasn’t the one to insist that it be done.  I think he would quite happily have lived with the consequences of incomplete homework himself.  I pushed him to be more inventive with his writing, to strive for more than the pat answer.  I pointed out his spelling mistakes and asked him to correct them.  I made sure that he knew his spelling words by quizzing him.  Not doing the homework was never an option. 

This year, when we found out that his teacher would not assign homework, I was a little relieved.  He’s involved in four sports (hockey 3-5 times a week, swimming, football 2-3 times a week, and softball).  There simply isn’t the same amount of time in which to complete homework.  I don’t know where we would jam in an hour or more a day.  (Luckily, reading before bed is so established as a routine, that it does not factor into the equation anymore, and I still read aloud to him and his brother.)

But then there are those measurable results….  I did not want to lose ground with the measurable results. 

In lieu of formal assignments from his teacher, I told my son that I’d like him to do journal entries at home, as well as a weekly spelling list of 10 words from the book we are reading together or from mistakes I’ve seen him make in other contexts.  To my mind, weekly study works, and if the teacher does not make it part of the curriculum, I will.  (I like what I’ve seen so far from his teacher, so I’m not knocking the lack of spelling tests.  He just does not make it part of his curriculum.)  I think spelling is important, and, as boring as it may be, it cannot be learned without repetition and study.  He’s fine with the spelling tests, but balked at the journal entries.  We compromised by agreeing that he would bring home his journal from school so that I could see the quality of what he’s doing in class.  If it appears to be below what we know to be his best ability, he will have to start writing at home too.  (I was actually really proud of him for coming up with a way to get out of mom-assigned homework!)  I imagine the spelling work will take 15 minutes a day at most, and, believe it or not, he’s looking forward to it.  He likes drills and quizzes.

Does this make me a helicopter parent?  I don’t think so.  I think it makes me a parent who values strong literacy skills and will make the effort to do a little bit each day to reinforce those skills.  Would I prefer not to have to do it on my own initiative?  Yes.  But the buck stops here, and if I value strong writing skills, I have to be the one to make sure those skills are reinforced.  As long as it is not agony for either of us, this is what we’ll do.

And 15 minutes should be an easier chunk to jam in somewhere between football and hockey….

2 thoughts on “The Great Homework Jam

  1. Pingback: Homework? Okay. Busywork? No. « 4 Mothers

  2. This message is for Nathalie Foy. My name is Cynthia Reynolds and I’m writing an article for Maclean’s magazine about dilemmas parents face with homework. I was hoping to speak with you about your experience (I’m also sending a note to your colleague Marcelle Cerny). I have a very tight deadline though–I would have to speak with you either today or over the weekend (Monday morning at the very latest). The interview would probably take about 15-20 minutes. Thanks! Cynthia

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