"PDF" versus Homework

"PDF" is a new phrase out there - playtime, downtime and family time - that references the non-structured hours of a student's day.

What some researchers are finding is that today's student has far less of that free time than we did.  From the NY Times:

Higher-income children spend more time at school and activities than they once did, and have fewer opportunities to be with friends in an unstructured setting. 

Your children may not think they agree — young children are masters at “but Joey is doing karate and hockey and violin,” while ambitious teenagers may protest that they can handle an overwhelming load — but parents can’t take a child’s willingness to push the limits as a sign that they don’t need rest and recovery periods.
I recall talking to a friend's high school daughter - who had the most packed schedule I had ever seen - and I asked the daughter, "Do you ever lay on your bed and stare at the ceiling and think and daydream?"  Her reply?  "Who has time for that?"

Well, I did and in the words of great Beach Boys (In My Room):

There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room, in my room
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
In my room, in my room

Do my dreaming and my scheming
Lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing
Laugh at yesterday

Into this idea comes another idea - homework. Again, from the NY Times:

Last spring, when Public School 11, a prekindergarten through fifth-grade school in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, banned mandatory traditional homework assignments for children up to fourth grade, you might have expected universal acclaim. Rather than filling out worksheets, students were encouraged to read nightly, and a website offered tips for parents looking for engaging after-school activities.

Instead, war broke out among the parents. Those who wanted to keep homework accused the anti-worksheet group of trying to force through a policy supported by a select few. Some privately called the plan “economically and racially insensitive,” favoring families with time and money to provide their own enrichment.
Pro homework 
But parents with fewer means say the new policies don’t take into account their needs and time constraints, and leave them on their own when it comes to building the skills their children need to prepare for the annual state tests.

Con homework
 The focus for many anti-homework parents is what they see as the quality of work assigned. They object to worksheets, but embrace projects that they believe encourage higher-level thinking.

The Thinking
Researchers who study academic history said they were not surprised that debate over young children and homework had resurfaced now. Education and parenting trends are cyclical, and the nation is coming off a stress-inducing, federally mandated accountability push that has put standardized testing at the center of the national education debate.  

Alfie Kohn, the author of 14 education-related books, including “The Homework Myth,” is a leader in the anti-homework camp. In a recent interview, Mr. Kohn described homework as “educational malpractice” and “an extremely effective way to extinguish children’s curiosity.” He noted that nations like Denmark and Japan, which routinely outperform the United States on international math and science assessments, often gave their students far less homework.

Small amounts of enriching and age-appropriate homework in the early grades, he says, serves as a good way for parents to observe their children’s progress and to teach young people that learning doesn’t happen only inside a classroom. He calls parents who seek to abolish after-school work “homework deniers.”

The National Education Association and the National PTA have weighed in, suggesting that students get 10 minutes of homework per grade, starting in first grade — what educators sometimes refer to as the “10-minute rule.” 
 Thoughts? (Both on homework in general and what is happening at your school)


Anonymous said…
We gave up homework, other than reading, and our lives became so much better. Instead, we usually spend the time playing games which frankly is more challenging than the homework. Granted my kiddo is in first grade....
Outsider said…
When the Beach Boys sang that song about "In My Room", it was only partly about PDF. It was more about providing the soundtrack for America's moment of peak affluence. They sang about teenagers having their own rooms in the same spirit as having their own cars and the freedom to surf all day. The prior generation had small houses and big families, so one's own bedroom was an impossible luxury for most. Child labor was only restricted in the US in 1938, 25 years before the release of "In My Room." Irony is, the Wilson brothers themselves shared a room as boys. Their audience lived through the transition to where every middle class kid considered his own room to be a birthright. Nowdays perhaps they still do, though most have to make do with an iPhone rather than a car.

Which reminds me of the second irony here. Given unscheduled time, how many teenagers would gaze at the ceiling and daydream vs. immediately reach for a device and start gaming, snapchatting, instagramming, facebooking, or whatever the latest thing is? How many teenagers even know what a ceiling is? You might have to explain that it's the thing reflected dimly in the screen of the phone.

What I'm saying is -- the value of unstructured time remains unproven. The baby boomers were the first generation to have a lot of it, and they proceeded to become self-absorbed, drugged-out neurotics who ruined the world. Now the millenials and generation i use their unstructured time to get lost in a fake cyberworld if you're lucky, and black tar heroin if you're not. I'd say maybe we should reconsider that child labor thing, except now all these robots ... never mind.
Anonymous said…
High schoolers getting out of school at 3:50 will have much less time for staring at the ceiling. Or any down time at all.

Bummed about late start
Outsider, I think you took my example a bit too far. Of course, not all kids have their own room.

But actually, if you read the article, there is research on the value of downtime. And, I was not just speaking of teens but all K-12 kids.
Anonymous said…
The parent pushing the no-homework policy said they no longer battle over HW at home and her child spends time on "innovative software programs that enthrall him." And that's considered better? Maybe the previous homework wasn't so great, but the child isn't exactly getting out and running around - he's getting more screen time.

Another parent, without the means to supplement, hates it.

All thing in moderation - keep it worthwhile and manageable. The old SPS guideline of 10 minutes of HW per grade seemed about right. By 5th grade, 50 min of HW is not unreasonable and helps prepare students for the increasing expectations of MS/HS. One of my greatest regrets, though, was pressuring my child to do a teacher's weekly HW packet. Tears ensued. Only months later did I learn the teacher didn't even bother to check the work! It was just random busywork. We would have been better choosing our own materials (nonfiction reading, math exercises, etc.) to supplement what was a wasted year. Quality not quantity is the key, yes?

What's most interesting is the description of the outside projects elementary students completed in lieu of HW - they clearly had a significant amount of parent involvement, kind of what you see at some science fairs. Best reader comment: I loved it when I finally sent my boys to an all-boys Jesuit school where the (mostly male) teachers didn't expect them to go home and have their mom do a craft project with (for) them! lol

Anonymous said…
When expressing my concerns about lack of time to do homework with high school getting out so late, I saw a parent from another high school who posted often on this site who kept saying their child never had problems playing multiple sports, with a 3:15 release time, finishing their homework, getting great grades, being involved in other things, etc. I then spoke to a friend with a child from that same high school and learned her high school child has very little homework (same age as my child who averages at least 3 - 4 hours a night). It is interesting to me how 2 non option high schools in the same geographical area have such a different view on homework. If my child had less homework, I would not protest the 3:50 bell time nearly as much (still wouldn't like it, but it wouldn't cause as much stress in our household).

NE Mom of 3
Sandy said…
The amount of homework assigned varies dramatically from teacher to teacher and from school to school. And the same exact homework will take different kids different amounts of time to do.

One of my daughter's teachers assigned busy-work homework every night but also made sure to tell the parents who happened to meet with the teacher in person that the teacher had read research that homework didn't help students learn and so she didn't actually care if students did it or turned it in or not. Since it didn't make any difference in learning outcome. And yet she continued to assign it. And I don't think all the parents knew it was optional.
Anonymous said…
And so the gap will remain as those who can supplement will, while others are falsely led to believe their children are learning all they need to learn at school.

Tim said…
It's not just one gap. There are so many gaps in this town. The gap between not doing homework and doing homework. The gap between doing 2 hours of busywork that doesn't teach you anything and doing 2 hours of homework that really helps you have a breakthrough in understanding or mastering the concept. The gap between having a home to do homework in and having to do it in the back seat of a car. The gap between having a patient, highly educated adult around to ask for help while you do your homework or having to make it to the homework help lady at the library who is super nice but kind of condescending and weird. The gap between already knowing all of this year's material and therefore not seeing the point to doing any of the homework and constantly getting in trouble for not doing it and having just mastered a new skill in math that day and having the homework confirm that you totally get how to do this now. The gap between having to do your homework in club in the afternoon or after an hour long swim practice and soccer and then the sushi place is slow and it's super late before you even get a chance to start. And the gap between being dyslexic but nobody's noticed yet because their Amharic sucks and being dyslexic and having the resource room lady spot it right away. Or maybe your parents read you so many books out loud that no one notices your dyslexia until you're in 10th grade and people just assume the whole time you're not that bright, are you? The gap between how important homework is for a student who can't wait to be done with school and would never, ever, ever want to prolong the hell of school by going to community college and the student who has been dreaming of getting a research job at NASA since she was 7 and needs to get into a good college to fulfill her dream.

Every child is different. And there are so many different gaps. The most important one is really the gap between students who need supplementation and don't receive it from anywhere (not from school, not outside of school) and those who don't need any supplementation or get the supplementation they need.
I think that last paragraph nails it.
But I would add that there is no possible way for schools to bridge every single gap for students. Not for health, not for social-emotional, not for hunger, etc.

Fully-funding education would go a long way, though.
Audra said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Does giving HW in elementary school really teach students how to better manage HW in middle and high school? Or does it just make them dislike school? For my child, a nice, relaxing, more well-rounded and extracurricular-filled ES experience might have better paved the way for success in MS, when better able to adjust to new expectations. Is there research that shows ever-building HW levels are the best approach? Is it the fear of what happens in MS and HS that leads to pro-HW parents in ES?

Anonymous said…
The truth in my opinion lies in the fact that we are expecting so much more learning these days and without homework, it can't be done. With the expectation of mastery and four or five subjects a day for elementary kids, homework is just more school or the time to practice or learn from parents what can no longer be practiced or learned in school. Pare back the curriculum especially for K-2 kids. Doing fewer things well has its advantages and influences later on.

checking in

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