4th Grade Homework Will Be The Death Of Me

I’m going to flunk first grade, there’s too much homework.

We still have more than a month of school left and I don’t think I can take it!

Technically, it's not my homework. It's my first grade daughter's homework. To accomplish it, I have to sit with her, read the list of homework tasks for the week, break it into steps and help her stay focused enough to complete it. 

She (and I) would rather be . . .

. . . playing, reading, napping (okay, that’s just me,) running outside, swinging outside, . . . 

Can you relate? I feel like it's up to me to "sell" the homework in order to get it done and frankly, I'm just over it.

Did you know that some preschoolers even get homework? And according to Edutopia, many middle and high school students are getting four to eight hours of homework. 

When are kids supposed to have downtime, free playtime, creative time, outside time, and time to do activities outside of school? Not to mention a good night's sleep?

Here's the interesting thing -- I looked up the research on homework and it's very contradictory. See for yourself. It's hard to draw a conclusion from the research. I can just conclude from common sense that . . . well, I'll tell you in a second. Keep reading.

The Case For Homework

  1.  More homework increases academic achievement. (Cooper, 1989a; Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006) ASCD
  2.  Homework develops good study habits. (Cooper, 1989a; Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006) ASCD

The Case Against Homework

  1. Busy-work homework is not helpful to student achievement.
  2. There’s no evidence showing early elementary homework is beneficial. (Cooper, 1989a; Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006)
  3. Homework is detrimental to student achievement and makes children depressed. (Australian Institute of Family Studies following 10,000 students.)
  4. Too much homework affects a child’s sleep; lack of sleep lowers brain functions. (Wolfson, 1998) 

Homework Recommendations from Research

  1. Too much homework is not effective. (Give less.)
  2. 5 to 10 minutes per subject might be appropriate for 4th graders, whereas 30 to 60 minutes might be appropriate for college-bound high school students.”
  3. Homework, when assigned, should be related to school work and meaningful. See Daniel Pink and Kathleen Cushman’s recommendations below.
  4. Consider a child’s age and home activities when assigning homework.

Exerpted from Edutopia -->Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, asks teachers to consider homework assignments through these three questions:

  1. Does the assignment give your students autonomy? (Do they get to decide how and when to do the work?)
  2. Does it promote mastery of a skill by offering an engaging task?
  3. Will students understand and believe in the overall purpose of the assignment?

Kathleen Cushman, researcher and author of Fires in the Mind, What Kids Can Tell us About Motivation and Mastery, asks teachers to consider these questions when assigning homework:

1. Does this homework ask each student to practice something that the student hasn’t yet mastered?
2. Does the student clearly see its purpose?
3. When students are asked to repeat or rehearse something, does it require them to focus? Or can they do it without really paying attention?

As for me, I'm not in favor of so much homework. Here's why . . .

As a 5th grade teacher, I assigned homework very rarely. Kids who used their time in class wisely hardly ever had homework. That left them free to do sports, play, read, and have some down time. Did I have any trouble keeping my kids achievement high? Never. My students worked hard in class and didn't need more than those seven hours. 

As a parent, I want my child to have unstructured play time - which research clearly says is critical for creativity and brain development. I want my child to be able to get lots of sleep. I want my child to have a nutritious dinner with the family. I want my child to read books for fun. And, I want my child to have the time to take classes, play an instrument, and / or do sports if she wants. School gets my kid for almost eight hours. Can't I have the four after school? 

I think less amount and more meaningful homework just makes good sense.

What about you?

What They Learn | How Kids Learn

What They Learn in Fourth Grade

The Basics
In fourth grade children take on new types of work and social experiences, and for some, these can be tough. Fourth graders may struggle to follow the many directions and long-range planning that their school assignments require. They have to collaborate with their peers on group projects, which can be stressful in the charged social dynamics that emerge in fourth grade. Students will probably have a textbook for each subject, as well as multiple folders, all of which can present organizational challenges (plus heavy backpacks). The work gets harder and they need to manage it more independently — that includes homework assignments in multiple subjects, as well as keeping track of those assignments and tasks.

Language & Literacy
Books, books, and more books fill the curriculum as fourth graders become sophisticated readers. They can use root words (words that are the basis for other words, such as “act” in “action”), context clues (looking for clues in the surrounding text and images in the story), and word endings to figure out new words. They’ll spend long periods of time reading and writing on their own. Teachers introduce genres such as myths and legends, fantasy and adventure. Fourth graders relate characters and other story elements to their own lives, and empathize with the characters most like them.

Fourth graders begin to use research tools, such as a dictionary, encyclopedia, library and the Internet, to gather information independently on a topic. Most importantly, they start to learn to organize this information into paragraphs, essays, projects, and presentations that help students synthesize their learning — although their work is appropriately far from “perfect.” They develop a writing style where their personality comes through as well as skills to help them edit their work.

Fourth graders read, write, compare, add, subtract, multiply, and divide with very large whole numbers. They do more equations with fractions and decimals and learn about prime numbers (numbers that can only be divided by themselves and 1). They solve problems about factors (one of two or more numbers that can be multiplied) and multiples (a number that can be divided exactly by a smaller number) and explore geometry formulas for determining perimeter and area, and for measuring angles. Fourth graders figure out conversion problems, such as determining the number of minutes in an hour, or ounces in a pound. They not only read graphs, tables, and charts but should be able to create them from data they’ve collected.

Fourth graders begin to compare complex systems in a complex manner. This can mean looking at changes in the Earth over long periods of time, observing the water cycle, or understanding the interactions between organisms and their environment. Students work on projects that ask them to build hypotheses and make predictions. Science topics may include matter and its different states, forms of energy, and the solar system.

Social Studies
Fourth grade social studies typically moves from learning about the local community to the history of the students’ home state. Students will learn about the first people to live in the area, explore changes in state populations over time, and how different people and cultures have adapted to and influenced the state. They’ll learn to place major events in the state’s history in chronological order. Local and state government structure will be introduced, and students will learn about the government offices responsible for making, enforcing, and interpreting state laws.

How Kids Learn in Fourth Grade

Finding a Niche
Fourth graders straddle two worlds. In one world, they may be advanced and independent learners who can use their new abilities to express themselves in exciting ways. In the other, they may be dramatic worriers who have a hard time managing all the work that is expected of them.

Fortunately, fourth graders begin to find their academic niche. They prefer to spend time doing things that interest them where they have the most confidence in their abilities. Strong readers will be extremely interested in reading books in genres or subject areas that excite them. They often devour book series like bags of chips.

Teachers who work well with fourth graders take them seriously — and work to keep their interests alive.

Fourth graders are also finding their social niche, but competitive feelings may interfere with the learning process. Cultural and socioeconomic differences become more apparent to children, who may begin to group accordingly. Students who have trouble understanding a difficult topic may be afraid to ask for help for fear of looking less smart than their peers, others may not participate for fear of looking too smart. “This is a very typical response for children of this age,” says Linda Lendman, M.S.W, family coordinator at the Rand School in Montclair, New Jersey. “Fourth graders are overly concerned about peer responses and need to be encouraged to continue to ask questions. They need to be reminded that smart people ask questions, and that it is the best way to learn.”

The Social Challenge of Fourth Grade
Fourth graders are more socially sophisticated and outspoken than their parents were at the same age. As a group, girls today start puberty earlier than they did in the past, with some getting their periods by age nine. Many children show off the “hip teen” attitude they pick up from pop culture at a time when their parents were still playing with toys.

Fourth grade can be a year packed with social dilemmas. “Every day, I work with groups of girls who are angry with other groups of girls,” says Lendman. “There’s a lot of drama, they’re hormonally charged, and living in a more sophisticated culture. But they are only nine and things can still feel overwhelming to them. The good news is that many kids want to work issues out. They can learn to improve their communication skills with the support of adults and structured social emotional learning programs.”

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