"Mr. Barton, I have some homework for you," said Alandra. "But I left it at home on the table."
"No problem," I answered. "Just bring it whenever you can."
I can say that now because I'm a reading interventionist. Homework isn't expected from me like it is from classroom teachers.
When I was a second-grade teacher, though, I hated giving homework. If you passed by my classroom you might have heard the cry, "Down with homework!" But it wouldn't have come from the students. It would have come from me.
This is why I appreciate an article by Alfie Kohn, "Rethinking Homework," which he wrote for Principal, the magazine of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. In the article, Kohn teaches us that over the past 25 years schools have given children more and more homework while evidence has shown the effects of that homework are less and less positive.
Kohn argues that the positive effects of homework on elementary and middle school students are nonexistent.
The arguments for homework are a part of conventional wisdom—that homework creates a link between school and family, that it reinforces what students were taught in class and that it teaches children self-discipline and responsibility. These arguments, Kohn says, are slogans that need to be challenged.
"Let's face it," Kohn says. "Most children dread homework, or at best see it as something to be gotten through. Thus, even if it did provide other benefits, they would have to be weighed against its likely effect on kids' love of learning."
That love of learning is what I hope to pass on to my students. I want the 32 students I serve to go home and yell, "Woohoo! I get to read and write today!"
Alandra is a case study for me this year. In August, I gave her a green folder to hold the stories we work on. "I won't give you any homework this year," I told her. "If you want, though, you can write a story, make a Venn diagram or read our classroom stories to your little brothers or sisters."
So she brought me her homework. It was a beautifully drawn and colored picture of a kingdom, a castle and a princess. Attached to it was a 200-word story she copied perfectly from a book and this letter she wrote to me.
We went to the bed and I said can you read a book and my Mom read the book. And the end we was sleep and bed. My Mom woke me up to go to school. And I love school. I read 44 times for read time. I am happy for read 44 times. I have a fun day. I like to be happy on school and home.
Why did she work so hard at home to do this voluntary homework? Why did she read the stories from my classroom 44 times? What makes her love school?
Maybe it's because the work was her idea. It wasn't a worksheet with an arbitrary story and 10 multiple-choice questions. It was work that came from her mind and heart and hands.
If my students are going to do homework, this is what I want to see. I can love this kind of homework. Woohoo!
Barton is an elementary school teacher in South Carolina.