Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tales of a 4th Grade Homework Assignment

I received this from a parent of a 4th grader the other day. This was the homework assignment one night for her child:

“Math 8-7 We never actually did work pages in class, so a review of the

lesson is probably going to be necessary before the quiz is taken. We did a

lot of hands on activities instead.

Reading literature book chapters 15-19 - book chat with buddy tomorrow

Writing - final copy of persuasive speech so practice of speech can happen

in front of the mirror to know what bullet points should go on 5 x 8 card

for Thursday/Friday presentation of snowman.”

If you asked many different parents and teachers their opinions of these assignments, I bet you would get many different responses ranging from – “this seems reasonable” to “this seems ridiculous.”

When I look at homework assignments two things come to mind. How long will it take my child to complete the homework, and is this homework really helping him learn or get excited about the things he is learning at school?

The first issue (time limits and quantity of homework) can be discussed with teachers. Even though many teachers will say that each child is different, and what takes one child 30 minutes to complete may take another child 3 hours, this doesn't have to be the end of the discussion.

As a parent, if you find yourself in a conference, phone call or email with a teacher discussing a situation where your child spends too much time on homework, be prepared for the above answer and have your response ready.

My suggestion is that you mention all of the other things your child could be spending his time on instead of homework – chores, cooking, play, reading for fun, walking the dog, sleep, sports, music, art, downtime, etc. – that are as important to your family as homework (or more important!).

Also arm yourself with the knowledge of your district’s homework policy and mention the time guideline to your child’s teacher if your child is regularly spending more time on homework than the policy suggests. Chances are the time limit issue can be somewhat resolved if the teacher is willing to work out an arrangement with you.

But, the bigger question here is – is this homework helping my child learn and/or get excited about what he/she is learning at school? So, this becomes as issue of quality of homework and teaching. And, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to talk to teachers about this. But, that doesn't mean you can't try.

In the above homework example it looks as if the teacher wants the parents to teach the math lesson to the child even though he says it’s a “review” yet he admits that they never actually did the pages in class. He also says they did a lot of “hands on” activities in class. This sounds like he is asking the parents to do the boring work at home with the kids because they only have time for the interesting activities in class.

What would you do in this situation? I would ask my 4th grade child what he did in math class that day and see if he retained anything from the activities. If he remembered the lesson, then he’s done and ready for the quiz, if not, I’d send the teacher an email politely saying that he didn’t remember the math lesson and would he/she mind re-teaching it? I would also politely ask the teacher if he/she routinely expects the parents to teach what he/she doesn’t have time to cover in class. If the answer is “yes,” then I’d send an email to the principal with my concerns.

In addition to this math work, the 4th grade child also had 5 chapters of reading due (in a book that was teacher selected), writing a final copy of a persuasive speech and practicing it, and working on a presentation for another day. It sounds like it will take most 4th graders more than the National PTA endorsed limit of 40 minutes for 4th graders to complete. And where is the time alloted for reading for pleasure?

The parent of this child told me that her other child, who is a senior in high school, regularly has less homework than her 4th grader!

So what else can you do as a parent when you see your child doing homework for too long, or doing homework that is uninspired or busywork? Arm yourself with the latest research on homework. There are many homework books and articles listed on my sidebar that are full of relevant information on homework for parents and teachers. Here's a quick link from The Case Against Homework: And here's an article from Alfie Kohn's website: Rethinking Homework. Or, send your teacher a link to my blog. Or, ask your teacher if they've seen the documentary Race to Nowhere.

Share these books and facts with others and keep talking with other parents. Once you’ve exhausted yourself talking with other parents, start having conversations with the teachers about your concerns. Even a polite email can do the trick. Or, a telephone conversation or conference is even better than email. Or, buy one of the homework books listed on this blog and give them to your child's teacher as a gift. It may spark a debate at school and get teachers to re-think accepted homework practices.

Ask other parents in your child's classes how they feel. If more than a couple of you feel the same about a homework assignment or teaching practice, have each of you email the teacher. One email about a particular homework issue can be ignored, but five emails from five different families about the same issue make an impact.

Sometimes, unfortunately, teachers become defensive when you approach them with homework concerns. When this happens, don't give up. It is okay to respectfully disagree and use that experience as a learning lesson to better prepare yourself for your next discussion with an educator.


  1. Wow, what a lot of work for a fourth grader!! My kids did not go to 4th grade here, but I have friends who have/had 4th graders and I hear nothing but horror stories about how much homework they have to do. Are we trying to turn our kids off school before they graduate elementary shcool? The reaction of most of the people I have talked to is that they end up helping or doing a great deal of their child's homework. While this may help short term (in a wierd sort of way), it is not the solution!! Kerry suggests some great ways of handling these situations with some long term results (hopefully). Talk to the teachers, principals etc and make a positive change in your children's eductional experiences!! They are afterall, your children!!!

  2. My son is in forth grade. He was top of the class from Kindergarten thrugh third grade. He is now at the bottom. He has tons of homeowrk per night and hates school! If he doesn't his homework, he has to stay in at recess. He's only missed one assingment and that is only because he didn't see it in his math notebook and told the teacher he didn't have it. I made sure he gave it to her and yet still had to stay in for recess. (this happened yesterday) No wonder we help with them homework! I will no longer volunteer for the school because I need to help my kids succeed instead. Guess who won't be making the Teacher Appreciation banner this year?

  3. oops sorry about all the typos.

  4. I am a furious advocate of rethinking homework. I
    would like to see it banned until teachers know how to use it. Until then, my mission is to inform educators of the rediculous inconsistencies in homework.

    Check me out at:

  5. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  6. this comments are wonderfull......helped me in a project....thanks for the information

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Great post ... Please keep writing ... Thanks for sharing ,...

    Homework Help | Assignment Help