Homework: Harmful or Helpful?

Some interesting thoughts on homework:


The homework debate has been raging for many decades, with no end in sight.  On one hand there are the proponents of homework who swear by its benefits and efficacy, and on the other hand we have the detractors who would like schools to end the practice of giving homework to students.  Among the proponents there is also the burning question of just how much homework should be given to students. Parents, educators, students and indeed the general public have all been deeply divided over the homework issue for a long time.  It seems as though the numbers of detractors are slowly growing.  Some schools in the United States and elsewhere have a no homework policy.  The French president Francois Hollande proposed a no homework policy last year in his plans for educational reform.  His rationale being that students do not have a level playing field when it comes to…

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Teach Kids to Use the Four-Letter Word – Grit


JANUARY 16, 2014

I recently began to use a certain four-letter word in my classroom. The kind of word that most teachers wouldn’t dare say, not unless they wanted to raise eyebrows among colleagues, supervisors and parents. But I use it freely. And loudly. Now my students say it, too — when they struggle with a worksheet, strike out on the ball field, fumble with the final strokes of an art project. Some of them have even taught the four-letter word to younger siblings at home.

“Grit.” A four-letter word that every teacher and student should know and use.

The “Other” Common Core

Haven’t heard of grit? You’re hardly alone. In an educational culture consumed by grading, ranking and incentivizing (think No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top), the learning landscape has become overgrown with performance standards that leave little room for anything but high-stakes testing. Don’t get me wrong — I’m no apologist for accountability. I don’t dislike grades. In fact, I’d love for our community classrooms to run just a bit more like corporate boardrooms. If you can’t measure something, you can’t change it. As my fellow Dallasite Mark Cuban once quipped, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

But along with the new standards and value-added evaluations, educators shouldn’t drop their focus on the “other” common core — the habits and mindsets that, when effectively nurtured and carefully monitored, form the basis of a richer learning experience. Today’s classrooms are notorious for handing students the basic skills to live in the world while denying them the strength of character to transform it. We teach kids to memorize, drill, spit back and move on. But what happens when they can’t move on, when the answers are elusive? Can we prepare students to deal with the inescapable disappointment, frustration and hair-pulling that is a part of learning and life itself? William Butler Yeats said that education isn’t about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. And it is this “total education,” complete with lessons on humility, hard work and resilience, that ultimately writes the script for a child’s long-term success. It’s not about grades. It’s about grit.

Sustained Interest and Growth Mindset

Developing grit isn’t a new concept (character education has surfaced in many schools for decades), but it’s become a lot less squishy thanks to important research that helps explain why some students fail — and why others succeed.Angela Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, studied (among others) the performance of West Point cadets during basic training. She discovered that the most powerful predictor of success — acceptance into the academy — was grit. Duckworth calls grit “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” Applied to learning, grit would be summoned every time students stare down a challenge, persist through adversity, or refuse to quit after failing to reduce a fraction — for the fifth time.

Duckworth’s research is heir to the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweckon mindsets. Believing that we can succeed even after suffering repeated setbacks (what Dweck calls a “growth mindset”) can actually re-wire our brains — and rewrite our fortunes. Students who show grit absolutely reject the notion of remaining still. They push and scratch past roadblock after roadblock. In their supercharged efforts to drive further ahead, grit is the grease, and mindsets are the engine.

3 Ways to Teach Grit

How can we teach grit when all students want to do is quit? Here are a few battle-tested suggestions to help kids reach deeper and aim higher.

Powerful Words

Dweck demonstrates the power of “process-driven” language on student behavior. By shifting the focus of our feedback to effort as opposed tooutcome, we leave students with the feeling that their best is yet to come. Instead of praising Johnny’s top mark, applaud his diligent study habits. Or the way Sarah worked through a particularly difficult passage in the text. This kind of process-driven feedback works for setbacks, too. Consider the sweet potential behind that tiny disclaimer “yet.” There’s something stunningly honest and uplifting about telling a child that a goal hasn’t been mastered . . . yet. Keep at it. You’re almost there — not yet — but soon.

Weekly Reflection Journals

Every Friday, my students cap a week of learning with self-rating journal entries like “Something New I Learned” or “This Week’s Memorable Moment.” To test their grit, I’ve added a new prompt: “Something I Struggled With.” In this small space, there is both a mirror and a window. Students look into the mirror and admit a shortcoming. Teachers look through a window and perceive an opportunity. I’m still amazed by how honestly students answer this prompt. Their responses are raw, unfiltered — and revealing. A cheeky student once showed me his journal. The entry for “struggle” was left blank. “I didn’t struggle with anything this week!” he crowed. I handed the journal back, along with a deeper prompt: “Maybe you struggle with the fact that you think you don’t struggle!”

Community Meetings

Finally, create a forum for class-wide discussion about grit at community meetings. These are scheduled, relaxed opportunities for students to sound off on issues affecting their class and their world. Frame the gathering with a news item (for older students) or a telling cartoon (for younger students) geared toward grit, and give them time to process it before they convene. At the meeting, encourage a conversation about why grit mattered — and why it should matter to them.

It won’t be easy. Kids grow tired, weary from effort. So do their teachers. To bring change, we press on, filled with determination. And grit.

Most Teens Aren’t Active Enough, And it’s Not Always Their Fault

February 03, 2014 

Members of the Jr. Peewee Gators do a drill during an early-season practice for Pop Warner football on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Gainesville Sun /Landov

Sure, you think, my kid’s on a football team. That takes care of his exercise needs, right? Probably not.

“There are these bursts of activity,” says Jim Sallis, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “But if you think about it, one hour of playing football out on the field means that the vast majority of that time is spent standing around waiting for the next play.”

And that’s a problem, federal health officials say, because children need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.


“We know that physical activity in childhood strengthens your bones, increases your muscle mass,” says Tala Fakhouri, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It also has effects on psychological well-being in kids and teens. It increases their capacity for learning, their self-esteem and it may also help them deal with stress.”

The findings are worrisome in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic, Sallis says. There’sincreased evidence that children who are overweight are more likely to be obese as adults.

But just one in four young teenagers between ages 12 and 15 actually get that one hour of exercise every day, Fakhouri says. She analyzed federal health data gathered from 800 teenagers in 2012.

While kids may be active in childhood, it’s typical to see a decline as they move into their teen years. “We know, for example, that sedentary behaviors like watching TV are the single biggest contributor to physical inactivity in adolescence,” Fakhouri says.


But it’s not that teenagers no longer enjoy sports.

In the study, teenage boys said their favorite physical activities outside of gym class were basketball, running, football, bicycling and walking. Girls favored running, walking, basketball, dancing and bicycling.

Most studies of physical activity find boys more active than girls, and this one was no different. It found that 27 percent of boys and 22.5 percent of girls got the recommended one hour of exercise daily. That includes gym class, organized activities and play.

There's a reason she's out there all alone. Children worldwide are spending less time on sports and active play and more time with TVs and video games.


It’s not necessarily teenagers’ fault that they’re not more active, researchers say.

Parents worry about safety when their kids go outside. They worry about bullying from other kids and crime in urban neighborhoods. Sallis adds that a surprising number of parents are concerned about traffic. “They don’t want their kids to go out because traffic is so bad. There’s no safe place to cross the street,” he says.

But organized classes or teams aren’t the only option.

Families can make small changes in their schedule to build in more exercise, Fakhouri says. “You can take a long walk after dinner. You can take your dog on long walk. Play basketball, dance together.”

And with many schools reducing or cutting out PE, Sallis says parents may have to put pressure on the schools, too.

“Look at what’s happening in PE,” Sallis says. “If they’re not going out at all or very much, complain about that. If you see PE class and it’s not very active, inform the principal that that’s not acceptable.”

Bottom line: Physically active kids become physically active adults. And that’s another critical reason, Sallis says, to help your kids get out and get moving.