The homework question

April 30, 2014


Photo Credit: Anna Lis

Sometimes armed with a fresh cup of coffee, students plow through their studies to attempt to complete their homework on time.

Along with the installment of several “No Homework Days” throughout the school year, the Glen Rock community has begun to ask: how much work is really beneficial to a student?

Thursday morning begins for James Antolino (’16) by waking up early in the morning to go to his lift session for the high school football off-season.

Antolino said, “Sometimes, I get up as early as 5:30 AM. You need to get up a little while before so that your body is awake by the time you begin lifting.”

Antolino had to prepare all of his clothes and get ready to leave for the school by 6:10 AM. He had little time to eat anything before the time had arrived to leave.

He finally got to the school at roughly 6:15 AM. He had time for just a quick stop at his locker, before Antolino headed towards the locker room. As he walked in, some of his teammates were prepping and he joined them. Although it’s only 6:20, Antolino has already been awake for just about an hour. When he gets to the back of the locker room, the music is playing loudly in a desperate attempt to awake the zombie-like kids.

When 6:30 AM arrives, the football players meet their coaches inside the weight room across the hall. He begins his lifting for the day with a warm-up to fully prep his body for an entire day of functioning.

At 7:30 AM, The team wraps up their lift and showers within the span of a few minutes. The team must shower, get dressed, and stop at their lockers to gather their belongings. Even as they start to shower, the first bell is only 10 minutes away — they have to dry off, get ready, and then focus on the long academic day ahead of them.

“It is important that we get showered up, get ready for class, and get focused,” Antolino said.

Back in early April, Antolino was thinking of much more than weight lifting.

“Long school days coming up with a lot of stuff going on. Since it is the end of the marking period, we do not have a lot of time for anything. In every class we’re doing something whether it is doing a worksheet or it’s working in a group doing a lab, there’s really no time off,” he said. “Most students are giving it their all at the end of the marking period because they want to finish off strong.”

Yet in between the weight lifting and the school work, its a struggle to find a moment to catch up for the young athlete.

It’s 11:30 AM when Antolino finally makes it to lunch. He has to finish up the last of his math homework after he finishes eating. When he does so, he takes the remainder of the period to rest because it’s extremely difficult to operate on just a few hours of sleep, and he still has four classes to finish before he attends his lacrosse practice.

After the ninth and final period of the day ends, many athletes have to head straight to practice or their game following school. Antolino and a fellow sophomore, Eamon Morley, both play lacrosse as well as football. They said that they generally do not get home until roughly 7:00 o’clock.

Morley said, “I usually have a lot of homework, and now I have lacrosse until seven o’clock everyday, so I have practically no time to get my homework done. A good compromise that would make students have less homework but still continue to practice with the material they are working on in school… [it] would be to start that night’s homework in class. I mean, kids have a lot of things going on after school. Homework on weekends is one thing, because they have time to get it done, but a ton of homework during the week does not make sense.”

With the mounting stress from different areas of their lives, students as a whole have begun to feel the pressure to keep up — athletically and academically.

James Antolino, who is also in an Honors US History class, said, “When I get home from lacrosse, it is generally 7:30 PM. I need to shower and then eat dinner. Eating dinner is really important because, when I get home, I’m really fatigued and usually on an empty stomach. Once I finish, it’s at least 8:30 PM, and at that point I have been up for fifteen and a half hours — and still counting.”

Out of ten students surveyed on how much homework they have, 90% said that they have at least an hour per night. Antolino said, “Yeah, I’m usually up pretty late doing my work, and sometimes, it is just impossible to finish that late. I may need to finish something up in school, and, occasionally, I have to go into school late the next day to either catch up on rest or to finish up some work left over from the night before.”

Since homework is such a widespread activity and allegedly over-assigned, its usefulness is difficult to determine. Yet teachers plans are not easy to change. Along with no homework days, assemblies, and fire drills (out of the blue), many interruptions can screw up the plans a teacher had intended to do during class.

A junior at Glen Rock High School and employee at Back Yard Living in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Mark Casella, said, “Homework is only beneficial to learning in classes such as Spanish or Math because you need practice to learn it. In other classes, it’s most likely not going to help you.”

“Homework should not be…” he said, “What you do in class is more important to learning what you need.”

Jessica Lahey, a writer for The Atlantic wrote a story last December reporting on the rising levels of cheating among high school students. According to her article ‘I Cheated All Throughout High School,’ “sixty to seventy percent of high-school students report they have cheated. Ninety percent of students admit to having copied another student’s homework.”

Casella also said, “I mainly have at least one hour per night. That is not including many higher-level classes or any practice for the SAT or ACT. On top of that, I generally work most days throughout the week for at least a couple hours. Also, many students are involved in clubs throughout the week, and this leaves little to no room for free time until the weekends. The weekends are usually pretty short because they are spent trying to recover from the week which contains minimal relaxation time.”

Leslie Crawford, a writer for Great Schools, wrote an article attempting to find the usefulness of homework for students of all ages.  In the paragraph subtitled Less Is Often More, she wrote: “If your child is dutifully doing her work but still burning the midnight oil, it’s worth intervening to make sure she gets enough sleep. Recent studies suggest that proper sleep may be far more essential to brain and body development.”

On the other hand, teachers acknowledge the benefits of homework and accountability.

Mr. Toncic, an English teacher at Glen Rock High School, said, “I think that targeted homework can be extremely beneficial to students. The point of homework is to take something that [students] learn in one place and to make them then apply it in another place. It is very important that they are able to transfer that knowledge from one location to another and one set of circumstances into something else.”

When asked about whether he thinks homework should be graded or not, Mr. Toncic responded, “Yes. There needs to be accountability. If it were not graded, some students would continue to do their work, but other students need the motivation to keep up with their work.”

Eamon Morley, one of Mr. Toncic’s students, said, “Homework helps you a lot if you do it, but it depends what class it is in. Homework should be only being graded in certain subjects. For example, math homework should probably be graded because you need practice, but for English class, homework does not really need to be graded. Homework should still be checked though, because students need to know if they are correctly applying the information, and if they are processing what they are being taught in class.”

“When students are copying homework, the student that actually does it, and does it well, is getting all of the practice, and they are usually the ones that are doing well in school,” Morley said.

Morley explained that students occasionally write “randomness” on their work to make it appear to be done, even if it had not been completed before their classes.

That does not mean that this effort is fool-proof, according to one teacher.

“I think it is a lot easier to tell when a student copies or fabricates their homework than they would like to think, although I would say that there is nothing that a teacher can do to make a student do his or her work. Ultimately, it has to come from the student. In an attempt to keep students practicing, we try to make the assignments interesting but still meaningful and impactful to them,” Mr. Toncic said.


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