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Curious Conferences and Study Time Gone Rabid

Т  Т  Where I teach–a community school in Columbus, OH–we have a curious way of conducting conferences. The student and their parent / guardian(s) go to a classroom at a pre-arranged time and then the educators and intervention specialists hustle from room to room in an attempt to engage in a communal dialogue about the student’s learning and academic progress.
This used to work quite well, but our school has doubled in size since I started teaching fours years ago. It’s fantastic to expand, to acquire new spaces that facilitate student activities and performances, and to allow an increase in the number of students we can help feel both safe and stretch toward self-actualization. But, this year I had more conferences than ever and when double (or triple) booked or if our discussions ran over, I was forced to excuse myself and head to another conference. I suppose a school’s growth can sometimes mean changing traditions and altering some ways we conduct business; this is both exciting (in the sense we get to try something new) and slightly painful because change and adaptation often take us out of our comfort zones.
So, in part, this post is about our unique Parent–Teacher–Student Conferences and how change is inevitable–but we know all of this by now. So, I wonder: how does your school conduct conferences? (Please let me know if you have interesting or unusual ways of working with parents and students to provoke intellectual and personal expansion.)

I also wanted to discuss the appropriate amount of time an educator should suppose a student has to spend on their studies at home in the evening. I bring this up now because during a conference once a colleague suggested to a student that they spend “an hour and half / two hours studying” for this required class. This number seemed high to me and I wondered if it were an improbable objective for most students to reach.
A “survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers found … that high school teachers on average assign about 3.5 hours of homework each week. For high school students who typically have five classes with different teachers, that could mean as much as 17.5 hours each week. By comparison, the survey found middle school teachers assign about 3.2 hours of homework each week and kindergarten through fifth grade teachers assign about 2.9 hours each week.”
By way of comparison, “a 2011 study from the National Center for Education Statistics found high school students reported spending an average of 6.8 hours of homework per week, while a 1994 report from the National Center for Education Statistics – reviewing trends in data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress – found 39 percent of 17-year-olds said they did at least one hour of homework each day” (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/02/27/students-spend-more-time-on-homework-but-teachers-say-its-worth-it”).
The above statistics–if accurate–don’t seem too out of line with what a student could aspire to accomplish in most situations if they so desired (and only if they so desired). However, if all educators thought a given student should spend “an hour and a half / two hours studying” for their class and if each student had around six or seven classes per day, I would imagine we would have a lot of exhausted and resentful young people in our schools (and I think we do have that, mainly because I have eyes and ears).
Now that I am a parent of school age children, the idea of my younglings spending an hour and a half on each subject each night at home horrifies me. Counting dinner, family time, personal hygiene, athletic / performance practice or work–on top of an hour and half of homework per content area per night– and unwinding time, when does a young adult have time to make their own choices and do what they want to do? Is is possible we have so many young people unable to make and practice sound decision making because much of their lives come pre-packaged and pre-scheduled by all the adults in their life?
If educators across our nation would take a moment to reflect on the above, I can’t in good conscience see how they could reach any other consensus than: we sometimes give too much homework and expect more studying at home than is healthy. If you’re an educator and think I’m in err, I’m willing to bet the red pen I never use that you don’t have school age children and / or mistakenly think rigor equals more assigned stuff. A half hour per subject per night should be the maximum amount of time allowed for a required course, and even that–for me–is too high.
I want my children reading (what they want, when they want). I want my children playing (which is learning, see:Т http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=9NFIuO7WrdwC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=play+learning+education&ots=DOF6WS7IYG&sig=_VQ6VPSQBXKgUCPuz3uVpVPu5Yg#v=onepage&q=play%20learning%20education&f=false); I want my children choosing their own experiences (with my guidance when needed), and I want my children to practice spending the time they have alive in their own personal way free of the command and control structure of school and authoritarian parenting. If I want this for my children, shouldn’t I want this for my students, too?

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