Posted in general education, mind, more seeds

What’s Your Take on Homework?

The Homework Controversy

Each year, about this time, teachers all over ponder whether or not to give homework, what kind they will send home, and what they will do with the homework when it comes back.

There are many arguments in favor of regular homework or practice in sharpening skills, and teaching responsibility. On the other hand, practitioners and experts see homework as something that doesn’t always do what we’re hoping it to do.

http://allkidscanlearn.school.blog
homework
The research shows that homework that previews new skills and concepts, practices them and extends the learning of them is correlated with increased academic performance. {Image Credit: (c) 2017, Kim M. Bennett}

Homework: Pros and Cons

Summary of the Research

Benefits

The research above points out the following benefits of homework:

  1. practice of learned skills
  2. preparation for new skills
  3. extending the learning outside the classroom
  4. time spent on homework positively correlated with increased academic gains

The authors caution that care should be given to the amount and type of homework relative to the child’s age, as well as the amount of time that should be dedicated to homework. Some researchers state that a positive correlation does not imply causality: in other words, because the grades of students increase along with the time spent on homework doesn’t mean it’s the homework that caused it. For example, students who spend a lot of time on homework and get good grades might also be students who can read well independently, or whose homes have parents who read and can assist with homework. In these cases, it’s not the amount of homework that causes the increased grades: it’s the focus on literacy in those homes that leads to both the time on homework AND the grades.

http://allkidscanlearn.school.blog
homework
To be effective for preview, practice and extension of classroom learning, homework should be a level that the child can complete independently. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

Draw-backs

The above articles also mention several drawback of homework, as typically implemented in schools:

  1. source of stress for children and their families
  2. often exceeds child’s ability to complete independently
  3. often requires a great deal of parental teaching/re-teaching to complete
  4. when not completed, often graded in a way that punishes students who otherwise demonstrate mastery of the content (e.g., by scoring high on the exam)
  5. varies from teacher to teacher in the same program
  6. takes away from other positive home activities (e.g., meals, outdoor exercise, hobbies)
  7. takes too long
  8. involves child carrying too many materials back and forth to and from school
http://allkidscanlearn.school.blog
homework
Homework, as a tool, needs to be balanced with other activities that are also associated with positive learning outcomes: family dinners, independent literacy activities, outdoor exercise, and “brain breaks.” {Image Credit: (c) 2009, Kim M. Bennett}

My Spin on Homework

PSA: What follows in this section is NOT a professional opinion on the value of homework. It is my own experience, as a mom and a teacher, with homework.

Homework, Through My Mom Eyes

As a mom, I have a love/hate relationship – ok, maybe a “warm regards”/hate relationship – with homework. On the one hand, I liked seeing what my children were working on in school. We would often have dinner table conversations about the topic, which all of my kids ()and we, parents!) found fun and helpful in building background knowledge. Because I am a teacher, I was able to use a variety of strategies for re-teaching, should my child have difficulty, which I could see from the homework he brought home. I could also communicate with the classroom teacher (and did, regularly) via notes I wrote directly on the homework paper.

On the other hand, I sat through arguments, tears, anger and frustration with children who were smart boys, but who did not know how to do the work they brought home. Whether he was fooling around during the lesson, pulled out for band rehearsal, absent the day it was taught, or simply didn’t understand the concept or skill, didn’t matter – he didn’t know what to do! Sometimes, I helped him. But I grew to expect that his classroom teacher would see that he didn’t know how to do something, or would at least communicate to me that he was struggling, and started to write notes to the teacher. Often, I would diagnose and TELL them what to work on: “{Honey-buns] doesn’t understand this. Could you please work with him on place value when multiplying decimals?” “This project is too big for [Baby-cakes] to plan. Can you split it up into weekly and daily assignments for him? Thank you.” It’s not that I couldn’t do these things: it’s that someone else (the teacher) was being paid to do this. AND if homework is supposed to be practice, preparation or extension of learning, then there’s no reason my child should be tormented trying to do it – it should be INDEPENDENT!

At other times, with two of my squirrelly-er boys, I would draw a line across the page and say, “He worked on this for 30 minutes and I sent him outside to play because he needed to play.” Sometimes, I would write, “We had an unexpected house guest and were gathering together as a family.” To me, research also shows the benefits, especially with young children, of outdoor activities, exercise and participation in family activities. I usually would have these two boys play FIRST, then do homework after dinner when I was right there and they got all their sillies worked out.

At still other times, I would watch my child whip through work that was far beneath him. For example, if my child is getting services for gifted and talented in math, why is he bringing home a stack of addition facts papers to work on? (As a teacher, I meet with the student, discuss how I already know he knows how to do this, then write “OMIT” and initial it, in the child’s view. If I need to, I have a parent sign it).

I don’t even want to discuss projects. I will never assign projects for home completion. I was resentful (every time) when one of these came home, financially, personally and professionally. Something that is that big and that important for a grade needs to be done in school, with the embedded skills (planning, content, editing, use of graphics, design, vetting of sources…) explicitly taught. The end.

http://allkidscanlearn.school.blog
homework
"Fifty Four|Three Sixty Five" by thestevenalan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
If homework causes frustration, lack of proper self-care or home stress, is it really being helpful? How can we change that? {Image Credit: “Fifty Four|Three Sixty Five” by thestevenalan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0}

Homework, Through My Teacher Eyes

I really do believe in the power of routine, systematic practice of new skills, concepts and content. As a teacher, I believe I’ve developed a clear and calculated method of delivering this practice right in the classroom, where I can watch the process.

Back when I fell into the “homework packet” craze, I found that some kids whipped through the whole month in a day, defeating the purpose of the progressive practice, and turning in meh work, while others waited until day 29 to do 30 days of practice. Daily homework papers came in sporadically, and I was faced with developing a crazy system for docking their scores as they were later and later. NOT a good use of my time. And my seven years as a dual language teacher frustrated my families when their child received homework that the parent (who WANTED to help) couldn’t read. As a high school teacher, it takes me more time to put together the homework, than to score it, because so few come back.

My Alternatives to Homework

So, since I started teaching elementary school in the 90’s, I’ve consistently used a number of alternatives to homework that allow systematic, targeted practice of skills and concepts, embedded into the school day: daily morning writing work, binders with daily customized practice in math [done as an anchor activity], and a “cafe” or workshop model in literacy and numeracy, where part of the time students are assigned to spiral practice or other systematic review of basic literacy and numeracy skills. Consequently, I don’t send homework home, at least not the traditional type of homework, as the students have multiple opportunities for practice during the school day, when I can assess it.

Periodically, I’ve had parents who criticize my homework policy, and who do not understand the way I teach (which is not like most of my colleagues). To keep peace, I have developed other “homework” strategies: assigning family tasks: “Go for a walk with your family – explain to your parents what a quadrilateral is – write down four things that you see that are quadrilaterals.” {NOTE: this family walk idea was a big hit one year, when I taught in a dual language program – everyone could participate, and they took the babies in the strollers and had fun}; individual workbooks that I had that were on that student’s reading level, with directions to work on a page every day and return it on Monday for a grade.

Currently, I teach in an alternative high school setting. On Fridays, we send home the student’s “Friday Report,” which summarizes what we’re working on in each class, lets families know how their children are doing, shares their clinical progress toward their personal goals and the new weekly goals they’ve selected for the following week. These notes get signed and returned for a homework grade, and their return is incentivized (participation in extra school activities depends on return of the note before the following Wednesday). I reserve “homework” for routine home-school communications (forms, information about field trips, policies, etc), and communicate other information through regular family phone calls.

http://allkidscanlearn.school.blog
homework
Consider alternative “homework assignments” that foster family conversation, creativity, and self-directed learning. {Image Credit: (c) 2010: Kim M. Bennett}

What’s Your Philosophy on Homework?

This year, I DO want to encourage students to take home, and bring back, more things (forms, information, etc.), as part of the real world is teaching that responsibility of follow-through. But I will keep this separate from skills practice, which I really want to observe with my own eyes, in real time.

Do you give homework? What will you do differently this year? Do you grade it? Share in the comments, below.


{ This blog is featured in Top 100 Special Education Blogs}

Author:

Mom of four, Nana to seven, homeschooler, special educator, and lover of all good things... striving to do His work every day.

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