09 Mar

I read an interesting article the other day about parents threatening to leave their school when it stopped giving homework. Take a look at what happened. The school principal and teachers were concerned too many children were missing recess (which is scant to begin with) because homework wasn’t done, which initiated the chain of events.

The decision was well considered. The Pre-K-5th School Council, including parents, thoroughly studied homework research. Their homework committee, after a year of research on homework effectiveness led to the principal’s decision that children should go home and play, spend time reading and have family time instead of traditional worksheets and homework. The school found no significant research warranting the continuation of a homework policy that wasn’t working for their students. I’m sure when they opted for developmentally appropriate play (DAP) and more reading they never dreamed it would become a hot topic on Twitter and in the news media.

While I was a principal (K-6), we frequently reviewed homework policies, including parents in the discussions. After all, parents are monitors, tutors and wipers of tears from a frustrated child. Homework varies school to school and teacher to teacher.

Many parents think that there is too much homework, cutting into limited family time. Parents worry their child is overworked and discouraged. Other parents want homework: the routine of it, having a goal, working toward a reward, seeing what is learned at school.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Teaching for transfer means students take learning from one context to another. It makes sense to immediately review  important concepts taught during the school day, then apply in new ways. The value of homework is that lesson extension with developmentally appropriate, engaging activities cements the new learning.
  2. Flashbulb memory occurs when an idea or event is so strong you always remember it. Otherwise, some form of review and repetition is necessary to make the learning stick. Practice makes permanent. Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (Ebbinghaus Curve) taught us that the greatest rate of forgetting occurs within twenty-four hours and recommended frequent review. This may mean some homework is critical to memory.
  3. How much and type of study matters. Why do twenty math problems if five reinforces the concept taught? For emerging readers avoid busy work worksheets on paper or online which use nonsense words, scrambled words or word searches. Use only correct models.
  4. Teacher created activities and assignments that match, reinforce and extend what was instructed work best. Homework can offer enjoyable family activities and short term projects which complement daily learning.
  5. Parents should read with their children at least twenty minutes a day–long past toddler lap reading. Less homework means more family reading time, sharing classic novels and interesting internet articles. Schools can incorporate family reading time into their homework plan.

Online research about homework varies from a stance of no homework to must-do homework and how to make it really meaningful. If you have concerns about best meeting your child’s needs, work with your teacher.

Here are my suggestions: Teachers

  • Homework should be at the application level. Apply what you’ve learned to new information.
  • Be realistic about the amount of time it will take students to compete the assignments.
  • Can the students do the homework alone, or are parents needed to tutor?
  • How do you reconcile the fact some students won’t get it done on any given day?
  • How do your assignments developmentally help review and extend the new concepts?
  • Make sure the work is done correctly at school. Have students check each other’s work.

Here are my suggestions: Parents 

  • Allow your child a brief time to play, snack, drink plenty of water and take a breath.
  • Start homework before dinner, not after. The learning must be fresh for the review to stick.
  • Have a regular routine you consistently follow.
  • Make a homework ‘center’ in your home, with proper lighting, seating and supplies.
  • Set a timer or establish the amount of time homework should take. Take short breaks.
  • When your child hits a frustration level consistently, talk with the teacher(s).

It seems to me that pulling a child out of school because of a no-homework policy is really drastic and non-productive. As a parent and a nana, I spent plenty of time with my own frustrated kids struggling with enormous amounts of homework. And that’s not pretty. But no homework at all? That swings a bit far for me. Personally, I know it’s important to do quick reviews after the school day, as long as there is purpose and meaning, it meets students’ needs and interests and it makes sense.

Should schools give homework? If so, what kind and how much? I’d really like your opinion!

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts,


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