Making Homework Relevant
According to Wikipedia, homework refers to tasks assigned to students by their teachers to be completed mostly outside of class. Since I teach reading to below-level students, I feel homework is essential to bringing them up to their full potential. In my classroom students are constantly reading, whether it is being done independently, on the computer in Read 180, or in small groups with the Scholastic Reading Skills Kit. As important as this is, however, I want them to continue reading at home. Many of their parents do not speak English fluently, so I have to give them homework that I feel they can complete on their own.
This year I am trying something new. Each Monday my students receive a packet that consists of three to four one-page stories with comprehension questions. They have until Friday to complete it. That way they only have to complete one story a night to have the work completed on time. On Fridays we use class time to read the stories orally and to check their answers. Every student has to read at least once during class so that I can check their fluency and pronunciation. I record their grades because I want my students to know that I value their time and effort. For those who show up to class without their homework, the following consequences occur: they have to call their parents, get moved to another teacher's room to write sentences (ex. I will return Mrs. Blair's homework on time next Friday.), and have five points subtracted from their score when the homework is turned in on Monday. The first week I had ten students who did not have their completed homework on Friday. The second week I only had five out of seventy students come to school without their homework.
I understand the homework controversy. I watched my own two children balancing homework with extra-curricular activities in middle school. I believe adolescents need time to participate in sports, visit with friends and family, and other beneficial activities. Homework can be a strain on families. In an effort to reduce that stress, there are a growing number of schools in which homework is being banned. A review of over sixty research studies supports the "10-minute rule", the accepted practice of assigning ten minutes of homework per day per grade level. For example, with this system, my seventh graders would get 70 minutes worth and my eighth graders would get 80 minutes worth.
My school believes in homework as long as it is relevant. We want our homework to increase their knowledge and to improve their skills. Our goal is that our homework will be an extension of our classroom. In order to help our students with their homework, we provide a safe and quiet place for them to complete their studies. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we provide an Extended Learning Day (ELD) for those students who choose to attend. During ELD they can receive help from teachers, study independently or read in a quiet, structured environment. This enables them to complete their homework so they can have free time when they get home or they can help their parents with work around the house.
Another strategy we use to help with homework assignments is to provide our students with a planner to write down their assignments. Each Monday our teachers write the week's worth of class and homework assignments on the board. The students copy down each day's assignments so that they know what they missed if they are absent, and what their homework assignments are for the entire week. Also, several of our teachers have web pages where they can post this information for parents to see what has been assigned in each class.
I value my student's time and effort by giving relevant and meaningful homework assignments and by grading their work. I hope that this helps them to work independently, to become responsible for completing and returning their homework on time, to learn how to manage their time more effectively, how to meet deadlines, and to develop a love of reading. According to Papa Jan, in seventh grade and beyond, students who complete more homework score better on standardized tests and earn better grades, on the average, than students who do less homework. The key is to make sure the homework has a purpose, has clear directions, and is designed to help develop a student's knowledge and skills.
- The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It by Sarah Bennett and Nancy Kalish (2006). The authors discuss studies and their own research about the homework situation in the United States. They offer specific recommendations and sample letters to be used in negotiating a reduced homework load for children.
- The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents by Harris Cooper (2007).
- The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn (2006).
- Bridging the Great Homework Divide: A Solutions Guide for Parents of Middle School Students, from the National Education Association.
- Answers.com discussion questions about homework.
- KidSource.com talks the importance of homework and how parents can be involved.
- Wikipedia entry about homework.
- Duke University Study: Homework Helps Students Succeed in School, As Long as There Isn't Too Much.
- Papa Jan's tips for helping kids with homework.