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Homework: Yes, No, Maybe So?

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
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I read an interesting article recently 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. Obviously recess should not be used as a punishment, anyway.

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 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:

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. 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.

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.

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. 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.

Homework standards endorsed by the NEA (National Education Association) and National PTA suggest no homework for Kindergarten. Here are their time allocations for us to consider:

10 minute rule per grade level. 10 minutes for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, to 120 minutes for high school seniors.

There are many teachers and parents wanting to dump homework entirely, who don't agree with this. 

I've been reading that homework is probably at least three times as much as the suggested standards, but I really have no clue if that's true. In fact, I am weighing the homework debate very carefully. With school bells ringing, poor test scores causing finger pointing and wagging tongues, this is one debate we all better chime in on. Our home life and seamless extension with schools depend on it.

I'd love to hear from you about this issue.

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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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 45 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

  • Guest
    Bonnie Strohl Monday, 16 November 2015

    I teach 4th and the only homework I give is to practice the Math we've learned that day and to read for at least 20 minutes. Occasionally I will give something additional in Reading, like if we're learning how to infer, I would have them practice inferring with their reading. I don't give a lot of homwork, but what I give is important.

  • Rita Wirtz |  @RitaWirtz
    Rita Wirtz | @RitaWirtz Saturday, 05 December 2015

    Your homework makes sense!

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