Making Homework Relevant



Late afternoon on a school day means only one thing in my house – it is time to put on your game face and prepare for the inevitable: The bus is about to drop off my three elementary aged children and my wife Erica will transform into an after school teacher and tutor. In our house, homework must be completed before anyone gets to go outside to play with friends. Through the years Erica has found that some homework assignments, such as practicing their music instruments, reading silently, or writing in their journals are appropriate and effective. Some assignments, however, amount to little more than “busy work” for our children that do not challenge them with deeper understanding nor do they seem to have a clear meaning or purpose. At dinnertime Erica and I will often debate the purpose of homework. Is it to reinforce skills from the classroom? Is it to provide additional practice? Is it to develop appropriate work study practices?

Edutopia blogger Clare Roach, a former Spanish and social studies teacher turned Coordinator for the English as a New Language Program at the Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame writes about this same kitchen table dilemma in her article Kitchen Table Connections (or 5 Ideas to Re-Envision Homework). “I don't need to read the newspapers
or the latest Edutopia guest blog to encounter the great homework debate. I need only sit down at my kitchen table on any given afternoon to identify with both sides of the argument.” Roach offers suggestions on how to develop meaningful homework that promotes connections between experiences at school and in the home. On her list are things such as:

1.      Fostering encounters – opportunities for kids to learn from people that they know and share their findings with their classmates.
2.      Promoting metacognitive and organizational skills – empowering students to engage in organization routines through their homework.
3.      Valuing what’s also important – such as playing outside or acting polite to others.
4.      Building stamina for important skills – like having kids write a personal letter about something that they read that day at home.
5.      Encouraging conversation – by asking kids to engage in dialog with their parents about what they are learning in school.

Also last week, educational author Mark Barnes wrote about 7 Homework Assignments That Guarantee Learning and the Secret Sauce That Makes Them Work. Barnes’ tips include the following: Reading from a self-selected novel, reading an article or content from social media, talking about class content on social media, write a song or paint a picture, play a game or go for a bike ride. Barnes argues that all of these assignments have three important qualities that make them homework “winners:” they contain creativity, choice, and fun. Barnes writes, “Traditional homework lacks creativity and rarely gives students any say in when, where, and what is done. It is perceived as work and, in many cases, as punishment. Without the fear of losing points, most students will never complete a traditional homework assignment.”

From reimaging the types of homework assignments given to whether or not they should be given at all, at Dover Sherborn High School in Massachusetts, Kevin Hartnett of the Boston Globe recently reported that the school has declared Thanksgiving vacation a “homework-free weekend,” citing that this is the first of several such planned weekends for this school year. The move is part of the school’s plan to reduce stress and anxiety amongst students. This decision is influenced by Denise Pope, the founder of Challenge Success, a program that works with schools to rethink attitudes about achievement and reduce student workload. Pope’s work came out of her research with top performing high school students while at Stanford. Her aim is to help schools settle on a more realistic amount of time that students should be spending on nightly homework so as not to unhealthy behaviors such as loss of sleep. 

To give or not to give homework? That debate may continue for many years to come, but perhaps a recommitment to relevant homework assignments could pave the way for an end to the great homework debate one day.

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs.

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