Friday, July 25, 2014

Why I Do What I Do: Weekly Homework

Homework is a hot-button topic! To give homework or not to give? How much homework is too much or too little? Parent assistance or no parent assistance? To correct or not to correct? Post homework on-line or give only hard copies? Today I'm linking up with Christina at Bunting, Books, and Bright Ideas to share why I do what I do with weekly homework. 
My district mandates 10 minutes of homework per grade level. I really struggle with making homework meaningful and not just assigning drill & kill worksheets (although there IS value in repetition & practice). In 4th grade, we no longer give weekly homework packets as they do in primary grades. I believe homework should be a review of what was taught during class and weekly packets don’t allow enough flexibility for me and as a parent of children who would complete their entire packet on Monday (even though I tried to instill “a few minutes per day” to develop work study habits. . .), I question the value of worksheets. Based on the in-depth research about homework by Harris Cooper (The Battle Over Homework, 1994), I agree that homework functions mainly as a way of helping younger students develop and “foster positive attitudes toward school and academic-related behaviors and characteristics, not primarily to improve subject matter achievement.”

To instill the love of reading is a BIG priority for me, so we require 20-30 minutes of reading per night. I used to have students keep a daily reading log and parents signed off. However, some of my most voracious readers would not have their logs at the end of the week because they were so into their books, they did not take the time to write it down. Or many complained that they read in bed before going to sleep and they didn’t want to get out of bed again to record. I totally understand that!! So I reflected on my purpose for nightly reading and realized it was to encourage a reading habit (and as an adult, I would resent having to write down everything!!). So now it’s on the honor system and we do plenty of discussing and sharing books we are reading! We do require a monthly book report to expose students to various genres. Now that I finished reading Notice and Note, I’m thinking of revising the book reports to include the signposts!!
To make my planning simple and predictable and to ensure consistency for my students & families, my teaching partner and I use a weekly homework schedule. 
We also have students fill out a weekly schedule of after-school activities and responsibilities. They can revise this throughout the year, but we want to ensure students schedule in a homework time, just as their soccer practice, ballet lesson, Hebrew school, etc. are scheduled. This has been VERY helpful in having homework completed because families can literally see if they are too busy and to make homework a priority. (Also if students have a particularly busy night on a regular basis, I am flexible with their assignments.)
The question of whether or not to post homework assignments on our class websites: we USED to post weekly homework, but over time we became dissatisfied because although it made it easier for parents to access, students felt no responsibility to accurately record their homework or to keep track of it. With bated breath, my partner and I wrote a letter to our 4th grade parents, explaining our reason for no longer posting homework. We were shocked and surprised to find that 99% of our families agreed with our reasoning and they were in full support of holding their children accountable. Students have also made good use of “Study Buddies” to call or text when they need homework assignments!

Research-Based Homework Guidelines 
(from “The Case For and Against Homework” by Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering, published in Educational Leadership, March 2007, Volume 64, Number 6)

Research provides strong evidence that, when used appropriately, homework benefits student achievement. To make sure that homework is appropriate, teachers should follow these guidelines:
  • Assign purposeful homework. Legitimate purposes for homework include introducing new content, practicing a skill or process that students can do independently but not fluently, elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen students' knowledge, and providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest. 
  • Design homework to maximize the chances that students will complete it. For example, ensure that homework is at the appropriate level of difficulty. Students should be able to complete homework assignments independently with relatively high success rates, but they should still find the assignments challenging enough to be interesting. 
  • Involve parents in appropriate ways (for example, as a sounding board to help students summarize what they learned from the homework) without requiring parents to act as teachers or to police students' homework completion. 
  • Carefully monitor the amount of homework assigned so that it is appropriate to students' age levels and does not take too much time away from other home activities. 
Our students keep a plastic 2-pocket folder with 3 brads/paper fasteners. Sometimes we’ve had them keep a 3-ring binder, but there’s really nowhere to store them during the day so they ended up on the floor. The folders can fit into student desks. In the paper fasteners, student put necessary forms such as: Weekly Schedule, Survival Kit list, a blank calendar (to be filled in with due dates of projects, tests, and steps of long-term projects), and a student accountability checklist. Click here for your free copy of forms we use, including our parent letter!

What is your homework schedule or policy? How do you make homework meaningful? I'd love to hear from you!

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