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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Great Homework Debate

The Great Homework Debate

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Hello Walden Group! I have done a lot of reading and a lot of talking to other teachers as well as parents about homework - how much to give, what to assign, packets vs. daily work, how much is too much or too little, etc. I'd love to hear back from fellow educators about what they do for homework. For example, I teach second-grade and I send home a packet that is differentiated for each student. It boils down to basically one page of math, one page of reading comprehension, and one spelling/word study per day plus 15 minutes of reading. It is sent home on Monday and is due Friday. I don't send home a lot of writing because it seems to be a flashpoint for battles between student and parent more than the other subjects. Does that sound appropriate, too much/too little, or should I modify it in some way? I am curious to hear from everyone about what they do for this, as homework tends to be pretty controversial in a lot of districts and among teachers/grade levels.

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Dione G.'s picture

Hello Walden Family;

I teach high school Chemistry. I have the many of the same problems as you do. Some parents don't want their child doing a lot of homework while others expect a certain amount each week. I assign some form of homework each night with the exception of Fridays. My school frowns upon not giving any homework in core classes, therefore we must at least assign a reading or study assignment each night. I find myself giving homework as a review. Students will complete about 5-7 problems at the most. I feel like this is enough, but many of my parents complain that there child is in sports or other extracurricular activities and the homework is too much because they do not get home until 8pm to even start the homework. I have my personal beliefs when choosing between homework and extracurricular activities but I cannot expect them to feel the same way. How do we overcome those parents who feel that sports and others are more important that homework?

Marcie Campbell's picture

Kim and Walden group,
This is such an open ended discussion! As a fourth grade teacher, I give minimal homework nightly; usually a few simple review questions from the day or a discussion topic to take home and talk about. I think that homework is only as valid as the classroom it comes from. Homework should be simple repeated tasks of that day's work. Many nights are filled with sporting events or other family functions, putting homework near the bottom of the list. The easier the homework the more likely it will get done!
I think that your practice has validity, but also see the pitfalls of it. As a teacher that has had to 'break' students of this homework packet mentality, it is a major struggle. Many times the students finish the homework the first or last night possible and miss out on so many learning opportunities throughout the week. That can carry over into the classroom therefore limiting the instruction to basic review on a daily basis. The most a student should be given, in my opinion, is ten minutes per grade level a night: 1st grade - 10 minutes, 2nd grade - 20 minutes, etc. This would be in addition to a reading time, if applicable.
I appreciate your questions and am thankful for your efforts as a fellow teacher.

Brenda Banning's picture

Hello Teaching Family! I have taught high school math for four years now and am still trying to come up with an effective answer to this infamous question. I have read of several studies showing that "meaningful" homework produces results and retained knowledge yet I have taught at two low socio-economic high schools where assigning that same "meaningful" homework was a joke. I feel that it depends entirely on how much buy-in you have from your students and how strictly you are going to enfore your homework policy.

My homework policy has changed from year to year depending on my students and what I could convince them would help them with math. Last year I saw my students every day for 90 minutes and did not have a great homework return rate so I only assigned 10-15 application problems twice a week. This year I only see my students 45 minutes once a week and 90 minutes twice a week which has led to an evolved policy of homework every class period. The return rate is roughly 60-70% with some late papers edging in there for a lower grade.

The other factor that I mentioned, that of how strictly you as a teacher are going to enforce your set homework policy is based on consistency. Students like routine and structure and it is my belief that if you want homework to work, then you will do what is necessary to make it work. Calling home, speaking with the student's other teachers, and figuring out an action plan to get your students working.

Education is very important and while I realize that my students have a life or a job outside of school, I realize that they also havee 30 minutes of time a night to devote to the continuous learning process.

It has been very enlightening to read the thoughts posted and some have given me great ideas of a new direction that I could take my homework policy. Because, like I said, if I want it to work, then I will do what is necessary to make it work!

Melonee Hunter's picture

Hello Walden Family,

Many of my students questions whether homework should be assigned in health and PE classes. For most of my students, health education did not require much in terms of student learning. This explains the huge problem we have with teen pregnancy, obesity, and unhealthy lifestyle choices in our community. Not only do I give my students homework, but I assign them weekly article summaries and group projects. Advocacy is a big part of changing behavior, so I want my students to reflect on their decisions,the decisions of their peers, and of their family members. When I give homework, I give students an opportunity to complete the assignment in class, but rarely do we have time left for them to finish. If students used their time wisely, they could easily complete homework in school, but many times they value social relationships more than academic relationships.

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Christina Toth's picture

Hello Kim and other blog participants!

Kim - I think you are doing great with your homework assignments ...I like that fact that you assign the packet on Monday and then it is not due back until Friday. That way families can go on with their daily lives and their child's homework will not interfere, such as if they have a busy night with a family gathering, sports or extracurricular activity, church, etc......the parents can choose what night/nights they spend on homework. Kudos to you! I think you are doing great. I teach high math - Algebra I and II, and Precalculus....I am constantly rethinking homework....in my Algebra I classes- all the work is done in class. Alg II and Precalc, I usually give about 5 problems a night (these problems take a bit more time than your typical high school math problem). I used to give double that amount of problems and students would only do half of the work or none at all. Goodluck with the "Great Homework Debate."

Donnetta Schaaf's picture

I think you have some great thoughts, Kim. I have on occasion assigned a packet, but I like the idea of doing it regularly and don't know why I've never thought about it! As a mom of two busy sons who are active in all sorts of activities, I agree that homework can be a real drag on them. I know it is necessary at times, but I like the idea of the flexibility that would be offered with weekly packets. As far as those not turning their assignments in on time, I struggle with some students not turning their daily assignments in anyway. You're right - there are definitely no easy answers here.

Mary-Leigh's picture

Kim, I like how you differentiate each packet for each child and I think the amount sounds age appropriate for second graders. One thing that I really appreciate is the flexibility of weekly packets especially if your students are busy and involved in extracurricular activities. However, it can create problems when students procrastinate until Thursday night and then try and attempt the homework. Then you become the bad guy (either to the students or to the students and the parents). How do you get your point across that it is up to them to budget their time appropriately in order to complete the packet and turn it in ontime? As Donnetta said, there really are no easy answers when it comes to homework issues.

Garrick Pickett's picture

Hello Everyone,

I have really enjoyed reading everyone's comments about homework and it is and issue that we all seem to struggle with. My first year teaching there was a lot of pressure to give the students homework packets for the week. I really didn't enjoy them but I complied with the accepted norm. It was challenging to collect, score and keep track of the students' homework packets and I found that my top level students would complete them and the lower level students rarely if at all did. This demonstrated to me that those students who could do the work would and those students that struggled wouldn't and then they would start feeling worse and dejected because I had to get on them all them time for not having the packet down.

After that first year I had the opportunity to open a new elementary school and we operate on a PLC format and have grade level as well as school-wide collaboration. We had the opportunity to discuss and determine and document our homework policy as a grade level and then come together school wide to evaluate and discuss our polices. In our 5th grade we determined that we were opposed to giving students homework packets, because all they tend to be is busywork. Our policy is that students should read at least 30 min. a night and then complete assigned homework. Our math curriculum as one or two pages of homework/extension/review material a night. Then it might depend on what other assignments that students need extra time to complete.

I really enjoy this format for homework. In my professional opinion it really should really come down to the questions: What is my purpose for assigning the homework? Are these skills that I have taught? Can most students complete the work with understanding? What happens if they don't complete it? What help can they expect to get at home?

I also think it is valuable to make a decision on homework as grade level and school-wide.

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