I am not a believer in homework. I am, however, a huge believer in learning. I am a huge believer in doing things with your children. I am a huge believer in conversation and dialog. I am a huge believer in play. Children learn though activity, discussion, and play. These are the things that should be done at home. These are the things teachers and elementary schools should be assigning as homework.
Homework brings images of a textbook, notebook paper, pencils, and often times tears. Children sitting at the kitchen table with a frown on their face “getting through” their assignment for the night. ‘I don’t want to…But can’t I just ____ first…” are phrases often uttered when the word homework is mentioned in a home. “I don’t have any. I got it done on the bus,” are other popular responses. When kids get home they want to be active and play. What if the “homework” you sent home incorporated activity, discussion, and play?
There have been numerous studies on homework and its effectiveness. As with anything, you can find data to support your view. However, I firmly believe “Homework (noun): school work that a student is required to complete at home” needs a fresh look in our society today.
If you want your students to talk about school and continue learning at home, provide them with fun interactive things to do. There are many websites and apps available that engage students in learning and allow them to practice basic skills such as fact fluency and reading comprehension. Provide a list for parents on your classroom blog, newsletter, or via email. Many sites offer an account which allows teachers to log on and actually see student progress. You can also have students complete a calendar or time log if you want to check for accountability in homework. I believe 10 minutes per grade level is more than sufficient so a kindergartener or first grader may spend 10 minutes a night practicing skills while a third grader would spend 30 minutes. Families are busy today. Many children are going home to dual working households. Using websites and apps allows elementary students to take charge of their own homework and practice on their devices, at the library, or at an after-school program if they know which sites are good.
According to an article by Marzano and Pickering* “Some studies have reported minimal positive effects or even negative effects for parental involvement. In addition, many parents report that they feel unprepared to help their children with homework and that their efforts to help frequently cause stress (see Balli, 1998; Corno, 1996; Hoover-Dempsey, Bassler, & Burow, 1995; Perkins & Milgram, 1996).” When we send worksheets, text books, and “homework” with children, parents are often unsure how to assist. This causes confusion, arguments, and negative energy to be created giving our students a negative attitude towards school and learning. With so many communication tools available today, give your parents things they can do at home. Send home copies of card games they can play for math practice. Include a lists of creative ways to practice spelling words, provide ideas for asking questions after reading. We use these resources daily as educators, but parents are not in our world. It is important to include them by giving them ideas and resources for making learning fun at home. The idea of homework should not be for students to “learn” the material at home. Parents should not be expected to be an expert and assist or teach the content. It is our responsibility to provide ideas, suggestions, and questions parents can ask at home to practice skills with their children. Fun educational printable games and a bookmark with reading questions is a great place to start.
From the same article by Marzano and Pickering, “Especially useful for parent-child relations purposes are assignments calling for students to show or explain their written work or other products completed at school to their parents and get their reactions (Epstein, 2001; Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997) or to interview their parents to develop information about parental experiences or opinions relating to topics studied in social studies (Alleman & Brophy, 1998).” When students are talking about learning at home, it extends their learning and brings conversation back to the classroom for discussion. Set up as an open dialog removes the fear and confusion from the parental role and increases the interest in the homework assignment. Dialog is a free tool available for learning. Send home questions students can ask their parents at home to learn their opinion. You will have information available to then use in classroom activities and discussion that bring a larger world into your classroom. If you have a parent expert, set up a Skype to extend the learning even more. This questioning moves your learning to higher level thinking skills and will increase retention.
What is the purpose of homework? I want my students to get their hands into what we are discussing, continue the dialog at home, and play while learning. Setting up some simple communication to parents provides them with “homework” that can be done to allow students to learn and play outside of the classroom. Technology, games, printables, bookmarks, and opinion questions can all bridge the classroom to home with meaningful homework. And when discussion and thinking occur, you will see amazing results in your classroom discussions, projects, and learning.