Rethinking My School’s Homework Policy

Since becoming a more connected educator, I have learned much from my professional learning network about the pros and cons of homework, especially at the elementary level. With my student handbook needing an update, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my school’s beliefs regarding this topic.

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Cathy Vatterot, author of Rethinking Homework, offers a reasonable view of how educators can address this touchy subject. With her recommendations, along with information and experiences shared by my colleagues, I made some substantial changes to my school’s homework policy. Text in bold are my potential additions; language with strikethrough may be deleted.

HOWE SCHOOL HOMEWORK POLICY

Homework is an out-of-school assignment that contributes to the educational process of the child. It should be an extension of class work and should be related to the objectives of the curriculum presently being studied.

Homework may include additional practice exercises, reading of material on a specific subject, in-depth extension of classroom activities, or independent project work related to the subject. Instructional time is maximized and consists of introducing new material, so drill and memorization review and reinforcement become an important part of homework.

Effective school research indicates that a positive correlation exists between expanding opportunities for learning and academic achievement. Most children, therefore, will have some homework each school day. Homework may include problem solving, completion of assignments introduced in class, projects, reading ahead in the textbook and other tasks as assigned by teachers. The daily amount of time depends upon grade level, varying from 10 to 45 minutes daily at the elementary level. In order to attain the maximum benefits from homework, your child is responsible for completing homework assignments on time and as directed.

The homework policy that has been established at Howe School indicates that all students will, on a regular basis, receive homework assignments for completion outside of the regularly allocated class time. The amount, frequency and nature of the assignments should be based on the teacher’s professional judgement, students’ needs and reflect the child’s grade, subject and needs. Homework will vary by instructional level, with assignments potentially increasing in length and frequency as the child progresses through the grades.

Homework fulfills the following purposes:

To review and reinforce classroom learning by providing practice with an application of knowledge gained.
To teach children responsibility, neatness and organizational skills. To promote family involvement, school connectedness and two way communication between home and school.

The following amount of time is expected what you might expect for homework daily (excluding Wednesdays):
Grades K and 1st – Approximately 10-20 minutes
Grades 2nd and 3rd – Approximately 15-30 minutes
Grades 4th and 5th – Approximately 20-40 minutes

Note: These expectations will take into consideration a child’s ability and nature of assignments. Any child not completing homework assignments will be expected to stay inside during the noon recess to finish the work.

The following expectations exist for teachers, all children, and parents.

Each teacher will: assign meaningful homework; take into account the capabilities of the class; assign work that will benefit each child and give all children feedback on assignments.

Each child will: learn to accept this responsibility; complete the assignments on time and with high quality; and develop good study habits.

Each parent must: nurture that responsibility in his/her child; encourage his/her child to complete homework assignments; provide for a climate that will foster educational endeavors; and stress the value of hard work and good study habits.

All children make far greater advances in academics when homework is given frequently to extend the school day. Additionally, Academic gains are greater when parents take a vital supportive role in helping the child fulfill his/her responsibility. Ask your child’s teacher for helpful hints in more information in helping your child complete homework assignments.

Students who do not complete their homework at home are expected to complete it before school or during noon recess.
HOMEWORK – MAKE-UP WORK REQUESTS

As a result of student absences, sometimes make-up work is requested. If a child is absent for one or two days, make-up work may not be sent home prior to the student’s return. We are anxious for students to get well. Reading a library book is encouraged. Although we appreciate parent requests, teachers need sufficient time to gather materials. If a student is absent more than two days, please contact the office before 8:30 a.m. so the teacher has time to prepare materials by the end of the school day. With classes of 20 or more students and the possibility of several absences, it takes a significant amount of time to honor make-up work requests. We appreciate your understanding.

I am also sharing these possible revisions with staff and families. When we briefly discussed this topic as a faculty, beliefs were expectedly all over the place. Having a strict policy does not honor where everyone is at on this topic. My hope is that the changes we make will reflect best practices, knowing that it may always be a work in progress.

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Where are you at on the continuum of homework in school, especially at the elementary level? How would you revise this policy? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

3 thoughts on “Rethinking My School’s Homework Policy”

  1. After reading Marzano’s The Art and Science of Teaching and his review of the research surrounding the effectiveness of homework, my 3rd grade teammate and I decided upon the following: 1. Read at least 20 min/day 5 days a week; 2. Writing: 15-20 min/day 5 days a week; 3. Dreambox 60 minutes per week (Dreambox is an online math program that allows for differentiation). 4. Study spelling words. Students have from Monday to Monday to complete the assignments. We originally tracked students’ rdg through a reading log; we’ve now done away with that and have instituted Donalyn Miller’s (The Book Whisperer) 40 bk/year requirement. The 40 books are broken down into a certain number per various genres.
    We convinced our 2 other teammates to try it out with us, and received the support of our principal. We believe strongly in the importance of reading, and also writing as is reflected in our assignments. We like this approach better than what we’ve done in years past which involved sending home a weekly contract on Monday (due back on Friday) that required students to read 20 min/day X 3days; usually 2 double-sided math pages; 1 language assignment (often a grammar based worksheet); and spelling words for additional study at home. We often fought a battle with parents on the math assignments because when they tried to “help” their child most often they used the traditional algorithm, while we were teaching alternative strategies (for understanding) in class.
    It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. If I had to cut homework even more, or if I could only assign one thing, it would be to read every day for at least 20 minutes.
    I’m curious to know what others are doing regarding homework.

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    1. Impressive, Allison. Your expectations are really clear for students and families. Very smart to get your team members on board – strength in numbers.

      The biggest difference I noticed between your old and new homework policy is the work you are assigning is a) more authentic, b) more engaging for students, and c) provides for more choice. That these practices are research-based further supports your position on homework. And kudos to your principal for giving you room to innovate.

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      1. Thanks! I appreciate your support and comments.
        I wanted homework to be meaningful for ALL involved- students, parents and me. I spent sooooo much time preparing the HW contract previously, and that time could be better spent. I had to ask myself what the purpose was in assigning homework. Once I did that, things became more clear. I think in the past I just assigned homework that way because that’s what others around me were doing and that’s how it had been done for quite a long while. This shows me the importance of questioning everything you do. Sometimes the answers will mean you keep doing it, other times they will mean making a change. So much new on our plate every day- CCSS, we have a new evaluation model (Marzano), etc. etc. But extra time is not given for these things, so we have to do something different with the time we do have. That’s one of the benefits for me of the new HW policy. For students, it’s as you said: more authentic, engaging, more choice. It also helps me create a culture of literacy (reading and writing) in my classroom and with my students and their parents. I’m not just educating the students; I’m also educating parents. Most have been supportive. I’ve had one question, and that was mostly due to it being a change, since my student has older siblings. When I explained my thinking to the parents, she understood.
        Wow, that was meant to be a short reply to your response. Sorry for my rambling. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and am curious what others are doing/thinking. I hope you’ll keep me posted on what your school decides to do.
        P.S. And I am grateful for a supportive principal! 🙂

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