Homework vs. No Homework…
There is a great debate in our country and really, all over the world, about whether students should have homework or not. Most research, in fact, is telling us that the only thing that is really affecting children’s academic achievement outside of school (up until 5th grade) is children reading every night. Multiple studies have shown traditional homework (up until 5th grade) does not help children succeed or impact their achievement at all. After 5th grade, there is evidence that homework can increase achievement and learning of a student.
So, if that is the case, why are we still giving homework in grades K-5? I think there are many reasons. There are many reasons homework has helped families in the past. For one, it helped as a communicator for what is happening in the classroom. Many parents appreciated visually seeing the worksheets come home because then they can keep tabs on what is being learned and feel like they have a concrete way to help their child with a skill. Another reason, some parents are in favor of worksheets is that is what they grew up with. Traditional homework like spelling lists are doable for parents to sit down and “quiz” their child on to help memorize these spelling words (even though we know memorizing spelling words is not necessarily how kids learn to spell). Another reason homework has been given and parents have appreciated it is because it helps indicate to the parent what their child needs to work on and then the parents knows not only what they are studying but where their child is at in school. This all is telling us that parents liked homework because it communicates!
But, does it improve achievement for the child? Not really. In fact, in many cases it can cause the opposite to occur. Research is actually telling us that this traditional homework sent home has caused much family conflict and taken a lot of teacher time. Many times parents are not understanding concepts themselves and have a hard time teaching their children. The fun is often taken out of it when the child is pressured to finish the task “or else”. After a long day of working super hard children are asked to continue to working hard at that task when they arrive home. It is taxing on our little ones when they are tired and hungry and just want to play. With the loss of play already a huge concern in our culture (when we know that is the best and most wonderful learning for little ones) we must prioritize what matters most. How would you feel working all day and then you get home and must continue to work?
What is effective in helping children succeed then that the home can support?
Communication is key.
Research over and over again tells us that family engagement in a child’s education is the most influential piece in a child’s education outside school. Well isn’t talking about the parent doing the homework with the child? NOPE! The research is telling us when the parent cares about a child’s schooling, has conversations, strong communication with the teacher, supports the school projects, attend important conferences and special events, and most of all provide the home learning… this is when children succeed. Home learning being playing games, providing writing materials like paper and pens in the home, experiences, allowing for learning and inquiry projects that children are passionate about like cooking, fishing, art, music, and other areas, we see not only children more joyful, but understand that learning is everywhere, not just on a worksheet. In fact, the number one thing a parent can do to support their child in school is to read aloud to your child. The research continues to be clear on this. Children who are read aloud to from the beginning (birth) are more successful in school and in life. Now, that doesn’t mean if you start now when your child is 6 or 7 or 8, it won’t stick, because it will. Reading to your child shows them that you care about them and your relationship and about their literacy (reading and writing) which is the foundation for all learning. Every time you read to your child you are truly advertising to your child that this is a great choice.
Many parents and even teachers, say what about teaching the responsibilities of having to take something to and from school. Isn’t there something to be said about teaching habits of a good learner? Absolutely! This is why most schools who have found success with the “no homework” policy have gone to the nightly reading where students bring books to and from school that match with their just right level. The reading logs stay at school for accountability purpose, but the book goes to and from allowing for that child to read each night (even if they may not have books in their home). The schools that have been successful have also turned to more invitations to parents come in, fashioned their conferences differently, provided different conversations starters for parents about how to talk to their children, been creative with their communication, and offered opportunities for children to share their outside home learning within the school.
I have read a lot about homework in the past few years. I have been part of a school that went away from traditional homework as a parent and I have been an administrator of a school that went away from traditional homework. The most important things I learned in both of those experiences was exactly what the research is telling us. Communication between parent/teacher is key, the invitations for parents to be part of their child’s learning at school is key, and the nightly reading can make all the difference.
I am currently reading a book called, “No More Mindless Homework” by Kathy Collins (a dear friend of mine and literacy guru) and Janine Bempechat. It is a great little read and possibly the next book the parent book club may even think about reading together.
I think what I have learned most about homework with almost 20 years of experience in education as a teacher, consultant, a parent, and researcher is this…
At Winans there was great thought about this topic way before I arrived. Teachers were reading the current research and reflecting and rethinking. I so admire this. We will continue to do this together as we learn more together. We will continue to learn, reflect, examine our practices, listen to the research, and then apply best practices because that is what good practitioners do, not just on homework, but all practices. We need to know why we do everything we do, rely on research based practices, and if it has no benefit to our students, we need to stop and try something else. That’s just good practice.
So, here is our new homework policy at Winans Elementary.
Reading each night is expected and highly encouraged as research tells us it is crucial for a child's overall success in school. Nightly reading can include the child reading aloud a "just right" book to a sibling, friend, parent, or even a stuffed animal or you reading aloud to your child. The most important thing you can do to help your child become a strong reader is to read aloud to them each night. In first and second grade, the importance of play is still considered very important. Playing indoors and outdoors! By playing board games with your child you can help your budding mathematician grow. Also, by providing an environment with paper and pens/pencils encourages the inspiring writer. Engaging your child in projects, hobbies, and their passions will also challenge and empower your child grow as a thinker, inquirer, and passionate learner. Extra work that is purposeful may be given at times to reinforce concepts or simply for extra practice personalized to the student. The district recognizes Wednesday night as family night, and honors that time with no or very minimal work assigned to these evenings.
Currently, this is what we have come to agreement with, but it will be an ongoing conversation with our staff and our parents and our students. We must listen to one another and we must watch the affect it has on our students. Any negative impact it is having toward our students or families we must rethink completely. Anything positive we must keep and grow in our thinking and improve it to make it even better.
A parent survey will be coming soon with some questions on a variety of topics including your thoughts on homework. We want to listen to you as this is truly a partnership.
Until then, here are some articles below that support this thinking here. We can’t just continue to things because we have always done them that way. We must continue to do what is best for kids and rethink when it no longer serves them and our families.