Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Role of Homework in an Elementary School

I have never been a big fan of homework even though I admit I have assigned homework in the past that I would never dream of sending home now. Why? I am not sure if it is because I am now more informed about how students learn and how they or motivated to learn. Or, is it because I have my own children and I can see the other side of the fence.

The big question surrounding homework for me is: What is the purpose of the work?

Should work come home with students on a regular basis? Absolutely. What we have to look at is what type of work goes home with our students. Is it busy work that is given just for the sake of giving students homework. Or is it an extension of the learning process in the class meant to allow students to follow their own curiosity and make their own investigations and conclusions?

In Ontario we have a document entitled: "GROWING SUCCESS: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools".

The document takes an extensive look at assessment and evaluation and how they are used to improve student learning.

One of the sections of the document that really stood out for me was:

"To ensure equity of all students, assignments for evaluation and tests or exams are to be completed, whenever possible, under the supervision of a teacher. Assignments must not include ongoing homework that students do to consolidate their knowledge and skills or to prepare for the next class."

This section stood out to me for the following reasons:

  • It puts all students on an even playing field so to speak.
  • Every child's reality is different at home and they are not being penalized because of who helps them or who does not.
So what are the reasons that I am rethinking homework in an elementary school?

  1. Homework is often has the wrong focus: If homework is being sent home in order to get all aspects of the curriculum covered, there is a problem. Homework should go home that promotes learning and that spark students interest.
  2. School is a job: Our students spend 6 hours plus a day at school. Some of our students do not even get picked up from childcare until almost 6 o'clock. Let's think about ourselves. When you get home do you want to do and hour plus of homework? Our students should be able to focus on their studies at school in a positive environment that makes going to 'work' fun. No one wants to bring work home.
  3. Let a kid be a kid:  Kids need to run around and be active. When they get home they should have the opportunity to go outside and play and participate in extra-curricular activities without worrying about doing their hour of homework each night.
  4. Reality: Some of our kids go home to an empty house. Mom and Dad may work late. Maybe it is a single family home where the parent takes a night shift and your student is responsible to take care of her/his siblings. Often we have no idea what is happening in the homes of our students.
  5. The majority of homework is ....... well boring: More often than not homework mirrors what has gone on in the classroom during the school day. If we are going to assign after hours work, why not make it interesting and offer different learning opportunities.
When we do assign homework I would like to see the homework do the following:
  • motivate students to investigate
  • give the students choice of what they can do for homework
  • have the students document what they have done at home
  • have open ended homework assignments that act as a springboard to discover something new and exciting
I would really be interested in seeing what kind of effect this would have on a learning environment at school. Not for one second do I think that it would be perfect. Of course there would be obstacles and things that need tweaked. However, I am sure that there would be students at school that are less stressed out, chronicled details of out of school discoveries and students who have more control over their learning while meeting classroom expectations.

I think I will start the ball rolling here. I'll let you know how the journey progresses.

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