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Homework - is it worth it?

Over the years, many parents have reported that homework time is a source of great conflict within their homes while students report increasing levels of stress and anxiety around homework. Teaching in various provinces, age groups and school settings, my views about homework have evolved with time and experience. In broad strokes, I agree with Geoff McMaster[1] that, if it’s going to be assigned, homework needs to have a clear purpose for the students’ learning. More specifically, I offer the following suggestions for teachers if giving homework and for parents in managing homework.

[1] (McMaster, 2022)

 

Teachers, IF you are going to assign homework (and no one says you have to) . . .


Homework should only include tasks that students can do independently.

· If students were struggling with the task during class time, they are not going to do any better with it on their own at home.

· If it’s a brand new concept or skill you’d like them to try out or practice at home, make it very clear that you want students to “play” with the concept and bring in specific questions the next class; students (and parents) should be clear that this exploration is only for 15-30 minutes, not a whole evening struggle to “get it right.”


Homework should prepare students for the next learning experience.

· Homework tasks should be things like reading and highlighting an article or short story, or gathering materials for a project, or doing a quick scan in Google about an upcoming topic, or talking to their family about the topic.

· It should only be assigned if EVERY student in the class can access the material independently, meaning that they have the skills and tools to utilize technology if they have weak reading or communication skills.


All homework tasks should be inclusive. Often, teachers adapt students’ work in class “on the fly,” directing individual students to do five of the ten questions, or writing a paragraph instead of an essay, etc. This is not an option when listing homework on the board that students then have to navigate on their own. I have had many students with various learning challenges tell me that they didn’t want to challenge the teacher and ask for adapted materials for their homework so they struggle and stress over these tasks. Then, the teachers tell me that they had no expectation of those students doing the task in the same way or to the same degree, but this was never clearly articulated to those students.

· Teachers must have a plan for how they will differentiate their homework tasks using the guidelines of Universal Design for Learning so personalized expectations and plans are clearly communicated.



Homework should not be about finishing what was not completed in class. This is both a planning issue and a student management issue.

· When allotting class time for the learning task, did you consider the varied learning needs and styles of your students? Do you have a class environment and routine which allows students to be focused and to stay on-task? How have you planned for the students who struggle to self-regulate? What were some of the unforeseen interruptions (which seem inevitable most school days)?

· If students were goofing off in class, then, perhaps, those individuals should be staying in at lunch or after school to get that work done rather than it being homework for everyone.


The children’s developmental stage matters. My personal belief is that, if there is homework, it should continue the connection between education and learning while providing children an opportunity to be independent thinkers and learners.

· For younger children, that can mean “homework” being assigned to share their learning with their parents or to ask their family one question about today’s topic and share back the next day. Or, perhaps, their homework is to practice a time management or organizational strategy and report back whether or not that strategy was useful.

· As children get older, their homework can be about reviewing the day and prepping for the next day, and this doesn’t need to take more than 30 minutes. No homework should put undo pressure or stress on the family’s home life, and that is part of the teacher’s consideration within the UDL framework.


As children become teenagers and no longer have only one teacher, each teacher needs to imagine every other teacher assigning the same amount of homework and how that accumulates. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard this refrain from students: “It’s like they (the teachers) think that theirs is the only class I’m taking!”.

· If you’re assigning ten math problems that you think should only take the students 15-20 minutes, tell the students to stop at 20 minutes because that’s all the time you’re expecting them to use.

· Keep in mind that if all of their other teachers (usually around four total) assign 20 minutes (usually more), then that student has 80 minutes of homework in amongst their sports practices, family time, volunteer or paid work hours, sleep, etc.

Ask yourself if that is reasonable every night, and make sure that what you’re asking of your students’ personal time is worthwhile.


 

Parents, your role is a balancing act between advocating for your child and supporting their learning . . .


You know what your child is capable of doing after a day at school. Some students put a lot of cognitive energy into “holding it together” during the school day with all the pressures, social expectations, sensory stimulations, etc.

· As the parent, you know if your child is going to thrive with more academic challenges or wither under the pressure, or something in between, so you get to decide if they do 5 minutes or 45 minutes of homework, or none at all.

· Communicate with your child’s teacher about how you can support homework and what you hope your child will get out of the experience.


The best way for you to support homework time is to focus on executive functioning skills[2].

· Use a timer and help your child build time awareness.

· Ask questions, like “What do you need to get started?” and “Are you showing what you know?” or “What questions do you have for me or your teacher?” rather than directing their work or answering their questions for them.

· As a parent, it is not your job to teach curriculum, but to support your child’s learning – there is a difference!

· Help your child organize their materials and get ready for the next day as part of their homework time so they have a sense of preparedness for the day – this is a tremendous gift you can give them each day.

· Consider using the “Get Ready-Do-Done” strategy by Sarah Ward to plan homework time or to plan what to do each morning.




If parents and teachers work together to limit homework to meaningful, independent learning activities for our youth, it will be one less added stressor in their lives and don’t we all need that!?

[2] (Cox, 2007)

 

References

  • CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from UDL Guidelines: http://udlguidelines.cast.org

  • Cox, A. J. (2007). No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control - The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs to Thrive. New York: Penguin Group: A Perigee Book.

  • Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2007, March). The Case For and Against Homework. Educational Leadership: Responding to Changing Demographics, 64(6), 74-79.

  • McMaster, G. (2022, October 17). How much homework is too much? Folio. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2022/10/how-much-homework-is-too-much.html?fbclid=IwAR1dfblVqjUPxzKpB3oZ-wVKNIjUqceasnZrcinSJij3qQcK6kIU8ZJo4rw

  • Vatterott, C. (2014, March). Student-Owned Homework. Educational Leadership, 39-42.

  • Youth Mental Health Canada. (2022, October 19). Understanding the delayed after school stress response. Retrieved from https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0q69mowMzociqEgPcc6TCfaGhH3fm5fHEvxE7BCdAkdwWnP1juwfQQpqM9hEPCmFGl&id=257283044468446



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