As I approach my fifth year of blogging (YIKES!), I cannot tell you how touched I have been by the connections I have made with teachers around the world. I have learned so much from them–and I hope I have been able to give a little in return.
One topic that ALWAYS gets people a little ramped up is…
That’s right. Just bring THAT topic up to a group of parents–or teachers–and see the mixed reviews you get! You can find all sorts of studies that talk about the benefits (or not) of homework…but I caution you to always take note of the age group studied! Most of the research out that was done with high school students! Check out this statement from an article on Edutopia that tries to clarify this.
“Although the debate about homework generally falls in the “it works” vs. “it doesn’t work” camps, research shows that grade level makes a difference. High school students generally get the biggest benefits from homework, with middle school students getting about half the benefits, and elementary school students getting little benefit (Cooper et al., 2006). Since young students are still developing study habits like concentration and self-regulation, assigning a lot of homework isn’t all that helpful.”
So, that being said, I DO give occasional homework. In fact, I do require my students to read a minimum of 20 minutes daily at least 5 times per week. Why? I am wanting them to build a reading habit! There are no rules–it can be the same book they are reading at school, articles online, cartoons, magazines–anything that builds their “readerly life”.
I also at times will assign homework something like this: “Find someone not in our class to teach about the difference between potential and kinetic energy.” By keeping it this open-ended, it can be a parent. A babysitter. A sibling. A friend. Even ME if necessary. This type of homework is fast and easy and is very reinforcing of what is being done at school.
Finally, I do assign a little math homework at times…but not what people might typically think. I do not want parents having to teach math. I’m a little possessive of that! I don’t want homework to be stressful for anyone–so any math homework I give is either fluency work (skills they are secure with and are just building automaticity) or open-ended in nature. If I don’t think a student can handle a task, I replace it with a fluency game. Because I believe this strongly, I will often assign a practice page from a unit earlier in the year. Of course, it’s super important to communicate this to parents…that the homework doesn’t match the topic OR level of classwork…and that it is meant to build responsibility and fluency not reinforce that day’s lesson.
When I talk about open-ended homework, I am referring to work that is, by its very nature, differentiated. Check out these pictures from some homework we did within the last week or so–and note that these would be FANTASTIC for classwork as well–but they are wonderful for homework because they are so flexible. I love using these–we had done a multiplication review (it IS testing season) so I gave them one to do–and then space to make up two similar problems. When they finished, they needed to check them on a calculator and find any errors. There are so many problem types that work for this–and once students learn the process, there is no miscommunication on directions.
Another favorite homework “type” for me is the “Make it Your Way” sheet…you can put ANYTHING in that oval and then ask them to generate a list of at least 10 (or 5 or 15 or whatever) ways to “make” that number or amount. You will see students at a most basic of levels able to accomplish this…
…but also those who have additional skills can really showcase them. This is where I’ll see students playing with negative numbers, decomposing, and more–and the more they do, the more creative they get! They just always have to be able to prove that they are right. Again, once they are taught how to do it, there is no worry about directions. These are GREAT for sharing the next day as well! I often have students “star” their favorite 3 and then we do a gallery walk…or I let them write their favorite one on the Smartboard and we try to not get any repeats…lots of options.
So…if I do assign homework, do I grade it? Nope. Students bring it into class in the morning and quickly buddy check it. I check whether or not it was finished, and then partners work to reconcile any discrepancies! End of story. I am aware that there are people who are required to give and grade homework which just makes me a little sad…but perhaps you can come up with an easy rubric to use–related to effort, completion, and precision or something like that.
So anyway…I thought I’d just spark some discussion–either in the comments or in your own mine–about your own thoughts about homework for elementary students. There certainly are MANY points of view–and many, many different situations. I have actually changed my point of view over the last five years or so; I think it’s always important to continually refine our beliefs and seek out deeper understanding. Hope I got you thinking!
Want to see where I got these homework sheets?
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