When thinking about homework, teachers find it beneficial to communicate their policy with the families of their students. After recently completing a Learners Edge course, Jennifer Lindsey, a 4th grade teacher from Pennsylvania, reflected on her homework philosophy which includes the purposeful roles teachers and families play.
LE: What is your position on the issue of homework?
When I answer this question, I answer as an educator and as the parent of school age children. I do see homework as having a role in the educational process and I do not agree with Alfie Kohn (see article), who appears to believe homework is worthless, or worse, has a negative impact. While Kohn asserts there is almost no research that proves homework to be beneficial, I did not see a convincing amount of hard data to support doing away with all homework.
Yes, the amount of homework should be based on the student's age and grade level. As most Kindergarten-3rd grade teachers are self-contained, it should be relatively simple to give math homework one night, reading or spelling one night, etc. to avoid overloading 5 to 8-year-olds. If teachers are creative with assignments and in communicating the purpose of the assignment, students should not become bored or frustrated. Those are my goals as a fourth-grade teacher. I see homework to extend learning. Would I assign 30 math problems to students who I know would struggle with them, or to students who have demonstrated their understanding of the skill? No, in those cases, it is my job as the teacher to modify the assignments.
Our textbook points out it can take 24 repetitions of a skill for a student to reach 80% competency. I think practicing skills is worthwhile. Kohn's comparison with tennis does not make sense to me. There are skills in tennis you must practice to improve. There are basic math skills children must practice to build a solid foundation before moving on to higher-level math skills. Kohn points out how students may become better at remembering, but not thinking. I see this as two different things; we need students to remember certain facts and then move on to using those skills as thinkers and problem solvers.
As a parent, it can be difficult to squeeze in homework some nights! My own children have brought home assignments I believed inappropriate or too lengthy for one night. We do the best we can, and if we have problems or concerns, I reach out to the teacher. Knowing some students have little or no support at home must be recognized by educators. Again, good teachers make it a point to know what some home situations may be like and to modify accordingly. When possible, colleagues can work together, as described in two supplemental course articles, by establishing a learning lab or incorporating “Drop-In" times during the school day.
Homework can be a divisive topic in the education community, and we hope you can appreciate this teacher's point of view. We would like to hear your thoughts about homework. What is your philosophy? How do you communicate with families about homework?