Being a student myself for most of the 70s and 80s and a mother of a recent high-school graduate, I empathize with the argument that homework assignments are often random and can take unrealistic amounts of time to complete. With that in mind, I frequently consider the homework I assign to my own first graders. As each new school year approaches I weigh the purpose of the assignments and consider if they are making a positive impact not only in my students learning, but also in my students home school connection with their parents.
To be a successful teacher, I endeavor to empower my students with the confidence and knowledge to succeed in their academic and personal lives. I teach at a Title I school, where 93 percent of our students are profiled as economically disadvantaged and 66 percent of our students labeled at-risk. Many of the students I have worked with throughout my 10 years at Metz live in single parent homes with multiple siblings. Some students had one or both parents incarcerated, live in shelters because of homelessness or were removed from their home situation.
Even with these deficits, our school still manages to attain recognized and commended performance levels on Texas state tests. Our staff and students work very hard for their successes. To further contribute to these successes, I continually seek innovative ways to bring quality learning to my students in and outside of the classroom. Luckily, I have always had the autonomy to choose what homework I assign to my students and I strive to create interesting and meaningful projects throughout the year that will help extend the home school connection.
The Home School Connection
One of the main goals of my homework assignments is to create opportunities for my students to interact with their parents and take time to learn about what makes themselves and their families special. At the beginning of the year, in lieu of traditional homework assignments, I focus on the student and their family. Two of the first special at home activities I assign include the Family Page Project to display during Back-to-School Night and the Baby Name Project.
The Family Page Project is a wonderful way to learn about your student's families. Parents are sent the Family Page Project letter, with instructions about how to work with their child to decorate a large piece of paper with interesting facts about their family. I find that sending an oversized piece of white construction paper works better than a large poster board, which can be overwhelming to fill. The instruction letter is filled with ideas that families can use to decorate their page, but they are encouraged to complete it any way they like. It is amazing how creative my families have been with these projects. In my third year of teaching, one of my students, Julissa, glued magazine pictures of people, but added her own families heads. It was hilarious looking, and showed that her family had a great sense of humor. This year, my student Alex and his family worked together to create an amazing family book. Another one of my students, Nathan, drew houses for all of his extended family members and glued in the faces of their dozen of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
I always give the students time to present their family page in class. The things they share can be quite insightful, touching and funny. One student talked about his uncle who had died in a gang dispute. He had a lot to share about the things he used to do with his uncle and it was obvious that he missed him very much. A former student, Lily, attached pictures from a trip to Bolivia to visit her father's family and this led to an impromptu lesson on South America. This year when Kerina showed the picture of her mother that she drew she shared that her mother was going to have a baby "but she isn't ready to take it out yet!"
I always display these projects in the school hallway so everyone who attends Back-to-School Night can enjoy them. Over the years it has grown in success and families who are not even in my class come by to see the display. Two of my colleagues have begun to do this project as well, with the same enjoyment and success.
One of my other favorite family assignments is the Baby Name Project. I send home the Baby Name Project letter describing how family members can help. This project gives parents the opportunity to share with their child the origin of their name and information about the day they were born. I have to credit my own mom with inspiring this project. On every birthday when I was younger, she would tell me the story of my birth and I loved hearing every little detail. I kept the tradition up with my own son, Ian and I love setting up the opportunity for my student's parents to do the same.
You would be surprised at how many children have no idea how their name was chosen or what happened on the day they were born. I love hearing students tell their stories and I use their parents written account to help them share more details with the class. The accompanying baby photos are always a huge hit! Of course, I always bring a photo of myself as a baby and as a first grader so my students can hear my story and see what I looked like when I was their age.
What About Traditional Daily Assignments?
Research has consistently shown that parental involvement in a child's learning is a key factor in that child's achievement in school. With the reality of the test driven world of education, many parents expect what they were given in school for homework, familiar daily or weekly assignments. I do agree with the rationale behind these daily assignments:
- Homework reinforces skills, concepts and information learned in class.
- Homework prepares students for upcoming class topics.
- Homework teaches students to work independently and develop self-discipline.
- Homework encourages students to take initiative and responsibility for completing a task.
- Homework allows parents to have an active role in their child's education and helps them to evaluate their child's progress.
- Homework activities relate what is learned in school to children's lives outside of school and helps to connect school learning to the real world.
But I believe these daily homework assignments should be varied and meaningful, not always rote practice work.
To encourage authentic writing for homework assignments; I use a class mascot, his sleepover bag and a journal for students to write about the mascot's visit to their home. I send home the classroom digital camera so students can photograph their home, family, special events and vacations. We print their photos on the class computer and use them to support their writing. Students interview family members for information to share with the class. We also write poetry, lists, headlines, photo captions, book reviews and more.
To reinforce practice with their word wall words, students learn how to rainbow write, triangle write, happy face write, staircase write, box it write and sort their word wall words by number of letters, syllables, and vowels. I have included a Spelling Ideas printable with examples of all of these ideas and more so you can use it with your students.
To practice math skills and problem solving I send home math games with my students to play with parents or siblings. I assign homework that can easily be modified depending on the students' level of understanding. I also have Family Game Night. Students are allowed to borrow a board game from my classroom collection to take home for the weekend. These games include a memory game from the National Museum of Art, Boggle, Clue for Kids, Scrabble for Kids and more. Students never realize that they are learning about art, counting, problem solving, reading and following directions while they're having fun.
Most importantly I want my first grade students to be reading every single night to improve their word recognition, comprehension, fluency and word attack skills. I am thankful that our school has a fantastic guided reading book library that almost all teachers at Metz use on a daily basis. This allows my students to take home the same books we read in class during guided reading, and reread them dozens of times over several weeks, improving their language arts skills. Students read the same books during independent reading time in class, so they receive further literacy support with these same books just in case an adult is unable to support their reading at home.
Even if your school doesn't have a literacy library of leveled books, you can use reading textbooks the same way, search the Internet for web sites that carry professionally developed leveled readers that you can download and print for student use such as Learning A-Z, or purchase one of the exceptional guided reading programs from Scholastic. If you are short on funding to purchase a program check out local teacher grants in your area or sign up on Donors Choose or Adopt a Classroom.
Homework is an important time to make connections and reflect; on self, family, friends, new or familiar information, and the world beyond. What you present to your students will determine the heights they will climb to continue to maintain their academic success. "What is more important, quantity or quality?" is a question you could ask yourself when revaluating the homework you assign to your students. Homework should be fun and full of discovery, not only your students, but for you as well!
The Schalmont Central School District and school community believe that homework plays a critical role in teaching and learning. It also provides an excellent opportunity for parents to become aware of their child's daily academic experiences.
The purpose of homework is to strengthen academic skills and reinforce concepts taught by teachers. Its value is borne out in a variety of research studies. Appropriately assigned homework not only improves student achievement, it also develops time management skills, self discipline, independence, personal responsibility, and the ability to follow directions and prioritize.
The intent of this document is to promote sound homework practices and identify the responsibilities of teachers in their role of assigning appropriate homework, students in their role of doing homework and parents in their role of encouraging and supporting their children.
Parent's Role and Responsibilities
It is the parent's role to reinforce the importance of homework and encourage home completion in a timely manner. Parents need to monitor their child's homework. If parents set rules within their home that define where, when and under what conditions their child needs to complete their work, the task becomes more routine and less cumbersome. It is essential that parents provide guidance for their child, not answers. Parents are encouraged to find out more specifics about individual teachers' procedures and requirements when a child is absent.
Homework Tips for Parents
- Express to your child the importance of a good education and the value of doing homework.
- Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit place to do homework. Make this location a permanent one.
- Watch your child for signs of frustration. Suggest a short break and then return to the task.
- If your child is struggling to complete an assignment, you may need to contact your child's teacher.
- At various times during the school year, positively reinforce how well your child is doing.
Student's Role and Responsibilities
It is the responsibility of the student to record their homework assignments. Students are encouraged to seek clarification about homework assignments they feel are unclear. It is their responsibility to complete homework and return at the time it is due. Students at all levels who are experiencing difficulty with their homework are encouraged to seek help from their teachers.
It is incumbent on parents in the early grades and students themselves as they mature to request homework assignments missed based on absences. Students who are ill may take it upon themselves to complete homework while staying home, depending upon the illness.
Teacher's Role and Responsibilities
Teachers are responsible for assigning meaningful homework to all students and for providing the necessary explanation and direction required, so that students can accomplish the work with reasonable success. Teachers will be mindful of students with limited resources, like internet access in the home, and will provide suggestions for how students might accomplish these assignments in school. Students receiving special education or related services will be given appropriate homework assignments on a regular basis. Homework will be checked and proper feedback given to students.
Middle School and High School teachers have built into their schedules a time period of 2:30-3:15 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, whereby students may request and receive help related to class work and/or homework.
Teachers need to be cognizant that students' illnesses may preclude them from completing and returning homework immediately following their sick days. Students may need an extended defined period of time established by the teacher to complete work that was assigned during their illness.
Amount of Homework
The following chart suggests the amount of time to be spent on homework at each grade level. There is flexibility in all of these times that are stated based on the fact that individual students complete work at different rates. A significant number of students prefer to complete a portion of their homework in school during study halls or other times that are available during school. Some children prefer to complete assigned homework in advance if they know they have other commitments beyond the school day such as sports competitions or family celebrations. Long-term projects require some homework scheduling on the part of the student, knowing that other assignments need to be completed, as well.
To promote consistency and fairness, these are guidelines for the amount of time; however, teachers may vary in their beliefs and system for assigning work. For example, some teachers choose not to assign work over the weekend or during holiday periods.
- Kindergarten: 10 minutes per school weekday
- First Grade: 20 minutes per school weekday
- Second Grade: 30 minutes per school weekday
- Third Grade: 40 minutes per school weekday
- Fourth Grade: 50 minutes per school weekday
- Fifth Grade: One hour per school week day
- Sixth through Eighth Grade: 5 to 8 hours per school week
- Ninth through Twelfth Grade: 6 to 10 hours per school week
These timeframes do not include recreational reading. Also, some teachers may assign a specific amount of additional time for reading.
Reading—An Important Activity in Conjunction with Homework
Homework often involves a reading assignment with follow up questions related to the comprehension of the material assigned. How often do teachers and parents emphasize the need to read an entire passage before answering any questions? This logical procedure is often not the process followed by the student. Both teachers and parents need to reinforce the appropriate strategy for completing homework. It is a process students need to follow not only to better their comprehension skills, but also to prepare them for standardized testing.
Most importantly, reading for pleasure in itself, is an extremely important pastime that has great impact on a student's success. Children are able to get public library cards at a very young age. The research is clear that students who read regularly are more successful in school. It is important for teachers and parents to continually encourage students to read more and often.