Though we established the spotty record of homework, the reality is that most schoolchildren have homework. And although our focus is primarily on parenting, homework has such a huge impact on family life that offering tips for teachers might spark ideas that address home-school workflow issues. This list provides a variety of starting points for teachers and administrators thinking about alternatives. What might we be able to change about homework policies?
1. Begin “training” kids for homework in 5th grade, not kindergarten. Many people who accept the research against early homework still argue that it helps develop good habits (even if it doesn’t actually help academically). Ok, so why train them for an extra five years? Let’s wait until 5th grade and use that year as the “training ground” for the habits we want to see in middle and high school (when homework effects start to kick in). Kids can definitely get the hang of homework in ten months.
2. Make homework a meaningful fit for ALL students. Create homework that is as engaging as the curriculum. (Or even more-so, if the curriculum itself is on the dry side). Homework can help convey the curriculum to parents, but should always be targeted at the child’s level of independence.
3. Individualize homework. Or at least, differentiate. If you have a student who is breezing through algebra but completely stumped in Spanish, why have him complete 30 algebra problems every night? Why not decrease the algebra load and allow him to spend more time with the subject that needs attention?
4. Create meaningful pathways for parent:teacher communication about homework. Homework is done at home, so offer parents a voice in the conversation. Talk with parents about homework is going for their children. Encourage parents to use post-its to send brief notes about how it’s working: “This was very easy for Max”, or “This was too challenging for Sadie.. I don’t think she understands the concept”. Consider creating comment boxes on homework sheets so that rather than just giving a signature, so that parents can comment when necessary.
5. Consider scheduling homework when it’s needed, rather than every night. Rather than thinking, “I need to give homework in 3 subjects each night, or I need to give X minutes of homework each night,” why not assign it as needed?
6. Provide flexibility. Realize that families have lives outside of schoolwork, and that some nights might be better than others. Consider providing a weekly packet for students rather than nightly work. This way, students and families can decide how to best manage their time and tasks for the week.
7. Provide choice. Allow students some options in their homework. Keep some things mandatory, but provide a menu of choices so students can follow up on work they need practice in, or follow topics and tasks they find more interesting. Here’s a great example of a homework choice board from daretodifferentiate.com.
8. Encourage creativity. Too often, homework is sheer drugery (worksheets, end of chapter questions, rows of math problems). Why not allow students to come up with ideas, projects, or other ways of extending their own learning?
9. Mind the time. While the ten minute per grade rule isn’t exactly bedrocked in scientific research (unless your child is a senior in high school), students should certainly not be exceeding that guideline. One thing is clear in the research… more homework is not better.
10. Realize the profound impact homework can have on both the student’s enjoyment of school and on family time.
11. Communicate with other teachers. Especially in the upper grades where students tend to have multiple teachers assigning homework, teachers should understand and monitor the cumulative amount of homework students receive each night. This can be quickly accomplished in a shared google doc or posted on a common whiteboard at school.
12. Let weekends, holidays, and summers be homework free! Aside from providing summer reading options, give students the breaks they deserve. Rather than assigning more teacher-directed work, encourage them to follow their own interests over breaks from school.
If you have more ideas, or tips for parents and homework, please comment below.