Is Homework Working?

Question:
It’s hard for many children to have the right conditions at home for doing homework successfully. Yet teachers often must give homework. What are some things you do about this?

A: I always looked for ways to make homework a positive experience for the children and their parents or other caregivers. One good technique was taking small steps to explicitly teach children the skills to do homework in less-than-ideal conditions. At the start of each year, we discussed what a good place and time to do homework would look, sound, and feel like. The children then practiced trying to do homework in different situations (other children talking and laughing, the room completely silent, music playing). Then we talked about what worked and what didn’t. Besides letting the children share ideas, this activity also emphasized that doing homework was an important responsibility.

Only after study skills were secure did homework gradually become a regular part of classroom life-one that helped children learn with maximum success and minimum stress for them and their families.

Gail Zimmerman retired recently after thirty-four years as a classroom teacher (second, third, and fourth grades), reading specialist, and literacy coach at James Curley and Jackson Mann Elementary Schools in Boston, Massachusetts.

A: Homework goes better when I find ways to engage parents. Early on, I invite parents to a Hopes and Dreams conference so I can hear what they want their children to accomplish during the school year. I emphasize how homework can help their children meet those goals and suggest ways they can offer support.

When homework isn’t done, I send a letter home. If incompleteness becomes an ongoing issue, I talk with parents about how we, as partners, can help. I may allow time to do homework during after-lunch silent reading or encourage children to stay for an after-school homework session.

Mark Emmons teaches third and fourth graders at Jay/Westfield Elementary School in Jay, Vermont.

A: I make sure the amount of homework is manageable and the homework itself purposeful. Purposeful homework should (1) give the children practice in a skill I introduced in class, (2) build the children’s sense ofresponsibility, and (3) inform parents about new skills and concepts their children are learning so that they can better support their children’s learning in the future.

For many parents, first grade is their introduction to Everyday Math, our school’s math program. This program’s carefully designed homework (which usually takes five to ten minutes) gives children additional practice while encouraging parents to discuss the new math concepts with their child.

I also ask the children to read for ten minutes at home each day. They decorate book bags and use them to take home the books they’ve worked on each day. This builds responsibility and provides students with appropriate practice books. Parents have commented that having new books each school day stimulates their child’s desire to read. It also lets students show parents what good readers they are becoming.

Kay McHugh teaches first graders at Berlin Elementary School in Berlin, Vermont.

Tags: Homework

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