As I stated the last two months, the new school year brings on new changes. This month I will provide the community with some thoughts to think about when the topic of homework is presented. First understand that there is not a homework policy that has been implemented at East Union. Teachers have their own philosophy when it comes to homework. This on its own is one of the reasons that the secondary staff is completing a book study on the book Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, written by Cathy Vatterott. Homework is an area where there are many different ideologies on the amount, the type, and the importance. At East Union, homework fits into the category of independent work in the Structured Teaching Model that the secondary school is looking to implement during the 2012-2013 school year. This is the “You do it alone” category in the gradual release of responsibility model. East Union is moving forward to develop a consistent homework policy.
Cathy Vatterott is an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. As a former middle school teacher and principal, and the parent of a college graduate, she has experienced homework from a variety of perspectives. She is the author of three books—Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs (ASCD, 2009), Becoming a Middle Level Teacher: Student-focused Teaching of Early Adolescents (McGraw Hill, 2007), and Academic Success through Empowering Students (National Middle School Association, 1999). Her most recent article about homework appeared in the September 2010 issue of Educational Leadership. She frequently presents at national conferences and has served as a consultant and workshop presenter for K-12 schools on a variety of educational topics.
Here are some thoughts from Cathy Vatterott.
In many busy families, homework has become a source of stress between parent and child, and has created friction between parents and teachers. Many parents are tired of the teary battles at the kitchen table, and the nagging they have to do to get the homework completed.
Some parents complain that they are overwhelmed themselves and have no time or patience to supervise homework. They shouldn't have to! Homework that cannot be done without help is not good homework! Parents should be less involved in the actual homework task and more involved in communicating to the teacher when their child is unable to complete homework.
Homework sometimes adds a heavy load to children already overburdened with too many outside activities or family responsibilities. Parents should consider limiting outside activities, but must also lobby their child's school for reasonable amounts of homework.
Many schools require that homework be assigned, without much thought as to what the homework tasks should be, and if homework actually improves learning.
Many well-established homework traditions just don't make sense in today's world, yet tradition dies hard.
- We know that students differ in their "working speed", yet many teachers assign the same amount of work to all students, expecting slower students to simply take the extra time to finish the task.
- We know that students have responsibilities and activities after school, yet many teachers assign homework at the end of one day and expect it back the next day.
- Most U.S. teachers grade homework, (in other countries homework is graded much less often). Within a single school the percentage homework counts in a student's grade can vary from 10% to 80%! Yet teachers have no way of knowing if the student actually did the work, or if they have favorable conditions at home to do homework. Failing students for not completing homework unfairly punishes students who may be unable to work at home.
If students don’t see a valid reason for homework, or if they view the task as meaningless, boring, or tedious, they will often risk failure rather than waste their free time on those tasks. That usually means teachers must spend as much creative energy designing fun, interesting, and satisfying homework as they do creating fun, interesting, and satisfying classroom activities.
More homework gives the appearance of increased rigor, but “difficulty is often equated to the amount of work done by students, rather than the complexity and challenge” (Williamson and Johnston 1999). Ah, if it were only that simple. More time does not necessarily equal more learning. The “more is always better” argument ignores quality of work and level of learning required. Rigor is challenge—but it is not necessarily the same challenge for each student.
Students without supportive parents (or with single parents overburdened trying to make ends meet), with inadequate home environments for completing homework, or with parents intellectually unable to help them, are less likely to complete homework (Vatterott 2006). Are these less-advantaged students bad? Of course not. When homework causes these less-advantaged students to receive failing grades, they are being graded on their home support system, and being penalized for their family and home environment.
I have not given you any answers to the thoughts listed above. The secondary staff will continue to ponder these thoughts. These are just a few of the topics that the East Union Secondary Staff will be spending professional development time to discuss and to develop a consistent homework policy 6th thru 12th grade. This is a tough assignment. Wish us luck!
East Union Secondary Principal