Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Importance of Homework

I know that the pendulum swings back and forth over homework. I myself have thought about it many different ways over the years. Our superintendent made a big deal about homework at his welcome message this year, but not in the way you would think. He wanted to encourage us to not make a big deal about homework. There are some kids who just can't do homework every night - through no fault of their own. He encouraged us to give these kids the opportunity to do homework at school without any penalties.

I liked what he said - it isn't fair to penalize kids for choices their parents are making. I have worked hard this year to only give kids the most important homework, and create time in class for the kids who didn't do it at home.

After a couple of months of this I have some findings to report.

It turns out that giving students the opportunity to do their homework at school doesn't matter. The kids who aren't doing their homework at home are not taking the opportunity to do their homework at school either (at least in my class).

I do have a few thoughts about why this is true...

1. The kids who are unable to do their homework at home are the same ones that struggle in school. By the time they get to fourth grade they are used to not being successful. They just don't know how to succeed on a very fundamental level.

2. The kids have not learned how to execute a task on their own yet. Kids who do their homework at home started with parents heavily involved in the process. Over the years the parents gradually stepped away and the kids took over. By fourth grade many students are able to sit down and do their homework on their own. The students who have never done homework at home didn't have the modeling and help that the other students did. Now they aren't sure where to start.

3. For whatever reason - too tired, too hungry, too distracted - these kids have a hard time paying attention in class. If they aren't paying attention in class they don't really know what is going on. Since homework is based on what we are practicing during class, they don't know what to do on their homework. Since they don't know what to do they get stuck.

So, those are my ideas about the homework situation. But is homework really important? Well, I have some thoughts on that too.

Homework for the sake of homework is not important. However, when used as a tool to give students more time to practice and think, is vitally important.

In every class I have ever taught there is a direct correlation (almost to the letter grade) between how much homework in completed and a student's final grade in a class. The more homework you complete and turn in, the more likely you will get an A.

Notice I said there was a correlation. I don't think it is a cause and effect relationship. Homework is easier for kids who understand the material so they are more likely to do it.

That being said, getting kids to do their homework every night is going to increase their understanding of the material.

So, what do we do as teachers to use the relationship between homework and understanding to increase student achievement?

I have no idea. I have tried many different systems throughout the years to make homework as accessible as possible. Now I even stay on Edmodo all evening so that my students can ask me questions and get answers back in real time. Unfortunately, I get lots of questions from my high achievers and none from my students who struggle.

I also keep the classroom open for an extra hour two days a week and have offered to keep kids even more than that. Again, my high achievers love it and come all the time. Struggling students... not so much.

What have you tried that has worked well for struggling students? I really, really want to know!

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