Homework Part One

Is It A Good Investment In Learning?

Homework Part One

The controversial topic of homework.

As a teacher, there seems to always be an end of the year push to quicken learning over the remaining days. This is especially true during this weird, broken one. We believe, for whatever reason, many students have seemingly fallen behind. There must be a way, we think, to catch them up during these last few weeks?

It can be tempting to turn to homework. On the surface, using homework to pick up the slack seems advantageous. But, it may be less effective of a strategy than most of us think.

There’s little research available as to the impact homework has had during pandemic virtual learning. On the other hand, there is a heaping pile of research on its effectiveness as a strategy to accelerate in-person learning.

The findings point to limited learning benefits. Even more, the significant downsides to assigning homework should encourage us to stop and think about it more carefully.

The findings point to limited learning benefits. Even more, the significant downsides to assigning homework should encourage us to stop and think about it more carefully.

How Homework Can Hurt Students

I teach at the upper elementary level (4th, 5th, 6th). Therefore, my perspective is always framed by this age group. What the research shows us is the younger the student is, the less fruitful ‘homework’ can be. In fact, the greatest benefits achieved by homework is with older students, high school aged and beyond.

According to the National Education Association, the industry standard continues to be about ten minutes per grade level. That means for high school seniors, the recommended guideline for homework is about 120 minutes (2 hours) per night. This is the maximum amount combining all subjects – not for each individual class!

The theme here is ‘too much.’ Too much homework clearly diminishes its benefits. Once students reach a point where they are feeling confident in the skills being practiced and the work has reinforced their learning, more practice has not been shown to increase achievement. In fact, it might just do the opposite: It starts to counteract any gains made!

When homework involves practicing new concepts or skills while students hold misconceptions or are uncertain of their skills, homework actually works against learning.

While completing homework intended to support learning, we risk having students repeat errors which will only increase their confusion. When students practice and reinforce misconceptions, it takes even longer to correct problem areas. This will further require more effort from students to relearn the correct information.

Does Homework fit into the Montessori Curriculum?

Homework is not part of the Montessori Curriculum. In my teacher training, it was presented to me as a “Trapping of Traditional School.” That first year after completing my training, I walked into my new classroom determined not to assign homework no matter what anyone said. And then I quickly discovered many parents still expected there to be some amount of homework.

I was stubborn at first. With time I realized even though homework is not part of the our curriculum, cultural sensitivity is. I concluded I needed to try to meet families where they were at and agree to some degree of compromise.

Since then, I feel like I am always doing a delicate tap dance between homework or no homework, too much homework or the right kind of homework. My grade level has debated it over and over again. When new teachers join our team, the conversation starts over.

So the compromise is this: I limit what goes home and when I send it. When I do send it, I try to focus on the areas that seem to count most: Reading & vocabulary, mathematical reasoning skills and practical life activities.

The Compromise

For the last decade, I have assigned a small packet of homework (about 8-10 pages) on a weekly basis. Each week’s packet can be completed incrementally in whatever timeframe works best within each family’s schedule.

I will typically wait well into October before beginning our homework dance. I try to allow the kids time to acclimate back into our classroom. Time to rediscover the materials, what they enjoy learning and what their peers are working on.

On the flip side, I try to end the packets by mid-May. I will then send home summer suggestions to families (Teaser: This will be explored in a blogpost to come soon!). These suggestions mirror the weekly homework packets: Reading & vocabulary, age-appropriate & real life math problems and practical life activities!

Homework - Montessori Blog - Grumble Services Learning Resources Blog Post

There are no “grades” attached to my homework packets. The packets are designed instead to help students with comprehension skills and to prepare for the world at large.

For instance, I hope to help my older, 6th grade students in developing a pattern of completing and turning in assigned work on a consistent basis. Moving forward, we know this will be the expectation of our adolescent program and/or any other traditional school settings.

Students are expected to complete as much of their homework packets on their own. This might seem daunting at first. As the students move from 4th to 5th to 6th grade, a little bit more is added to the weekly packets.

If a specific part of the homework seems too difficult for a child, I ask them to skip that section or page and move onto the next one. I then go over those challenging parts with them upon returning their weekly packet to school. From time to time, I will quickly spot check the completed packets to help me gauge what support might be needed.

Finally, during one morning each week, students work together in small, mixed-level groups to discuss and reflect on their own answers. They correct their own work and no grades are given.

My Homework Packets focus on 3 specific content areas:

  1. Reading comprehension & vocabulary
  2. Mathematical reasoning skills (via constructed responses*)
  3. Practical life activities and real world experiences!

1. Reading Comprehension & Vocabulary

Time to circle back to the importance of reading! My expectation is for each student to read a minimum of a 20 minutes each evening at home. At the end of that week, they are asked to summarize what has been read throughout the week on a weekly reading summary page.

It has been shown that consistent and daily reading comprehension exercises, especially when assisted by an adult, have a significant impact on individual academic improvement.

“The single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night to sit and read them wonderful books.”

By Alicia Bayer, Contributor
Blogger, A Magical Childhood

Starting in kindergarten, if a student reads 20 minutes a day at home, they will hear 1.8 million words per year. They will have read for 851 hours by 6th grade and on standardized tests, they will likely score better than 90% of their peers.

Montessori Blog - Grumble Services elementary learning resources
Please have a Print Dictionary available at home!

As mentioned in last week’s blog post on Complete Sentences, my students moan when I lecture them on how critical for success one’s vocabulary is. But, it’s true! A hearty vocabulary can improve so many things: Listening, speaking, reading and writing, just to name a few.

What are the best ways to learn new vocabulary words? Reading a new, challenging book; opening up a dictionary to a random page; or simply talking to other people. Listen and learn!

Mastering vocabulary leads to a greater confidence in commanding our language.

The Family that Reads Together..

I encourage you to spend some time each night reading together. Children are never too old for read aloud! Modeling the behaviors we want to see in our children leads them to creating the best reading habits.

If you don’t have time for a read aloud, ask your children what they have read about that day, instead. Here is a list of questions to assist you in your questioning:

ask the following questions to aid in higher-level thinking:

  • Who is the main character in the story and who are the supporting characters?
  • What makes the main character the main character in this story?
  • What is the plot of the story?
  • Ask why something has happened, what might happen next, and what would your child do if she or he were in this story?
  • What is the setting of the story?
  • Not just place, but time as well (time of day, year, season; is it happening now, in the past or in the future?).
  • How much time did the story take place over? Was it a day? An hour? Years?
  • Is time in this story sequential or has it skipped around?
  • Is this format effective for the story?
  • What kind of story or genre is it and why? Nonfiction or fiction? If fiction, is it historical, modern realistic or science fiction? Could it also be a fantasy story, a myth, a legend, a fairy tale, a folktale, a biography, etc.?
  • At the end of a story or chapter ask your child to please summarize what they read. What do they think will happen after the story ends? What should be included in a sequel to this story?
  • Ask your child did he or she like the story, why or why not?
  • If not, what would make this story better? Ask your child to create an alternative ending.
  • And, it’s always helpful to ask your child for an alternative response to any of these questions. Ask your child why? Encourage creative thinking!

Tune in next week for Part II on the benefits and pitfalls of assigning homework. I will be going into further detail on items 2 & 3: Mathematical reasoning skills (via constructed responses*) and practical life activities!

Do you have thoughts or ideas about homework? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas and experiences at grumble.services@gmail.com.

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Read More: Empowering Children

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References and Read More:

Is Homework Good for Kids? Here’s What the Research Says

Too Much Homework Can Lower Test Scores, Researchers Say

The Importance of Vocabulary

What Is the Role for Homework Now?