What type of homework, if any, should we assign to students?
Last week we began exploring how homework can sometimes benefit students. But, under the wrong set of circumstances, it can sometimes hurt students too.
What the research shows us is the correlation between homework and performance is stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades.
The younger the student is, the less fruitful ‘homework’ can be. According to the National Education Association, the industry standard continues to be the “Ten Minute Rule.” This translates to about ten minutes of homework each night per grade level.
It’s important to take note here that once a student reaches 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 counteracts any gains made!
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 for them to correct problem areas. This will further require more effort from students to relearn the correct information.
For these reasons, I limit the amount of homework I assign to my upper elementary students. When I do assign homework, I hope to get the most “bang for the buck.” I try to focus on the areas that seem to count most: Reading & vocabulary, mathematical reasoning skills and practical life activities.
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.
My Homework Packets Focus On 3 Specific Content Areas:
- Reading comprehension & vocabulary
- Mathematical reasoning skills (via constructed responses*)
- Practical life activities and real world experiences!
Last week we looked more closely at homework in the areas of reading comprehension and vocabulary. This week, I’d like to focus on mathematical reasoning skills and practical life activities.
2. Math Shouldn’t Be So Scary
A lot of people hear the word math and it immediately begins to conjure bad memories.
I will admit, math has always been one of my stronger subjects. Therefore, I don’t immediately feel the terror others might feel when asked to do some sort of math activity. But, I’ve worked with many, many students who have felt this terror.
One of my upper elementary colleagues is retiring this year. She has worked for over 40 years as an educator. I can’t even begin to imagine accomplishing this. Together, we’ve worked closely for 11 years. Through those years she has repeatedly reminded us how important it is for students to know their multiplication facts. She argued, students who can quickly recall their multiplication facts feel more confident as they progress toward more complicated math.
I resisted this idea for many years. I am not a strong advocate for timed testing of any kind. This is because I feel timed tests only truly benefit those naturally possessing quicker mental processing speeds. Hence, timed tests tend to reward those already good at the skill being reinforced. And the reverse is also true: It might feel like punishment to those struggling to master the skill set.
Unfortunately, our country relies heavily on high stakes, standardized testing. I’ve tried to wish the testing away but it seems with each year that passes, the stakes are raised, not lowered. I’m considering writing a book on all the ways are educational system harms children. But I digress.
So, a few years ago I finally gave in. In the end, my colleague was right. It’s difficult to watch a student who understands how to do complex steps within a math problem struggle over recalling a multiplication fact during a timed test.
They might be able to recognize what steps need to be completed to calculate an answer, be able to recall formulas and know how to convert. But if they accidentally recall 8 x 7 = 54, then all is lost. It’s certainly not fair to that student.
Just like learning to walk before you can run, learning multiplication and mastering the times tables are building blocks for other areas of math – higher learning such as division, long multiplication, fractions and algebra.
But it also turns out multiplication facts don’t need only to be reinforced via timed tests. There are fun, low stress ways to help students reinforce their math facts!
If you are looking for some form of homework to give to your student or child, you might consider some of the ideas listed in my previous blog, Multiplication Tables: The Importance of MASTERING.
What the heck is Constructed Response?
The #2 item on my homework packet list is: Mathematical reasoning skills (via constructed responses*). This, of course, begs the question, what the heck does Constructed Response mean?
Constructed Response math problems are a type of classroom assessment item. It asks students to apply their knowledge, skills and critical thinking abilities to real-world, standards-driven math tasks. Constructed responses can be either short or extended.
Constructed responses require students to “construct” or develop their own answers without the benefit of any suggestions multiple-choice questions might provide. Students generate and interconnect their ideas into a response directly related to the item in a short answer format.
Here is an example of a Constructed Response page I include in most of my homework packets:
The student’s response comes in the form of a few sentences. This should include their math vocabulary, number sentences to support their response, and/or a simple drawing or diagram with an explanation.
3. Practical Life Activities & Real World Experiences
Practical life in Montessori is purposeful activity in two main areas of development: Care of self, and care of the environment. At a younger age, it helps develop motor control and coordination. As the child grows older, practical life activities help develop independence, concentration, and a sense of responsibility.
The older your child gets, the more helpful they should be to you. If your child has been doing chores around the house since they were little, you are well aware of how beneficial this has been not only for them, but for your family. As children progress through the elementary years, they can handle more and more responsibility.
Each week, I will give students a choice as to what practical life activities they would like to complete. They also have the opportunity to think up some on their own. Here is an example of a Practical Life page I include in my homework packets:
The topic of real world experiences is a great lead in to the blog post I am planning for next week: What the heck should kids be focused on over the summer? My short answer is obvious – relaxing and having fun. Make time in every day for unstructured, unsupervised creative play.
Structured play, also known as goal-oriented play, generally involves using logic to solve problems, while unstructured play or free play is creative and open-ended. Both are necessary to your child’s development and will cultivate traits encouraging lifelong learning.
In the day and age of screens and over-scheduling, children are losing the opportunity for critical unstructured play. Unstructured, unsupervised creative play allows children to make independent choices, to be bored, to develop curiosity and to explore possibilities.
Find a safe environment where your child can explore and reflect without constant adult supervision. No one needs to be entertained every moment of every day!
Are you looking for real world ideas with more structure than this? See my list below of Real Life Homework suggestions.
Here are some additional ideas for “Real Life homework” that can be completed at home:
- Write a letter to a local politician addressing concerns and offering solutions
- Write interview questions and interview a grandparent or an interesting neighbor
- Write a play, poem, speech, or sing a silly song!
- Take a nature walk together; observe an animal in its natural environment and take notes
- Plan a trip with a bus map and schedule or plan a walking trip using a city bicycle route map
- Take a trip to any of our many public libraries; tour the downtown central library
- Volunteer together at a food pantry or senior citizen’s home
- As a part of a research work go to the zoo, public museum, Domes, the art museum, Discovery World, Urban Ecology Center, International Crane Foundation, etc.
- Plan a financial budget together such as a monthly grocery budget
- Write out a grocery list together and go shopping; have your child measure and or weigh out various items at the grocery store; your child could assist you with handling small amount of cash, counting change, etc.
- Cook together; have your child measure and/or weigh out the different ingredients in a recipe; Dr. Montessori believes this is a great age to involve them in cooking!
- Read the newspaper together and discuss current events, debating both sides or points of view
- Help your child plan a small neighborhood business or service (paper route, animal sitting, shoveling, etc.)
- Draw or paint objects in the home or neighborhood; draw or paint emotions/moods
- Go to the park together and play a game or, better yet, invent your own game! Encourage creative thinking!
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 email@example.com.
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