The Transparency Files: Homework Wars

home-work-close-up-1-1126726-mThis is the 150th (!) blog post of “A Floor, But No Ceiling” and amazingly, to me, in a search of all my blog posts, I cannot find one that deals with “homework”.  I guess denial is not just a river in Egypt…it is a river in Jacksonville, Florida!

Disclaimer: In addition to being the head of school, I am married to a public school teacher and am a parent of a 3rd Grader and an Kindergartner.  “Homework Wars” do not describe my parental situation with homework.  Whether that is a function of my children, their particular teachers, our particular family dynamic, or blind luck, I couldn’t say, but “homework” is not a daily or any other kind of struggle in my household.  (Knock on keyboard.)

Why the disclaimer?

I guess because I want to be sensitive to any unconscious biases I may bring to the table in this conversation.  We have excellent teachers who do not have children of their own.  But I think it would be dishonest to suggest that lacking a parent’s perspective never has consequences for teachers who have not lived at home the impact of schooling.  There are some things you can only learn through experience and if not through experience, through the willingness to learn from other’s experiences.

So I admit that as a parent, I am presently satisfied with the amount and the quality of homework being brought home by my children.  That does not make it objectively true.  As a head of school of a K-8, however, I am well familiar with concerns and complaints about both the amount and the quality of homework.  And the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is in an excellent position to tackle the subject…

Important Segue:

I have used this blog to document our school’s 21st century learning journey and all the associated initiatives we have taken on to get from there to here to the future.  For anyone who has not been along for the ride, in celebration of my 150th blog post, here is my starter’s collection to be fully caught up with who we are and where we think we are going:

The MJGDS 21st Century Learning Journey in 13 Blog Posts

Transparency
Standardized Testing
edJEWcon
Inclusion
Financial Sustainability
Gaming Theory
Habits of Kindness
Reflective Practice
EdCamp
Learning Target
Second Language Acquisition
Experiential Education
Blogfolios

…here in year four of our work together.

It is reasonable to conclude that there are various philosophies about what the purpose of homework ought to be and that there is ample research to be found supporting just about them all.  For our school, however, the conversation comes with a context.  Considering who we are and what we believe to be true about teaching and learning, what ought to be the role of homework here?

Like all preceding vital conversations, this one has begun with our 21st Century Learning Team and will continue on with our teachers, parents and students before being concretized in final form.

 

What is our current policy?

We have a simple 10 minutes per grade level (outside of reading) formula for estimating the appropriate time it should take a typical student to complete his or her homework.

Part of the impetus for taking this on is that not only does that policy seem not to hold true often enough, it fails to address the why’s and what’s of homework.  It only speaks to, “how much?”  We can do better.

 

The purpose of the MJGDS Homework Policy, once re-imagined, will be to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework.  A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.

This policy will need to address the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.

The MJGDS Homework Policy will be based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.

Without having had all the conversations we will be having, I do think based on the conversations we have had, that there are philosophical conclusions consistent with who we are that we can put up front that will inform the policy once complete.

The philosophy at the Martin J Gottlieb Day School regarding K-8 homework is that homework should only be assigned that is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “Learning Target” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

We understand today’s busy schedules and demands on parent and student time.  Most learning is done in school, but as is the case with our learning of a foreign language and learning to read, reasonable and age-appropriate practice and repetition is exceptionally beneficial in other certain subject areas.

There are also some commonsense practices we believe will help to increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.  Homework is more effective when:

…..the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.

…..it does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material.

…..it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.

…..it is explicitly related to the classwork.

…..it is engaging and creative.

…..part of the homework is done in class.

…..it is authentic.

…..feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.

…..it is differentiated.

…..it reviews past concepts to help retention over the course of the year.

 

This is not to suggest that we are not presently trying to live up to the above in our current practice.  But it is to suggest that our written policy fails to provide teachers, parents or students with sufficient guidance to insure that all students in all grades are doing appropriate homework – appropriate quality, appropriate content and appropriate length.

As with every other initiative or project we undertake at MJGDS, our conversation and conclusions about homework will be done collaboratively and transparently.  We look forward to our local conversations, to doing the work, and to sharing it out when done.

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon has recently begun his rabbinical school journey at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is thrilled to have joined the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor for Cohort 12. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

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