In late November, I blogged about what was then a pending conversation our faculty was going to have in order to revisit and realign our school’s homework philosophy with our learning target. In that post, I suggested some likely ideas that I imagined would make their way in based on all the work we have done these last few years making our beliefs about teaching and learning more explicit.
We introduced the project at the December Faculty Meeting in a really interesting way. One member of our 21st Century Learning Team, randomly went onto class blogs and picked homework assignments that were then presented to the faculty to open the meeting. The question was then asked: “How long do you think this assignment ought to take the ‘typical’ students in this grade?”
The results were clarifying to say the least. Just about each assignment – regardless of grade level or subject – was estimated to take anywhere between 5-40 minutes!
So if our own teachers couldn’t agree about how long an assignment ought to take our students to complete, imagine how our parents and students feel!
This was a great introduction into a conversation about revising and articulating our school’s homework philosophy. Unlike other decisions in our school, I made it clear to faculty that although they would have input, the ultimate decision would be mine. [In our school we peg decisions on a hierarchy of decision-making. Some decisions they make with my input. Some decisions I make with their input. Some decisions require consensus. Some decisions are made democratically. And so on. I find it helpful to make this transparent to teachers so expectations are clear and there are no unnecessarily hurt feelings.] They were given the month to provide me with feedback to a draft similar to that which was in my blog on this issue. I was then to report back at our January Faculty Meeting what the new “MJGDS Homework Philosophy & Guidelines” were to be.
And so I did.
The following was disseminated to our faculty last week…
MJGDS Homework Philosophy & Guidelines
III. General Homework Principles
IV. Homework Guidelines in Elementary Grades
V. Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades
VI. Characteristics of Effective Homework Practice
VII. Parent, Student, Teacher, and Administration responsibilities
VIII. Implementation Strategy [To Be Created]
The purpose of the MJGDS Homework Policy is 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 addresses the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.
The MJGDS Homework Policy is based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.
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. Most learning will take place during the school day (accept when utilizing an explicitly “flipped pedagogy”. Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding. Homework should be consistent with the schools “Learning Target” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.
Legitimate academic purposes for homework include:
- practicing a skill or process that students can do independently but not fluently,
- elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen students’ knowledge,
- enabling students to finish classwork that they were unable to complete in class, and
- providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest.
Non-academic purposes for homework, particularly in K-3, include:
- developing better study habits and skills,
- developing independent problem-solving skills and better time organization, and
- greater parental appreciation of, and involvement in, schooling.
We understand today’s busy schedules and demands on parent and student time. Most learning is done in school, but like learning a foreign language or learning to read, reasonable and age-appropriate practice and repetition is exceptionally beneficial in certain subject areas. We also recognize that in a 21st century learning institution the barriers between bounded times and spaces for learning are ever-shifting and, so, we remain flexible to new ways to provide our students with authentic opportunities to learn and to explore.
III. General Homework Guidelines for all Grade Levels
- Homework is never to be used to teach a new skill (with the exception of explicitly “flipped pedagogy”).
- Teachers are not required to assign homework.
- Homework should not exceed more than 10 minutes per grade level per night for the average student (not including reading).
- Homework should be purposeful and meaningful to students. Legitimate purposes for homework include practicing a skill or process that students can do independently but not fluently, elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen students’ knowledge, and providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest.
- Reading is an integral part of learning and is a consistent part of homework.
- Practicing second-language skills is consistent part of homework in a bilingual school.
- Homework will reflect the accommodations and modifications of curriculum that is stated in a student’s modified program.
- Assigning homework over holidays is highly discouraged.
IV. Homework Guidelines in Elementary Grades (K-5)
In elementary grades, with the exception of reading and being read to, there is little proven correlation between homework and achievement.
- In the primary grades (K-3), homework should consist primarily of reading plus a limited number of independent exercises to reinforce previously taught basic skills.
- Except for reading, homework at the elementary level should not be assigned over weekends, holidays, or extended school breaks.
- At the upper grades (4-5), homework consists of completing, practicing, preparing, or extending core academic skills and is designed to build independent study habits.
- Long-term assignments should be limited in number and duration. Project based assignments should primarily be undertaken and completed in the classroom. These tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials. These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion.
V. Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades (6-8)
- Homework should be assigned during the school week on a regular basis.
- Teachers should coordinate scheduling of tests and projects.
- Long-term assignments at the middle grades should be limited in number and duration. These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion. All deadlines must be posted on the class blog.
- When assigning group projects, teachers should allow in-class collaboration time with specific tasks to be completed independently; however, these tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials.
- Except for reading, homework at the middle school level should not be assigned over weekends, holidays, or extended school breaks.
- Bear in mind that middle school students preparing for their b’nei mitzvot are spending 10 minutes per night during the year leading up to their b’nei mitzvot and more than that in the month prior.
VI. Characteristics of Effective Homework
This section addresses practices to help 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 (unless it is taught in an explicitly “flipped” pedagogy, i.e. Math).
- it is on a consistent schedule. It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent. (Of course, it must be necessary and not just because “it’s Wednesday”.)
- it is explicitly related to the class-work.
- 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.
Students are responsible for:
- ensuring understanding of the homework and asking for clarification or help when needed
- regularly completing assigned homework in a timely manner
- managing time by staying focused, on task, and planning effectively for long term projects
- bringing home all necessary materials
- putting forth their best effort to produce quality work
- completing or making up missed assignments and tests if required by the teacher.
Parents/Guardians are responsible for:
- being an advocate for their child, while encouraging the child to advocate for himself/herself
- encouraging reading at all grade levels
- providing an appropriate environment, including necessary supplies, for homework to be done
- providing a healthy balance between homework, extra and co-curricular activities, and family commitments
- contacting the teacher if their child is not consistently able to do the homework by himself/herself within the time guidelines, or if challenges or questions arise
Teachers are responsible for:
- sharing expectations for homework with students and parents early in the school year
- designing homework assignments that clearly articulate their purpose and expected outcome, allowing for student questions and planning
- providing timely feedback to students
- ensuring any homework assigned is directly related to the classroom instruction and consists of clear, purposeful, and authentic activities
- assigning homework that is appropriate and differentiated as needed
- teaching the skills necessary for the students to complete the homework and become successful independent learners
- being careful not to assign too much homework or homework that frustrates or discourages the students
Administrators are responsible for:
- monitoring homework quality and quantity
- communicating homework expectations with parents
VI. Implementation Strategies
And this section was – and still is blank.
Because this is the hard part! It is easy (ish) to write out a philosophy and guidelines. Putting it into practice in a way that is consistent and clear to all? That is hard work!
This is why we spent the last hour of our amazing Professional Day last Friday (after our EdCamp) meeting by division (Lower School General Studies, Lower School Jewish Studies & Middle School) to begin to develop an implementation strategy. Our goal is to finalize that implementation strategy in time for it to be included in all Parent Handbooks for the 2014-2015 school year. The conversations so far have been especially rich and I am looking forward to seeing how the project comes to conclusion.
Watch this space…