As a former secondary English teacher, I battled the homework question many times throughout my ten years of teaching. On the one hand, homework, particularly reading homework, was necessary for students to build their literacy skills and stay on top of classwork. When studying a novel, assigning 20 pages of daily reading during class was not an effective use of class time. However, if I gave too much homework (more than 20 minutes or so of reading, unnecessary worksheets for extra practice, etc.) then students would not complete it.
I also had to take into account my students’ other classes, home lives, and after-school activities. Giving “only” 20 to 30 minutes of homework per night multiplied by their other classes added up quickly for quite a load. Some of my students were responsible for younger siblings at home, some worked to help support their families, and others played sports or participated in after-school activities. Blended learning occurred successfully in my classroom, but many of my students did not always have access to the internet at home. It took a few months for me to realize that students not completing homework was not a personal attack against me or a dislike for English class, but a result of outside factors.
I now have a little one who is beginning her school experience as a kindergartener. There are so many changes – socially, emotionally, and academically – for her. As her mother, I can honestly say I am so thankful that she does not have homework yet. Thanks to her amazing teacher, my daughter and I have had the opportunity to slowly adjust to new routines and the big changes that come with school without the added stress of homework responsibilities. With this being said, homework in the form of nightly reading and logging books will come soon, but the grace period for adjustments has been refreshing.
Now back to the homework question...and the answer – in short – is YES to homework, but with limits. Based on my research, teaching experiences, and parenting, I have come up with four criteria for homework in a classroom, blended or not. Keep these four points in mind, tighten up your teacher superhero cape, and you will be a homework HERO!
When assigning homework, ask yourself, “Is this specific assignment helpful?” Be very intentional about what and how much you assign. Are students able to complete this assignment in 20 minutes or less without additional help? If you answered no, reconsider assigning it, or modify it. Remember, not every student in your classroom has someone at home who can assist them with homework. Make sure homework is accessible for all students. Otherwise, the achievement gap will unfortunately widen, and the students who have support at home will thrive, and those without support will fall further behind.
Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this homework assignment?” Is your homework absolutely helpful and necessary? For example, research shows that reading for 20 minutes a night greatly improves literacy skills in early-elementary aged students. Be mindful of the amount you are giving. Yes, homework does help establish good work habits and sets students up for success. However, too much homework has been proven to do the exact opposite.
The purpose of homework should be to reinforce or enrich skills taught during the school day. Homework assignments reviewing baseline skills and reinforcing concepts are invaluable for closing the achievement gap for students who are behind grade level. To ensure all students are successful and benefitting equitably from your homework assignment, make sure they have at least a baseline understanding of the skills needed to be successful. In a blended-learning classroom, students are able to receive personalized instruction based on their individualized needs, which means that homework assignments may vary from student to student.
To ensure all students are successful and assignments are equitable in your classroom, you must take into account students’ home lives. Remember, not all students have access to technology at home, so make sure you have offline resources. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Is this assignment only possible to complete online?” If the answer is yes, then either modify your assignment or think of a way to incorporate it during class time instead.
These are just a few quick tips I have found to be helpful to be a homework HERO in your classroom. What are some tips you have found? Let us know, post below!