The role of homework in student learning

There has been much discussion lately about whether or not teachers should assign homework to their students. Many believe children should spend more time playing than doing homework. I agree that students should spend more time playing outside, but I also believe that homework can have a positive place in a child’s life after they leave school for the day. Learning cannot stop once the school day is over, it should continue at home also.

‘Homework’ comes in many forms. For the younger children in Early Education, or EE, homework is usually based around family life and the development of the whole child. Parents can work with their child to develop number sense and letter/sound recognition. Talk with your child and let them help while you make dinner or clean up the house. While you are cooking dinner, have your child count the number of potatoes you have washed, or tell you the beginning sound of “soup.” There are a number of educational opportunities, or ‘teachable moments’ that can arise in a short amount of time. It is also important that parents work with their younger children on general life skills, such as how to clean up after themselves, tying their shoes, general hygiene skills such as brushing their own hair and teeth, and more. These skills will be beneficial both at home and at school.

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Homework for the primary grades is more content-based and is generally teacher-generated. Activities can vary based on what students are learning in the classroom and the preferences of the teacher. Homework should reflect what students learned during the regular school day. Students should not be expected to teach themselves the content without some guidance or instruction.

One of the most important homework assignments a teacher can assign is reading at home. Reading homework works best for students when they are able to choose their own reading materials. Teachers can choose to have students summarize their reading, write the main idea and supporting details, or discuss the characters, but the students should be able to choose their own stories or books. This will help foster a love of reading in a child and increase comprehension, fluency and vocabulary development. Parents can interact with their child by asking them questions about their reading, such as: Who is your favorite character? What was your favorite part? Does this remind you of something that has happened to you?

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Math homework does not need to be extremely challenging. It should be a reflection of previous learning in the classroom and should reinforce strategies practiced during regular class time. Problems should be challenging enough to allow students to showcase their content knowledge, but not too hard that they feel stressed or discouraged when trying to solve them.

So, how much homework is too much homework? According to the National Education Association and the National PTA in America, some general homework guidelines have been adopted. They stated that children in Grade 1 should be assigned between 10-20 minutes of homework each night. An additional 10 minutes of homework for each grade beyond that. By this guideline, my Grade 3 students are asked to complete between 30-40 minutes of homework each night. Students are asked to read any story or book for 20 minutes, complete 10 minutes of math homework based on the standard we have been working on in class, and 10 minutes of spelling homework based on the phonics lesson we have been working with during the week. These short assignments have allowed my teaching instruction to focus on specific areas of development in class.

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New Homework Approaches

As an alternative to traditional homework assignments, many schools have started using different ways to encourage student learning at home. A new approach to homework that has proven to be successful in my classroom is the idea of a “Flipped Classroom.” It is where students first learn about a topic at home before coming to class to practice the concept.

I create an instructional video where I am able to write, draw, insert pictures and use audio instruction. The video is uploaded to the school parent portal where students were able to view the video as many times as needed. They work through the video as many times as they need until they felt comfortable with the strategies presented. The next day at school, I find students understanding and engagement in their learning increased significantly.

Whether your child is assigned traditional homework, an alternative homework, or no homework at all, it is important that parents support their child’s learning at home in some respect. Learning should take place throughout the day—in and out of the classroom. And don’t forget, the most important thing you can do with your child is to read to them or let them read to you!

BIO: Christine Schoaps is a Grade 3 teacher with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and Masters of Mathematics Education at the International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP)

IMAGES BY FREDRIK WISSINK