Homework as a Choice?

Last school year a group from grade 5 chose to inquire into homework as a portion of their Exhibition. They surveyed students, parents and teachers about how they feel about homework. They researched and found experts with data on the effects of homework on learning. They brought all of their ideas to the Instructional Leaders for the Junior School and presented their findings and suggestions for moving forward. Their action inspired action for the whole school.

We began this year with a new approach to homework. We set out to re-write our homework policy. We began first with a definition:

Homework is the extension, reinforcement and/or review of learning that happens outside the classroom and school day.

With this in mind and with the research conducted by grade 5 and the Instructional Leaders we wrote our Purpose & Beliefs:

We have completed an inquiry into homework and looked to experts in the field. John Hattie found in his study (effects related to student achievement) that homework has a zero effect in primary school. This was reinforced by research conducted by Alfie Kohn for his book, The Homework Myth. He found that “there is no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.” However there are many positive correlations between academic achievement and free voluntary reading (Krashen, 2011). It has been shown that voracious reading for pleasure directly correlates to positive academic gains. For these reasons, daily reading will remain the core of our homework practices. This research, in addition to our understanding of Kampala traffic, travel times, the need to be a child, the importance of family time, the opportunities to participate in other extracurricular activities and the busy lives we all lead has caused us, at ISU, to rethink our homework policy. We have developed several beliefs about homework that have influenced our policy:

  • We believe that the purpose of homework should be to help advance the child as a learner, to reinforce skills and understandings established during the school day and to help the child build on what they know.

  • We believe, that smaller assignments completed and done well are more effective than lengthy projects.

  • We believe that homework will not to be graded, instead we believe in a model of self-assessment and reflection. Students will discuss and explain or explore their thinking and learning (ie. what they agreed with or disagreed with in the article they read, what they’re struggling with in math, what new questions they came up with from their unit) with parents/families at home, with classmates and/or with teachers.

  • We believe homework serves the purpose of establishing a partnership between school and home. With homework we endeavour to connect the school day with the families at home through the assignments given.

  • We believe homework is not appropriate for children in EC-K instead suggestions for learning ideas to do at home with children will be sent to parents regularly.

Which then led to our policy:

Homework will be based upon ISU’s learning principles and students will be involved in the process to make choices about their own learning and develop the habits of lifelong learners. Homework will encourage daily reading for pleasure and will be a chance to develop connections, a time for reflection and an opportunity for discussion.

To open the dialogue up to the parent community we took this idea to a weekly parent forum. There were a lot of ideas and discussions surrounding the idea and need for homework. Some parents commented that if homework has a “zero effect size” then why have it at all? Other parents demanded more homework to teach responsibility, accountability and to enhance the learning. We hoped to find a balance between the differing viewpoints and take the first step towards a new revolutionary view of homework.

To help explain the changes further we wrote responsibilities and procedures then provided examples of what a homework choice menu might look like. These changes have allowed us to provide more voice and choice within the idea of homework and better involve our parent community in the learning. One parent wrote in to share her reflections on the changes to homework:

Hi,

Just wanted to send a note (*as a parent*) and say that I’m loving the ”homework menu” that you’ve started sending home this year. The activities on is are already creating more conversation and dialogue in our house, building communication skills and questioning. The activity based ones, such as ”helping with cooking or baking” sparked our daughter to check out a library book on baking this week, choose a recipe ”Apple Pie”, read the recipe on her own (reading skills improving!), get out all the ingredients in order (sequencing), and tools (some new vocab), we measured together (math!), and with her siblings, and they had to work ”collaboratively” together to do all the steps. Following on, we decided it would be nice to have some ice cream, so took a walk together to the supermarket to pick out some vanilla ice cream together, and all ate it together after dinner (yum!)

I just wanted to say that I’m sure it was what was intended, but just feels so much more meaningful to build up our experiences and memories together, while learning, with this type of ”homework” 🙂

Keep it coming!

ISU Mother

Some examples of the choice menus are below:

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8 thoughts on “Homework as a Choice?

  1. You acknowledge research that shows homework has zero effect on academic achievement, plus research that shows *voluntary* reading has some positive effects. Yet, students are still required to do homework tasks (choose a minimum of…) and are forced to read, ie: it’s not voluntary. I’m confused. Can students choose not to do homework at all?

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      1. So I’m clear, as it has been established that “…homework has a zero effect in primary school”, you are merely providing homework options for students who may wish to do homework of their own accord. Is this correct? Or are students required to do the homework that has been assigned, ie: reading plus a minimum of X menu options?

        I notice that G5 has mandatory homework. Why is homework mandatory if you have acknowledged that “…homework has a zero effect in primary school”?

        In both cases, is there a consequence if a student chooses not to do the homework? Perhaps the homework is part of a “flipped classroom” strategy so the students would miss out on front-loading for class tasks?

        I’, trying to understand why there’s a disconnect between what you SAY about homework (ie: it has zero effect on academic achievement, free and voluntary reading may have/has positive effects on academic achievement) and what you DO (ie: manadatory homework tasks, requirement to read everyday, in other words, it’s not free and voluntary).

        Thanks,

        Bren

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      2. Hi Bren,
        Thank you for your thought provoking questions. You are right in that there does seem to be a bit of a discrepancy, what we have found is that most of our parent community is not yet ready for the “no” homework idea and so we have options of homework as a choice. We hope that with time we can slowly eliminate homework, even the choice menus, altogether and instead send home ideas for parents to talk about with their children. We do see the one benefit of homework is that it provides a great bridge between home and school and allows parents insights into their child’s school day. And yes, in most grades homework as a choice is completely optional whether they do it or not without any consequences. In grade 5 the mandatory choices are still choices, you can do it at home or at school but these items need to be done at some point in the week. They provide time in class for the students who choose not to do it at home to complete these portions of the choice menu in school.

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  2. I am impressed with your inquiry. Such a thoughtful way to discover a new approach. I currently working on collecting ideas from my colleagues around home learning principles and really hope that Voice-Choice-Ownership will be a part of the approach in our school. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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