5 Hallmarks of Helpful Homework sprung out of the recent popular post, The Tyranny of Homework: 20 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Assign Homework Over The Holidays. Homework has always been a bone of contention for me, especially the volumes of repetitive work, fielding the same concept over and over in a ridiculous number of problems. I’m a special education teacher and learning has always needed to be more playful, more relaxed, and more game orientated to keep my students engaged. I started calling it family work rather than homework, as I mostly sent home games or assignments that needed a family member to get involved with. It seemed like a good idea back then and I still does to this day.
I cringe at the concept of write these spelling words 3X or 5X each! Research has shown this activity does not necessarily improve your ability to spell and may even have negative side effects. Take the kid that has poor fine motor control or another who struggles with attentional issues - you’ve just assigned failure. You always hear practice makes perfect, right? That's only if you're practicing it right. Each time you spell a word wrong, you're 'practicing' the wrong spelling. There are many problems with the traditional ways we teach kids how to spell. Traditional methods reflect short-term memory instead of real knowledge and often focus on vocabulary words rather than the most commonly misspelled words. How many adults do you know that still struggle with their and they’re, as well as other words like receive and believe?
By involving the family you are adding personal interactions, which immediately takes the isolation out of homework. By involving the family you have also extended the school day to give it real meaning and you have given families the gift of time together. Possibly the most important outcome of healthy homework is the much needed alleviation of stress in our children's lives. Watch the video below by parent Vicki Abeles to see what I'm talking about.
Hallmark 1: Connect the Family
Homework that connects the family will be much more valuable than homework that disrupts family time and isolates the child. Parents will be encouraged to participate in homework by adding their views, opinions, observations, or sharing their experiences. These responses will be appreciated and will make the home and in-school conversations more enlightening.
Hallmark 2: Purpose/Meaning
How purposeful are the homework assignments? Are there better alternatives? Can students have a choice?
Ideally, homework should provide feedback to teachers about student understanding, enabling teachers to adjust instruction and, when necessary, reteach concepts before assigning practice. Meaningful homework can open endless possibilities for students all along the learning continuum. An open-ended homework assignment encourages students to pursue personal interests, use their abilities, and engage in new social relationships.
Hallmark 3: Ownership
When students practice reading (and grow to enjoy reading for pleasure), choice of what, when, and how much to read is especially important in order to engage readers. Typical assignments dictate what as well as how much: "Twenty minutes each night, two chapters from the novel each night, or 30 pages from your textbook each night." Forcing students into these requirements can easily turn them off. My biggest pet peeve – don’t read ahead…
Hallmark 4: Differentiation
We must abandon a one-size-fits-all approach. Homework that students can't do without help is not good homework; students are discouraged when they are unable to complete homework on their own. To ensure homework is doable, teachers must differentiate assignments so they are at the appropriate level of difficulty for individual students. Struggling students may require fewer questions, less complex problems with fewer steps, or less reading. Some students may be given abbreviated reading assignments, adapted reading packets, or simplified directions.
Hallmark 5: Aesthetic Appeal
Experienced teachers have learned that students at all levels are more motivated to complete assignments that are visually appealing. Less information on the page, plenty of room to write answers, and the use of visuals make tasks look and feel inviting and interesting.