How Does Your School Handle the Homework Dilemma?
How do your teachers handle homework? Do you have a school-wide policy? Do students earn a homework grade? What about late homework? Or the effects of homework zeros on student grades? Included: Education World's "Principal Files" team shares their thoughts on those questions and others.
Does your school have a homework policy?
How much homework is the right amount for each grade level?
Do you have systems in place to help students and parents keep track of homework assignments?
Is homework graded?
What about homework that is submitted late?
And how about zeroes? Zeroes on homework can quickly affect a students' grade.
Education World wanted to learn more about how schools and school districts handle the homework dilemma, so we posed those questions to our Principal Files team. Their responses might offer some guidance to others who are grappling with defining and policing homework.
WHAT IS HOMEWORK?
For many schools and school districts, defining homework and its purpose is a first step in creating a homework policy.
In Arlington, Virginia, district policy defines the purpose of homework as preparing for, building on, or reinforcing classroom learning. "The policy goes on to add that homework encourages responsibility and accountability and strengthens home-school communication about student learning," said Lolli Haws, principal at Arlington's Oakridge Elementary School.
"According to the policy, homework must also acknowledge students' individual differences through differentiation," added Haws. "It must be designed to be achievable by all students independent of school staff, access to technology, or materials only available at school; in other words, a child must be able to complete homework using resources available in the home."
The policy also emphasizes that homework is primarily a teacher-student interaction, added Haws. That means that
Just like it is in Arlington, homework is student -- not parent -- responsibility at St. Martin's Episcopal School in Atlanta. "Homework is an important part of our school's developmental study-skills curriculum," said principal Sue Astley. "Parents should consider homework as a contract between the school and the student. It is the student's responsibility to complete homework. Parents can best assist the process of learning by providing a consistent time and a quiet place for students to complete their homework and by showing a positive interest in it."
At the Edenrose Public School in Mississauga, Ontario (Canada), representatives of each grade, and the school's ESL and special education staffs, drafted a school-wide policy that was shared with all staff and the school council.
"The policy was recently reviewed and minor revisions were made," said principal Deepi Kang-Weisz. "Each year, the policy is sent home to all families in our back-to-school information package. In addition, each teacher reviews the policy with students."
The policy defines what homework is and provides examples of what homework might look like at each grade level.
At Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, homework is defined as "assignments that support specific concepts taught during the school day," said principal Larry Davis. "Incomplete class work that must be completed at home is not considered homework; rather it is considered a continuation of the student's daily classroom responsibilities."
HOW MUCH HOMEWORK?
We were surprised to find quite a bit of consistency across schools and districts when it comes to answering the question "How much homework should students have?"
The norm seems to be 10 to 15 minutes of homework per night by grade level. In other words, grade one students might have 10 minutes of homework each night; grade two students would have 20 minutes of homework; grade three students would have 30 minutes of homework, and so on
Other schools might spell out specific amounts of homework. For example, at Transfiguration School in West Hazelton, Pennsylvania, principal Sherry Ambrose says the following homework guidelines are in effect:
At Doctors Inlet Elementary, "homework should never exceed 60 minutes per night," said principal Larry Davis, adding, "If homework is given, it must be graded for completeness and accuracy."
Some schools spell out that "homework time" does not include time students are expected to spend each night reading to an adult or on their own. Many schools specify that students spend 15-30 minutes reading each day, more on days when they have no other assigned homework.
KEEPING TRACK OF ASSIGNMENTS
Among the often-stated purposes of homework is that it helps students develop study skills, time management skills, and responsibility. In an effort to help students develop those skills, many schools support student learning by using homework assignment books, sometimes called agendas, and by providing resources that help students when they slip up by not carefully recording their assignments.
"Our students must use the school-designed homework notebook in which teachers initial each assignment given (as a means of checking that students have properly recorded the assignment) and that parents initial to indicate that they have looked at the completed assignments," said principal Heather Hamtil of St. Vincent DePaul Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. "For each assignment, the date given and the date due are recorded. Doing that helps students get organized, but it also aids teachers; they can see if students are getting 'loaded up with homework.' If parents complain about that, a teacher can often explain that some assignments were given several days before and that part of the education of the student is learning to prioritize assignments based on his or her evening activities and availability. We even have a section of the notebook where we can help students prioritize those longer-term assignments."
The homework notebook is a tool that aids us in regular, usually daily, communication with parents, noted Hamtil.
"Students must write their assignments in ink," she added. "That prevents them from changing an assignment before going home."
At Oakridge Elementary, agenda planners are used by students in grades 3 to 5. Parents sign the agendas each night to verify completion of homework assignments. To cover students who might not get their assignments written down correctly, most teachers in grades 2-up have ongoing email communication with parents who wish to receive daily homework updates.
Homework is assigned in weekly chunks at Transfiguration School. "Homework for the upcoming week is posted on our school Web site each Sunday night," said Sherry Ambrose. "For those who do not have Internet access at home, hard copies of weekly homework assignments are available in classrooms, or students can print them out in the computer lab."
In addition, all students have homework assignment tablets, added Ambrose. "Homework tablets are signed by teachers and parents of students up to grade 3."
DOES HOMEWORK GET GRADED?
Should homework be graded? If so, how much should it count? Ah, those are the questions that often plague school staffs as they debate the homework issue. Most schools have determined the grading of homework to be a teacher-level decision while some districts or principals offer guidelines.
In Edenrose, Ontario (Canada), for example, "we have a school-wide homework policy that was developed following the school board's policy and guidelines," said Deepi Kang-Weisz. "Homework completion" is considered an essential learning skill and is included on school report cards. Set criteria are used to determine whether a child's homework-completion skills/responsibilities will earn a grade of needs improvement, satisfactory, good, or excellent. Among the criteria used to determine the grade are
At Gonic Elementary School in Rochester, New Hampshire, principal Martha Wingate offers helpful guidelines to teachers as they wrestle the homework beast. Some of her guidelines are ones she used when she was in the classroom. Those guidelines include a check system and several other rubrics.
The check-system rubric is pretty straight forward, said Wingate. Students earn a
"It is important that the check-system rubric is carefully explained to students and that what qualifies as extra-credit work is explained in advance," Wingate explained. "I include an extra-credit assignment almost every night. For example, in math, extra credit might require doing four more problems than assigned, or, in spelling, it might require sentences that are 10 words or longer."
In addition, all homework is checked first thing in the morning as students work on independent or bell-ringer activities. "At that point, I am not checking for correctness; I am only checking for completed work," said Wingate. "Another grade might be given later for accuracy of the work.
"When I used this system I included a reward component too. Students who averaged a grade of or higher for the week earned a 'No Homework Pass' that they could use on the last day of each month. Students might earn up to three passes in any month and 'cash them in' working backward from the last day of the month. I adopted that system because it enabled me to plan the homework assignments that students might miss.
"I should add that I am pretty generous with the s. I want as many students as possible to feel success. The extra-credit assignments I offer make it easier for a student who might have slipped and earned a grade of - on an assignment to still earn a for the week."
Wingate's check system is an easy one for teachers to adapt. "The system can work to improve students' homework skills and attention because
Wingate also offers her staff other rubrics for homework grading. (See the sidebar for sample homework rubrics.)
WHAT ABOUT LATE WORK? ABSENCES? ZEROES?
Most teachers accept late homework, though many deduct a grade for it. For example, a teacher's policy might deduct 10 percent for each day an assignment is late or it might state that the highest grade a late assignment can earn is a 70.
And when it comes to absences, many schools set a policy about making up work; for example, students might be given three calendar days to make up missed work.
But what about zeros? That question comes up often in teachers' rooms and staff meetings. If a student doesn't do the assignment, he earns a zero. He gets what he deserves, right? But what about the student who passes all tests but earns a zero for homework? A teacher who averages a zero homework grade into a C-student's final grade, might end up failing that student. But does that grade really reflect what the students knows? (Shouldn't a grade reflect what a student knows?) More and more schools are revisiting those questions. Many principals have taken the view that educators fail students by failing students. A few homework zeros are bound to frustrate a student, even to the point of forcing him to give up. To prevent that from happening, some schools have set a grading scale of 50 to 100 percent. Missing assignments are given a grade of 50. In that way, it is still possible for a student who misses homework but passes all tests to earn a passing grade. In the case of quizzes and tests, many schools' policies require re-teaching and re-testing until a student earns a passing grade. In that way, teachers are certain that students have "learned" the important concepts that are documented in their state's standards and that students have the building blocks necessary, especially in the maths, to move on to the next skill.
Alas, the grading debate is a sticky and complex one -- especially when it comes to the effects of zeros on students' grades.
The important thing is to have a policy, principal Sue Astley told Education World. "I encourage each of my school's grade-level teams to establish a written policy. That policy might include a statement of whose responsibility it is to handle missed homework; for young students, parents might request missed assignments, but older students might handle that responsibility on their own. Also, the policy might include a statement of how much advance notice is required for teachers to gather homework for a student who will be out of school for a period of time. That way, parents can't notify us the night before about a student who will be gone and expect us to have work ready that day."
Does your school have a homework policy? Is that policy in writing? If not, it might be time to make the commitment to review the homework issue, to come to a consensus about it and then commit your staff's agreement or consensus to writing.
Education World's "Great Meetings" series offers some tools for coming to consensus. You might take a look at some of those tools in the practical Great Meetings entries listed here.
Three Ways to Work With Ideas
Making Decisions: Voting and Super-Majority Voting
Making Decisions: Levels of Consensus
Making Decisions: Stoplight Cards and Thumbs Up
Making Decisions: Sharing Your "Sense of the Group"
"Having a homework policy in writing can help teachers avoid having to deal with complaints from parents," added Astley.
Principal Deepi Kang-Weisz agreed. "Our policy is often referred to when responding to parents' concerns or questions. Having a written policy can be a big help throughout the school year."
Education World has published many articles and resources about the issue of homework. Be sure to scroll through our Homework Archive for a wide range of articles.
Article by Gary Hopkins
Copyright © Education World
Last updated 06/11/2012