At a recent meeting of our Board of Education’s Middle School Student Liaison Committee, a representative student from each of our eleven teams had the opportunity to discuss the topic of homework with three board members, the superintendent, and myself. If you are thinking that our students are intimidated by the presence of all these adults and authority figures, let me reassure you that this is not the case after more than ten years of participating in this forum. Students felt that the amount of homework was within the established guidelines and that there was good communication between teachers on a team when it came to scheduling assessments and projects, as well as providing notice of due dates. While this group represents a very small sample of our student population and a snapshot of one moment in time, feedback from these students, we all felt, was encouraging.
As a school, we believe that homework plays a valuable role in extending the learning, preparing students for the next day’s lessons, and allowing teachers to teach their curriculum. Of course, the amount and types of homework assignments must match the maturity level of the learners and the expectations of the class. We have made adjustments to our Homework Policy through the years by eliminating group projects to be completed outside of school as well as creating “no homework” nights and vacation periods for everyone at school. But how much time students take to complete homework assignments depends on their motivation, focus, work environment, and whatever supports they require. It also has to do with the course’s level of expectations and a student’s ability level. Our goal for middle school learners is for them to become as independent as possible.
Another important purpose of homework that I think is often overlooked is the role of review in helping students to learn and to remember the information. It seems so simplistic, and I think we take it for granted. Encourage your child to re-read and review notes and text passages to reinforce what they have learned in class and through their reading. We know as adults that when we read something a second time we are now looking for specific details, clarifications, sequence of ideas, background, word meanings and nuance. Active reading strategies include taking notes possibly on post-its or in the margin, writing questions, outlining, and previewing topics and questions at the end of the passage. Allocating time for studying notes on a regular basis provides several opportunities for reinforcement and also practices an important time management skill. Our Companion Guide encourages students to do a certain amount of homework and studying every day.
Our guidance counselors for years have visited different grade levels to teach specific lessons that have to do with study skills, learning styles, career education, benchmarks of academic progress, and behavior. I observed a class in sixth grade that focused on the question, “How are you doing?” and the topic of “teacher-pleasing behaviors.” This one lesson blended the themes of social awareness and interaction as well as very specific skills having to do with homework such as time management, organization, self-advocacy, and study habits. The fact that time is taken to address these topics directly with students, and where students have to self-reflect and consider goals for improving, speaks volumes about our school’s commitment toward helping students to become true learners and to be successful not only in school but also with their responsibilities and interpersonal skills.
Homework seems to cycle around as a topic or a “hot button issue.” Indeed, camps have been established, pro and con, about the necessity of assigning homework at all. Most of us have to negotiate the “things we have to do” and the “things we want to do” on a daily basis, and it seems to me that one of the broader goals of homework is to train students in a “life skill.” Of course, it is up to us as parents and educators to find the balance so that students can learn and meet their responsibilities while also finding some time for other interests, sports, family activities, and just plain “down time.”