Our Rationale for Homework
Over the years, some families have reached out to me wondering why we at the Lower School continue to have homework as part of our regular practice. I am asked, when young children are busy enough with their academics at school and extracurriculars in the after hours, don’t they need “down time” when at home? Some parents have shared references to recent research that argues that homework does not serve a practical educational purpose or lead to learning growth. With these matters in mind, and my thinking that if a small number of parents have approached me about homework, then perhaps many others are wondering about it as well, it seemed important to share our rationale for and approach to homework as we have transitioned into a new school year together.
From a practical perspective, we believe that the single most important growth and reinforcement work that children should be doing at home is reading, both in English and in Hebrew. Developing an identity as a reader and “falling in love” with reading are incredibly important attributes for young children given the central role that text plays in education and society. We encourage families to create a culture of reading in the home where parents and children read together, discuss books and other reading material, and promote reading as both a pleasurable and necessary activity every day. Beyond our emphasis on daily reading, we have established a guideline for potential daily homework at each grade level of 10 minutes per year (10 minutes in 1st grade up to 50 minutes in 5th grade). This additional time allotment is not a requirement; rather, it is the uppermost limit of what we want any child to have to complete in a case where more than one teacher assigns work to be completed on a given day.
Now to get to the heart of the general question: why do we maintain the practice of assigning homework when there is a good amount of research that says that it does not result in educational benefit? We support our decision with two primary reasons:
- The importance of practice, repetition, and reinforcement. There is significant research that finds that mastery of skills is achieved with many hours of practice. This is true for all skills, be they athletic, musical, or cognitive in nature. Therefore, our teachers are purposeful in their selection of assignments the progress students toward fluency with and mastery of skills. Homework for homework’s sake (i.e. busy work) is deliberately not assigned. Furthermore, we believe that “not all homework is created equal” and we do not generalize, as some research against homework tends to do, a policy and practice around it to either eliminate or require it. Thoughtful choices about what is assigned is the key to a positive and productive approach to homework
- Homework offers an opportunity for the development and practice of executive functioning skills. Developing routines and coping skills in connection to independent work (either at home or elsewhere) is something with which students must develop comfort and master as they get older and prepare for what the experience of school will be like in Middle School, High School, and beyond. If students do not come to understandings about what works for them in terms of being successful at work outside of school at younger ages, it will become more difficult for them to do so when they are older and really need to, with the stakes being much higher.
Homework practices is one of the many topics that the Lower School Administrative Team discusses and revisits regularly as part of our reflection on all elements of our educational program. It is important that we are not simply maintaining old practices, but making deliberate, purposeful, and well-thought-out decisions about every aspect of our students’ and teachers’ experiences at school. We read and discuss research, revisit CESJDS core documents (such as the Mission, Purpose, Vision, and Core Values statement, Portrait of a CESJDS Graduate, and Characteristics of Professional Excellence), share our opinions, and then come to a consensus. Our process around our approach to homework has been just one example of how we are in the constant pursuit of ensuring that all aspects of our school are the best that they can be and responsive to current research in the field.