There is research out there that shows that the time a child spends reading outside school hours increases a child’s performance in school. The same with time spent practicing skills. In fact you can find research to support just about anything. Sometimes single studies with a sample size of 6 kids are cited. Nonetheless, after a research review on the positive effect of homework by Harris Cooper (1989), the following effect sizes were noted:
Grades 4-6: ES = .15
Grades 7-9: ES = .31
Grades 10-12 ES = .64
You can see by the time kids are high school sophomores, homework really makes a difference. The fascinating thing is that homework only had a percentile gain of 6 points in grades 4 to 6.
Some writers in the field, like Alfie Kohn (author of The Homework Myth) would conclude that there was no benefit at all to children at the elementary level to be assigned homework. Others – Cooper, Lindsay, Nye, and Greathouse (1998) suggest that while a positive correlation may not be immediately evident, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. The same study also mentions that there was a negative effect on their attitudes. Kohn’s book is great to make you examine what you do, but Kohn’s problem is that his passion to remove homework at the elementary school, he uses language that is too polemic and filled with too much emotion. If you’re in his camp, consider yourself the choir. Those who aren’t in his camp, tune him out shortly after “hello.” This is true with most of his thought provoking ideas.
There is no doubt that children continue to learn long after the final bell has rung. The dilemma for an elementary school teacher is how does one assign homework that is meaningful and engaging with fairly immediate feedback? There have been a several suggestions such as providing differentiated homework or having kids earn off their homework by their performance in school (Michael Thompson).
When giving homework, ask yourself these three questions:
- Am I offering students any autonomy over how and when to do this work?
- Does this assignment promote mastery by offering a novel, engaging task (as opposed to rote reformulation of something already covered in class)?
- Do my students understand the purpose of this assignment? That is, can they see how doing this additional activity at home contributes to the larger enterprise in which the class is engaged?
And he suggests to reframe the term homework to homelearning. With that new word, rather than just debate its pros and cons, one can at least think about how to make homework as meaningful as possible. A book that came out last year, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs tries to address this. Perhaps I need to put it on my summer reading list.
A teacher could never assign or replicate much of the learning that takes place outside the classroom. Dance, violin, or swimming lessons would not be something most schools could assign to all their kids. Playing on/in a community sports team or musical ensemble is another example. The learning that occurs when family and cultural traditions are passed on, or the stories that one might hear from a close family member. If you’ve ever watched a kid strap on a helmet and spend 4 hours doing the same thing on a skateboard in order to learn a trick, you’ve witness true motivation and learning. We do need to extend learning at home and it needs to include literacy and numeracy skills, but we have to validate and make sure that opportunities for all kinds of learning take place after the children leave our rooms at the end of the day.
The Center for Public Education has a great summary of what the research says about homework – apparently everything and nothing. There’s also a link to a comprehensive list of references.