HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Commentary: Is There Value in Homework?
What parents and teachers need is support from administrators who are willing to challenge the conventional wisdom. They need principals who question the slogans that pass for arguments: that homework creates a link between school and family (as if there weren’t more constructive ways to make that connection!), or that it “reinforces” what students were taught in class (a word that denotes the repetition of rote behaviors, not the development of understanding), or that it teaches children self-discipline and responsibility (a claim for which absolutely no evidence exists).
Above all, principals need to help their faculties see that the most important criterion for judging decisions about homework (or other policies, for that matter) is the impact they’re likely to have on students’ attitudes about what they’re doing. “Most of what homework is doing is driving kids away from learning,” says education professor Harvey Daniels. Let’s face it: Most children dread homework, or at best see it as something to be gotten through. Thus, even if it did provide other benefits, they would have to be weighed against its likely effect on kids’ love of learning.
Alfie Kohn, “Rethinking Homework”
While we will never make everyone happy on the hot topic of homework, we, as educators, have to really look at the quality and purpose of the work that we are sending home for our students to do. While traditionally homework was used to practice and reinforce concepts, it often leads to frustration by parents who cannot help their children. Practice should be done in school with the guidance and support of the teachers. If we’re sending work at home to do, we have to make sure there’s a purpose for it, and not just because it’s always been done. Make the work meaningful and engaging.
So what could we send home? A flipped lesson where students are accountable for watching a video. Students could then come to school and complete a formative assessment so the teachers could reinforce the skill or enrich the students who don’t need the support. A baking assignment when teaching about measurement. Reading or being read to. Research for a Genius Hour or passion project. Work for home should be personalized, offer choice and be meaningful to the students. Most importantly, administrators and teachers have to have the hard discussions and create schoolwide policies on their beliefs about homework and its place in our schools.
Elyse Haber, director of English studies and technology integration, Hebrew Academy Elementary School, Montreal
I simultaneously hold two conflicting beliefs about the efficacy of homework. On the one hand, I agree with Kohn that homework is often, if not usually, more detrimental than beneficial. Students in Jewish day schools already have extended school hours to accommodate the additional curricula, and asking them to spend even more time engaged in intellectual work in the afternoons seems cruel. We say we value well-rounded dispositions, but homework interferes with participation of extracurriculars and even simple "downtime," which is becoming more widely recognized as essential for general wellbeing.
On the other hand, homework seems to be necessary in some situations. For example, I wish I could provide ample time to grapple with the conceptual applications for new mathematics skills and practice the skill enough so that it sticks all in the span of one class period. The reality on the ground, however, is that there simply is not enough time to “do it all,” and the repetition of skills is necessary for proficiency in mathematics. Additionally, reading a novel needs to be done outside of school so that in-class time can be spent doing the complex work of organizing ideas, debating beliefs, elaborating upon thoughts, and analyzing text. In the midst of these competing values, I have tried to strike a balance by only assigning homework that is absolutely necessary.
Samara Hendin Soiref, fifth grade advisor and teacher, JCDS, Boston's Jewish Community Day School
Homework seems to be one of the most debated topics among parents. While some parents believe children only learn if homework goes home every night, others would like the burden of homework completely removed. Rather than continuing to fuel the debate about quantity, and before we can develop new homework criteria, we need shift the conversation to a conversation of value. What is the value of homework? By asking the right question, sharing the research, and grappling with the options together, we can be the change agents that facilitate creating criteria for determining the value of homework. If we are successful, not only will we change the conversation, we will change school culture.
Jodi Hirsch Rein, elementary school principal, Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, Virginia
As both an educator and parent, I have always opposed homework because of the many negative side effects. This is especially true for children who are enrolled in dual-curriculum school programs, where long days and the double burden of homework assignments can be overwhelming. In my opinion, homework rarely accomplishes what it is purported to, and instead becomes a source of anger, frustration and conflict for many children and their families. Homework often detracts from a child’s free/down time, which I believe is essential for their overall health and well-being. I see the effect directly in my own son (whom I happen to teach). When he has no homework, he is relaxed and has positive feelings towards school. However, I do see value in helping my students establish healthy study skills, which they will need over the course of their educational careers, and so when I assign “homework” it consists of an interactive study guide (full of creative fun activities) to review material already learned, in preparation for a test.
Rabbi Ouriel Hazan, fourth-grade Judaics rebbe, Gindi Maimonides Academy, Los Angeles, California
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The articles in this issue begin with a recognition of the difference and legitimacy of summer experiences, their necessity for the personal, social and spiritual development of children. At the same time, day schools conceive of themselves as model worlds that students are meant to take with them throughout the year and throughout their lives. Authors explore creative ideas for layering the educational and spiritual goals of school with the activities and environments of summer camp and downtime. Other pieces describe ways for various day school stakeholders to use the quiet summer months to prepare for their work during the school year.
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