Funny enough, homework is a contentious topic when it comes to scholarly research. Some argue for it and others argue against it with the majority view cycling between these two view points over the years (Marzano and Pickering, 2007). A decade ago, Marzano and Pickering concluded that homework should have four qualities: 1) it should be purposeful for learning; 2) Students should be able to accomplish it independently with a relatively high success rate; 3) Parents can be a sounding board but not teachers of the content; 4) The amount of homework should be age appropriate and not infringe too much on home life. Let’s look at each of this in our school’s context. Remember, we are a school that has small class sizes (the smallest being like a family) that requires Mastery learning done within a longer than average school day.
Our context means that we have time in our school day to accomplish work that might otherwise in a school with a shorter day and a larger class size need to be done as homework. However, our Mastery approach means that was chosen because students typically score a full standard deviation higher using a mastery approach than in the current spiral learning environment. This increase is less in national standardized tests but there is still an improvement (Kulick, Kulick, Banger-Drowns, 1990).
In our school, students are expected to learn material to the point that they can rapidly and correctly do a task or summarize accurately how a task completed relates to school topics (like reporting on what a chapter was about after reading it). So, we have two tensions in the school: we should have the time to accomplish assigned work within the school day versus repeating tasks to gain mastery on the topic. If our school time is not sufficient for mastery to occur, we will send items needed to be mastered home as homework. We will periodically quiz students on previously mastered topics and if mastery has lapsed, again, we’ll send it home as homework. Now to consider how much school work is appropriate for a child.
Homework needs to limited in time. In fact, the amount of time that something takes is not as critical a factor as the accomplishment of it within a certain time limit to a standard of quality. Thus, reading a chapter in ten minutes and writing a sentence on the important point of the chapter is more valuable than a long time spent intermittently with distractions to accomplish the same thing. The accepted standard for assigning homework is 10 minutes times the grade that the student is in per subject and 15 minutes times the grade for reading.
Thus, a kindergartner will have very little homework (less than 10 minutes per subject) if any. A second grader would have 10 X 2 or 20 minutes of math homework but 15 *2 or 30 minutes of reading homework. A seventh grader would have 10 * 7 or 70 minutes (an hour and 10 minutes) of math homework and 15 * 7 or 105 minutes (an hour and 45 minutes) of reading homework. Generally, about 2 hours of homework a night for high school students in total is the most effective level of homework (Marzano and Pickering, 2007). Younger grades should have proportionately less.
So, at the Renaissance Preparatory Academy, you will typically see the following types and levels of homework. We generally assign 30 minutes of reading (either out loud or silent sustained) each night for all students at the Primary level and above. This should be focused reading and a log of how much is being read should be kept. If a student is not able to recount what happened in the work read at home, an additional element of requiring a sentence per chapter on the most important thing in the chapter may accompany this assignment. Our goal is to enable our students to read rapidly with retention of the information being read.
Other topical homework is assigned under the following conditions; 1) the student has a theme unit assignment or deliverable that is best accomplished at home (i.e. following a recipe and cooking cooking something with their parents help). 2) the student has a theme unit assignment that requires a research paper and some of the research or the writing of the report is done outside of class hours. 3) The student has not mastered something (done it quickly and correctly in class) and needs extra work to improve speed of accurate
completion. This may range from reading a paragraph and identifying key points of information in a short amount of time to correctly writing the answers to a series of multiplication facts to telling time confidently. We take that mastery approach so that students may be confident in the results of their work. 4) Students did not remain focused on their school work in class and need more time to complete it. In such a case, parents may be asked to record the amount of time that the student took to complete the work at home and what, if any, distractions interfered.
We ask that parents provide a homework completion environment that fits their child’s needs. Some children require a quiet environment in which to read and remember the topics of learning. Some children can do it at the pool side and tune out distractions. Ideally, the parent knows the child and can help shape that environment for them. We ask that the parent does not do the work for the child. Asking questions to help a child see how to address a problem is appropriate; while, actually dictating an answer is not.
IDEALLY, the only homework each evening that your child will have will be the minimum of 30 minutes of reading with retention of information (whether a book of their choice or an assigned one). We strive hard to help your child learn the focus and persistence needed to complete most required work within our longer school day. HOWEVER, when homework is assigned, please be sure that your child has turned it in by the next morning or by a given deadline. We’ll try to highlight it on the top of the assignment. Homework turned in late will be graded down for the missed deadline. Life skills like being on time are also a part of our curriculum. Do watch for the occasional theme unit homework. This may be assigned over a weekend or break when it requires more time than a single night’s work. If that happens, we will not assign homework on other nights.
Finally, we do not view homework as punishment or busy work. Children benefit from more time spent on a topic and that is why we have a longer school day. However, if a child is working on other skills as well such as focusing on work, being organized, or persisting when something is hard (remember, we want children to do challenging things well), homework may be the result. Furthermore, if a child is still mastering a topic and cannot complete short review quizzes in class in a timely fashion to our standards, homework may result. Not a punishment, but a way to recover what otherwise would be a missed educational opportunity! We promise to not overload your child but to ensure that your child does sufficient work to master the topic and be confident in their ability!
Janice Black, Founder and Director of the School Board
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