U.S. Homework Policies Compared to Other Countries

1 May

In comparison to other countries, U.S. students rank as average in amounts of homework.  What matters though is not the amount of time spent, but other factors such as the quality of the school / teachers, the specific grade level, etc.

  • Japan – Elementary students with four or more hours of homework per night = 1%
  • Taiwan – Elementary students with four or more hours of homework per night = 5%
  • U.S. – Elementary students with four or more hours of homework per night = 8%

While the U.S. tends to look to these countries as a standard in achievement, this data shoes evidence that more homework does not necessarily guarantee higher scores on standardized tests.  Gerald LeTendre, professor of education policy studies at Penn State, and Motoko Akiba of the University of Missori, Columbia, explain after analyzing data from their study of homework trends in eighteen countries, “An overlooked factor is the quality of the education in a nation’s public schools,” the researchers say. “Some developing nations with fewer resources may see an increase in student achievement with more homework because the homework helps student to catch up in their skills. Students in schools of well-funded nations may not need to spend as much time on homework.”

In my thesis research, I plan to examine this study as well as others similar to it to dig deeper into the effectiveness and purpose of homework in elementary school classrooms.

Penn State (2007, February 27).  Benefits Of More Homework Vary Across Nations, Grades.  ScienceDaily.  Retrieved July 3, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2007/02/070227171018.htm

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Checking Homework

28 Apr

My absolute biggest, most gigantic problem with homework is figuring out the best way to check it.

Here’s the scenario: Students have come in first thing in the morning and I have created them at the door.  Most have sat down and started writing their homework.  The rest are either talking to each other or coming up to me to ask a question or tell a story.  My Part-Time Teacher has come in as her time does not start until ten minutes after the students have arrived.  Once students have written their homework, I call them up to come get their agendas checked.  I do this to ensure they have written down their homework, see if their parents have written any notes, and write any notes to parents if I need to.  I feel it is important for me to be the one to check agendas as I don’t want to miss anything fro ma parent.  In between checking agendas, I am fielding e-mails, taking attendance, entering the lunch count, answering phones calls, collecting money and forms, etc.  After students visit me, they take their homework and R.I.S.E. folders to Ms. Chelsie.  Finally, they either go on the computers or write in their journal until everyone has been checked.

At this point, I have already planned and prepped the day’s lesson.  Once it’s time to move on to math period, Ms. Chelsie gives me the homework from the night before.  Once I get it, I may have half a second to glance at it to assess who got what, but usually I do not.  Our math periods are split into three rotations so I teach the lesson three times.  This guarantees that the student to teacher ratio is optimal.  However, time is very limited.  I have to get started on the first lesson or the third rotation will miss something.  This leaves no time for checking homework or really for reteaching yesterday’s concept.

I have tried several different methods of checking homework once it gets to Ms. Chelsie.

  • PTT Check

For the most part, I have Ms. Chelsie check the homework to see who has completed it.  She records the data on a checklist and then checks the homework for correctness.  She tries to pull students who either missed the lesson or did not get it correct on their homework.  With limited time, she gets to as many a possible, but it’s very hard for her to do.

  • Spot Check

In this method, I may only check homework once per week or whenever I may have time.  This holds students accountable to at least do the homework.  However, due to lack of time, whether they got it correct or not on the days that aren’t checked is unknown.

  • Partner Check

For this method, I have students trade their homework with a partner at the beginning of math.  I work the problems and have the students check or correct their partner’s answers.

Another way this could be done is to put the correct answers up and students can quickly check them that way.

The problem is that students still have a lot of room for error.  Just because I give the answers and the students can see what they have missed, there is still no time to see who missed what and reteach every little thing they missed.

These issues make homework a pesky situation to me.  It makes me feel like I am only giving it, because it’s just what’s always ben done.  I feel like probably it annoys my students and their parents just as much as it does me.  What is it really being used for?  Perhaps it is supposed to be a way to assess where students are on an independent level.  However, if I’m not able to use it effectively by checking and reteaching missed areas, what is it actually good for?

Missed Homework

24 Apr

One issue I’m dealing with a lot is missed homework.  Some students tend to be absent a lot and don’t make up their homework like they are supposed to.  On the first day of school, I explained the missed homework folders to students.  In the back of the classroom by the check-in board, students could find any missed homework or forms in the “We missed you” box.

On the box, it explains to students exactly what they should do if they are absent.

We missed you!

Folder #1(Forms): Pull out any forms with your name on them and put them in your blue folder.

Folder #2 (Monday): Pull out any homework or tests that you missed on this day.

Folder #3 (Tuesday): Pull out any homework or tests that you missed on this day.

Folder #4 (Wednesday): Pull out any homework or tests that you missed on this day.

Folder #5 (Thursday): Pull out any homework or tests that you missed on this day.

Folder #6 (Friday): Pull out any homework or tests that you missed on this day.

 You have two days to complete any missed homework or tests.  It is your responsibility to come to me for help or to take missed tests during your recess.

My students surprisingly well with the box.  Every week we trade jobs and I have two students who are “Teacher Helpers.”  Anytime I have homework or forms to pass out, they pass it out to the whole class.  If anyone is absent, they write that person’s name on the paper and put it in the appropriate folder.  Students also do well with checking the box when they are absent.  Now, whether or not they actually do the homework once they’ve taken it home is another story.

Communication is Key

20 Apr

Regardless of whether or not homework is necessary, one aspect of it is essential: parent communication.  It is very hard for me at my current school to get parents to respond to me. I call and send home notes to parents with very little response.  Since I started in the middle of the school year, I attempted to hold conferences with every student’s parents.  Out of eighteen students, only five parents showed up to meet with me.

I asked other teacher to see if they were having the same problem.

 

According to these fellow teachers, most seemed to communicate with their students’ parents on a weekly basis.  I also communicate through daily agenda, but rarely hear back from the parents.

Lauren said, “I teach high school, and I had 3 parents out of 113 students show up for Open House! Most of my students’ parents don’t speak English. It is really ineffective to call home because we can’t understand each other.  I also asked parents to see how often they communicate with their child’s teacher.”

That’s a very tough predicament as not only are the parents not involved, but they couldn’t even if they wanted due to the language barrier.

 

I really liked some of the ideas that I heard from parents as well as teachers in their comments when I asked them how they know what their child’s homework is.

Wilma said, “I usually communicate verbally with his teacher or resource teacher at least on a weekly basis. He is in the third grade.”

I really like how involved she is with her son’s teachers.  In the school where I teach, there are several parents that I have never even met much less speak to on a regular basis.  It really depends a lot on the community and how active those parents are in their students’ education.

Kristen said, “My child’s teacher sends an email each week with the happenings in class and the upcoming tests.”

I think this is a great idea.  If my students’ parents used e-mail, I would definitely send weekly e-mails about the homework and events coming up.  As parents replied to all, questions could be answered to everyone all at once.

Holly, whose daughter is in high school, said, ” I have never met my children’s teachers. However, we correspond as needed via email. I can also monitor any assignments and grades through Jupiter Grades which gives me a good handle on how my child is doing in class and which (if any) subjects are missing assignments.”

I am all about the websites that keep up with your grade book online so that parents have access to the grades.  Once again, if my students’ parents used internet, I would absolutely use this method.  I actually set up an account, but then realized that no one was interacting with it.

 

From these results, we see that half of all the parents are informed of homework through a student planner.

My primary way of communicating with parents and guardians is through students’ agendas.  At the beginning of each school year, students get an agenda that has a weekly planner.  Every morning, I have the homework written on the board.

The first thing they do after sitting down is copy their homework into the agenda.  After their homework is completed at night, students are supposed to have their parents initial the agenda.  If I need to contact a parent, I will write a note.  Parents contact me in the same way.  This seems to be the best way to get in touch with parents as the majority of them do not have internet access and are working during school hours.

Our school also has a website where teachers can communicate with parents:

http://teacherweb.com/HI/KahaluuElementary/schoolhomepage/sdhp1.aspx

Unfortunately, since I did not start teaching until November, I didn’t get to create a website.   That’s fine though, because a lot of teachers said none of the parents ever used it anyway.  In a school where parents have internet access, I think that classroom websites and blogs would be an excellent way to keep parents in the loop on assignments and happenings within their child’s class.

Other good websites such as jupotergrades.com and mygradebook.com can keep parents up to date on grades as well as homework.

I have a younger brother who is in third grade and gets a weekly newsletter which informs parents of the upcoming homework assignments and events.  This is a great way to let parents know what to expect.  For instance, if a student is absent or if they no they have something going on one night, this allows for them to catch up or get ahead as necessary.  This could also be done through e-mail if parents are consistent in checking it.  That would be more eco friendly as well as ensure that the parent actually gets it and it doesn’t get left on the bus or in a locker.

With every school and type of parents being different, it is up to the teacher to determine the best form of communication.  Regardless of whether you have to handwrite notes home or you e-mail in the blink of an eye, parent communication must take place in order for homework to be effective.

Method 5: NO HOMEWORK!!!

17 Apr

That’s right.  Dare I say it: What if there was no homework?  What would happen as a result?  Would students ever learn the value of good study habits and discipline?  How would parents stay in the loop?  Check out this interesting article I read recently:

http://www.edutopia.org/homework-no-proven-benefits

I feel like homework is automatically assigned in classrooms just because that’s the way it’s always been.  Our parents had homework, we had homework, so now our students must have homework.  As Alfie Khon points out, parents are conditioned to accept what teachers do with their child’s time and ultimately, when it comes to homework, their time as well.  I asked parents to give their testimonials of how homework affects their and their child’s life.

I began by asking how much time their child spends doing homework on a weekly basis.

The majority of students spend over five hours of their after school time doing homework.

I then asked if parents felt like this interrupted time that children could potentially be spending with family or friends and growing through extracurricular activities.

While most parents in this poll voted “No,” one parent did comment that their children had to quit certain extracurricular activities due to having too much homework.

In my experience, it seems as if homework is a thing of the past.  Teachers, students, and parents have all been conditioned to accept homework as necessary.  However, it seems that is a major annoyance to all involved.  Teachers don’t want to have to create and grade it.  Parents don’t want to have to do it when they get home from work.  Students certainly don’t want to spend another five hours of their week doing work.

It seems that five hours a week dedicated to learning creativity through art lessons or learning teamwork through football practice would create a stronger the development of the whole students, not to mention they would be doing enjoying the development.  Something to think about!  Maybe as part of my homework policy, students could opt out of homework assignments by participating in other activities that their parents could verify.

Khon also points out in his article that there are no studies to back up the positive effects of homework.  Perhaps there are none.

I asked parents as well as teachers if they agree with this way of thinking.

Around seventy percent of both groups thought that a no homework policy would not be beneficial to students.

Pros:

  • Students have more free time to develop other important character traits such as creativity and team building.
  • Parents do not have to worry about making sure assignments are finished on a daily basis when they come home from a busy day at work.
  • Teachers do not have to spend time creating or searching for homework assignments.
  • Class time is not lost correcting homework.

Cons:

  • Parents do not get to see firsthand the learning processes that their child.
  • Students do build effective study habits.

Would I be willing to use this method in my future classes?

I think I may be willing to consider it.  I’m not sure that I could go to absolutely no homework.  As I have already stated in earlier posts, I feel that there are some assignments that have to be done daily in order to build a strong foundation for learning (reading daily, practicing math facts, and practicing spelling and vocabulary words).  In addition, I feel that some practice every week is important, but could possibly be done at any time and not on a specific night.  Finally, this new idea that just hit me is that students could opt out of homework by participating in extracurricular activities.  While I do agree that homework is negative on some levels, I don’t think that I could completely get rid of it.

Method 4: One Assignment from a Core Subject (April 10 – 13)

13 Apr

This week started out a little rough.  I was sick on Monday and had to call in an emergency sub which always throws the week off a little.  I decided to do my research using a more familiar method to the students.  This one is close to my original method that I mimicked from my mentor teacher during my student-teaching which includes the consistent assignments (Practice flashcards, R.I.S.E., and Practice spelling and vocabulary words).  In addition to these, I used to assign one math assignment and one language arts assignment.  In method four, I assigned all of the regular consistent assignments plus either one math assignment or one language arts assignment.

Students seemed to respond well to this method as it is familiar even though they week started off a little hectic.  We are currently learning about fractions.  Below, I have attached some samples of this week’s homework assignments.

On Wednesday night, students had to do a worksheet where they reviewed fractions.  Here is a copy of the pages from their workbooks:

On Thursday night, students did this worksheet that I got from http://www.superteacherworksheets.com.  I absolutely LOVE this website!!!  Here is a copy of the worksheet they did on comparing fractions:

Comparing Fractions Worksheet

This is the data Ms. Chelsie complied of who completed their homework this week:

Homework Method 4

As far as overall completed homework, this week had a low rate.  Only five out of eighteen students did all of their homework for the week.

Pros:

  • Students still have some practice with concepts learned at school.
  • Parents are able to see what their children are learning.
  • Homework doesn’t take as long as when I give assignments from all core subjects.  Therefore, students can have more free time to spend with family and participating in extracurricular activities.

Cons:

  • Perhaps students have a negative anticipation for homework knowing that it is more than just the regular consistent assignments.  Therefore, more of them don’t complete the work.

Would I be willing to use this method in my future classes?

I like this method.  Perhaps a compromise between this method and other methods would be to only give it a couple times per week or to give it at the beginning of the week and then students can complete it as they have time.  That way if they have hula lessons or baseball practice one night, they can save it for a night when they don’t have much going on.

Homework Reinforcement

9 Apr

One of the biggest problems I have in figuring out my opinion of homework is finding the best way to reinforce my final homework policy.

Positive Reinforcements:

Class Cash: Students are able to earn cash for different reasons to spend at the end of each week on items in the treasure box.  In third grade, students go crazy for this.  The LOOOOOOVE earning as much money as possible to spend.  At the end of the week, if students have all three of their popsicle sticks (explained in “Negative Reinforcements”) then my Part-Time Teacher reads their name off the list and they earn a dollar.  Not only are they getting paid, but they also get the public recognition which is also a huge reward for third graders.

Cooking Class: Once a month, our grade level does a cooking class for third grade.  Students absolutely love this!  They cook anything from pizza to pumpkin pie.  Students are able to earn stickers on the sticker chart through doing all of their homework each week, getting all threes and fours on their General Learner Outcomes, and making 100 percent on their spelling tests.  At the end of the month, stickers are counted and students who have at least eighty percent of stickers for the possibly chances get to attend cooking class that week.  Students who do not achieve this goal have to stay in the classroom and do a less than pleasurable assignment.
  • Negative Reinforcements:

Staying in for Recess: According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education,  “Recess is not viewed as a reward but as a necessary educational support component for all children. Therefore, students should not be denied recess so they can complete class work or as a means of punishment.”

Unfortunately, this seems to be the most effective way to get students to finish their work and to turn in assignments and many teachers do it anyway, me included.  I stopped once I learned that it was against school policy.  Students are encouraged to get at least twenty minutes of “moderate to vigorous physical activity.”  I absolutely feel that it is necessary for students to get plenty of physical activity, especially younger students.  After realizing that keeping them in was against D.O.E. policy, I started taking away their break time that I give between periods.  These websites explain the Department of Education and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recess policy and its importance:

Popsicle Sticks: As mentioned earlier, students each have three popsicle sticks in their check-in chart pouch.  For every homework assignment not turned in, students have to pull a stick.  If they have three popsicle sticks at the end of the week, they get paid class cash.