Homework…one of the more controversial topics in K-12 education. Do we assign homework? If so, how much? What kind of work should be homework? It seems everyone has a strong opinion on this – that may or may not be research-based. In my classrooms, homework has run the gamut of daily spelling and vocabulary practice, finishing work not completed in class, putting time constraints on writing assignments, reading for pleasure, and studying/preparing for tests.
In general, the research on homework says…
Homework should not:
- Introduce new concepts
- Require parents to be teachers
- Be stressful or take away from family time and extracurriculars
- Be too easy or too challenging
- Foster positive attitudes about school and learning
- Involve parents through discussions with their children
- Be at an appropriately challenging level – enough to be engaging without being frustrating
- Review skills and concepts learned in class on which students need more practice
By this point in my career, I am not a big believer in homework – and especially not in the primary grades. For my upper elementary and middle school kids, I am fine with requiring them to finish some work at home, and I always encourage 20-30 minutes of reading per night – but I do NOT require a reading log or any sort of documentation – beyond the in-class accountability measures we discussed in our Reading Culture series. (Grab our free reading conference assessments here and here.)
In my current position, I teach math to gifted students, and I give them weekly problem solving homework that encourages critical thinking and complex mathematics skills. This weekly assignment allows them to practice time management skills without requiring them to do hours of homework every night. I did the same thing as a language arts teacher – in that, students may have had an assignment to finish by Friday, so on Monday, we would talk through time management. Do you have volleyball practice on Monday and Wednesday? Plan to work longer on Tuesday and Thursday. Incorporating these discussions into your classroom will benefit your students’ time management skills more than assigning hours of homework each night ever could.
As a Gifted Specialist, it is necessary for me to touch on what homework can and should look like for gifted children. Because gifted students only require 1-2 exposures to master new content (as opposed to 6-8 exposures for average children), homework that emphasizes repetition of skills is often boring, unchallenging, and demotivating for these kids. In fact, because of this, gifted children may have major struggles with completing and turning in homework. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like practicing a skill over and over that I have already mastered.
So, what should homework look like for gifted students? Homework should encourage them to pursue and dig deeper into their passions: research projects with self-selected topics, self-selected reading of novels and non-fiction books, and extensions of math and science concepts learned in class. A gifted child may not need to do 20 fraction addition problems for homework; instead, she could work on creating her own multi-step word problems involving fractions or create a recipe that involves using fractions as measurements. Ask your gifted students what interests them, and encourage them to explore that topic further. Direct them to resources that may help them. When given the time and space to pursue their passions, gifted students will often amaze you with their focus and intensity.
If you are interested in research on homework in general and on homework and gifted children, here are some articles I found helpful:
- The Case For and Against Homework (Marzano & Pickering)
- Research Spotlight on Homework (National Education Association)
- Is Homework a Necessary Evil? (Weir)
- Why Gifted Children Have Homework Problems (Bainbridge)
- When Gifted Kids Want Homework (Van Gemert)
- Homework Torture for Some Gifted Kids (Mathews)
- Is Homework Essential for my Gifted Child? (The Grayson School)
How do you handle homework in your classroom? Do you differentiate homework based on mastery of concepts? Leave us a comment with your thoughts. We are constantly evolving in our thoughts and viewpoints – and love connecting with fellow educators!