As a 4th grade teacher at Wayne Trail Elementary in Maumee, Ohio, I currently teach two sessions of English Language Arts and Social Studies. I also teach an RTI period for 30 minutes each day where I work with tested highest students on the team. We work on critical thinking, problem solving, and enrichment. Wayne Trail Elementary is a 4-5 building in Maumee City Schools that practices looping. Due to the high turnover rate in our building, the looping strategy does not always work to fruition. Maumee is a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. Between our three elementary schools, we serve around 1,650 students, with a minority enrollment of 23%. Our district has approximately 39.7% deprivation rate (students on free and reduced lunch).
Within my classroom, I teach 55 students total. Six of these students are identified as special needs students (IEP) and one student on a 504. The IEP students include four students who are identified in reading. Four students are identified in math. One student is identified with an anxiety disorder. Two students are identified for behavioral needs. Two students are identified as Limited English Proficiency. There are also four students that are identified as Gifted, two as creative, two as superior cognitive.
Purpose and Practice
Throughout my four years as an educator, my belief on the purpose of homework has been that it is a way to reinforce skills or concepts that were taught in the class. In my first two years of teaching at Wayne Trail, I taught math. We used a curriculum that gave pre-determined homework. During these two years, I would grade the homework, depending on the assignment, for completion or for accuracy. However, since that time, our district has transitioned into Standards Based Grading, which negates the purpose of grading the homework due to the fact that the grades are given from assessments only. As an English Language Arts and social studies teacher, I am in a different situation, as we do not have Standards Based Grading for those subjects. In Language Arts, I give my students a weekly checklist. This is a planning tool for me and an organizational tool for them. On the checklist, they have a list of assignments that need to be completed throughout the week, including a reading comprehension passage, a reading response page, a technology aspect, and occasionally a project. Students are also required to track their “at home” reading. Students are given the week to get these assignments turned in. They are given about 45 minutes during the week to complete the activities. That being said, students get the freedom to work on these activities during school or at home. These assignments are all graded for accuracy due to the fact that they are reinforcements or practice of what we cover in class. As for social studies, the homework that is given is only work that we did not have time to complete in class. It is often a minimal number of questions.
As previously mentioned, English Language Arts homework is due at the end of the week. That being said, my policy on late work is a little different. If students do not have one or more activities completed, they stay in and work on those missing assignments during our extra recess time. From there, students can turn in any missing assignments until Monday. After that, I do not accept late work, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Our district and school do not have specified homework policies. Our math department has set policies because they have a set curriculum and set grading standards. Our English Language Arts, social studies, and science curriculums are not set and defined for all teachers. Therefore, there are not set policies or guidelines for homework, curriculum, or grading. With that in mind, I would change that policy. I believe that every student throughout the grade-level and school should be graded on the same level of requirements and expectations. I firmly believe that students on IEPs and 504s should have differentiated homework, as they have differentiated curriculum in the classroom, however, that is a discussion that would be made as a team.
Influences on My Philosophy
While my belief of the purpose of homework has stayed true throughout the years, my philosophy has changed over time. This change is largely based on the population of students that I teach. To go back to my student teaching, the students I taught came from mostly middle class to upper middle class families. However, as previously mentioned, Wayne Trail Elementary has a 39.7% deprivation rate. That being said, most of our families are lower class to middle class. Given that population, family make-up and priorities change. With my time in Maumee, I have noticed that students whom have already meet or mastered the content are the ones that complete their homework with success. Students that need the extra practice do not complete the work or do not put full effort into it. This can be explained with a number of reasons from lack of interest to lack of support at home.
I tend to not give large amounts of homework for several reasons, one of these reasons being the age of my students. While I believe that homework instills work habits and responsibility, I also firmly believe that students at this age need to have time to be a kid. In a perfect world, students would take time at home to invent, create, and play. Homework in the elementary level should be viewed differently than in the middle and high school levels. I also believe that they should spend time with their families. Often over breaks, I will assign “homework” to have a family movie or game night.
With the above discussion, I have treated homework differently depending on the demographics of the class. Last year, I taught one session of gifted language arts. My expectations and philosophy of homework was different for that class and matched more of my philosophy from student teaching due to the fact that the population and demographics in that class were closer to a gifted class. Also, gifted students need to be stretched and challenged in different ways than general education students.
When looking through literature and research on homework, I was loaded with information both supporting and attacking the use of homework. My philosophy, as I read, falls within the middle of these two opinions. Previously, I mentioned that occasionally I will assign homework to focus on family and/or play. In the book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Kohn (2006) proposes that research fails to demonstrate homework’s effectiveness as an instructional tool. Kohn also goes on to discuss assigning homework only when teachers deem the assignments as “beneficial.” Students should also be given homework that is appropriate for the home, including: performing an experiment in the kitchen, cooking, doing crossword puzzles with the family, watching good TV shows, or reading.
As I also mentioned, homework in the elementary level should be looked at differently than middle school and high school. Cooper (1989) states that research has produced no clear-cut consensus on the benefits of homework at the early elementary grade levels. Specifically to my grade level, Cooper, Robinson, and Patall (2006) state that for students in the upper elementary grades, homework should play a more direct role in fostering improved school achievement. This aligns with my philosophy that homework should aid in or build off of any skills that have been taught in class, with the plan to increase achievement in school. This is also confirmed by Swanson (2001), which defined homework as predetermined activities to reinforce learning to make it long-lasting.
Throughout my readings, there was one study that did not align with my experience. In a study completed by Buyukalan and Altinay (2018), it was found that students with lower levels of achievement generally have positive attitudes towards homework and willingly do their homework. In my experience, this has not been the case. More times than not, the students with lower levels of achievement are the students that do not complete homework or have negative views toward homework.
In my classroom, my routines and expectations are set early in the year. Within this time, I get a gauge of the class in work ethic and effort. This inspires my approach to homework with each class. In the end, regardless of the class, my philosophy of homework makes best use of my students’ time while trying to reinforce skills that are covered in class.
- Buyukalan, S. F., & Altinay, Y. B. (2018). Views of Primary Teachers About Homework (AQualitative Analysis). Journal of Education and Training Studies, 6(9), 152.
- Cooper, H. (1989). Homework. White Plains, NY: Longman.
- Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does Homework Improve Academic
- Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987–2003. Review of EducationalResearch, 76(1), 1-62.
- Kohn, A. (2006). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. Cambridge,MA. Da Capo Press.
- Swanson, C.B. (2001). How important is homework https://doi.org/eric.ed.gov/archieves/homewrk.html/http://surfinthespirit.com/education/how-important.html