The Place of Homework in a Progressive School

By Karen Colaric, Lower School Director

The topic of homework is always a fruitful one for discussion. Homework philosophies and research exploring its impact, both positive and negative, on children and families is often in the news as school resumes each fall. There are several articles and books citing the research about homework and offering advice for teachers and parents (Alfie Kohn, Harris Cooper, Cathy Vatterott). It can be a source of strife, at times, similar to other aspects of the parent – child relationship that involve aspects of independence, responsibility, limit setting, expectations, schedules and time management. Individual children also vary greatly in their feelings toward homework, which are likely shaped by a variety of contributing factors, including their energy level and emotional state on any given evening, their general attitude toward school and specific academic subjects, and their feelings about themselves as learners. So, teachers at Park Day revisit the topic of homework each fall as we reconsider the research and our own experiences with homework as progressive educators.

The research on homework does not link clear gains in student achievement in elementary school. And, that research is based on standardized test results, not on formative assessments teachers use in the classroom based explicitly on their teaching and follow up homework. Teachers will tell you they do see benefits to homework on their student’s learning when the homework is thoughtfully assigned and meets certain criteria.

Why do teachers give homework at Park Day and what kind of homework has a positive impact?

Teachers give homework to:

  • Free up valuable and limited class time for more complex projects and lessons best facilitated by the teacher.
  • Help deepen understanding and improve fluency by providing additional practice or reflection upon concepts and skills presented in class.
  • Provide an opportunity for independent practice that follows up partner or group work, at their own pace, on their own, at home.
  • Link home and school by providing parents and guardians a window into the curriculum and how their individual child is responding.
  • Strengthen self-reliance, resilience, responsibility, self-confidence and time management.

What is needed for homework to have a positive impact?

  • It needs to have a clear purpose. Children need to know why it is being assigned and understand how it connects to the classroom learning.
  • It should follow up concepts or skills presented in class rather than introducing something new.
  • Children should know what to do when the homework is too difficult, or they are unable to complete it due to other outside interests.
  • Incorporating some level of choice when possible—selecting between a couple of options for math, optional challenge material and making accommodations when necessary to meet student learning needs.
  • Reading is emphasized; reading for pleasure is correlated with academic achievement (Sullivan and Brown).
  • There is not too much homework–when it is kept to a developmentally appropriate level.
  • Parents take an interest in their child’s learning and set up supportive routines at home, offering help when necessary.

When educators and families work together to support learning at home and school, and communicate with one another when questions or concerns arise, children thrive. We all want what is best for the children in our care—to enjoy learning, to build from success and persevere through challenge, to become reflective and critical thinkers. The right homework can support those goals.

The Case for (Quality) Homework by Janine Bempechat, Education Next, Winter 2019
Homework in the New Millennium by Kristopher Churchill, Independent Teacher Magazine, Spring 2009
Trend Lines: How Important is Homework? by Alison Baran, Independent School Magazine, Winter, 2019

Rethinking Homework by Cathy Vatterott
The Myth of Homework by Alfie Kohn
The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers and Parents by Harris Cooper