PCD in the News: The Water's Edge Explores the Homework Debate

Regional community magazine The Water's Edge featured the following Providence Country Day School article on homework in the February issue. View the story in the text below:

Did You Do Your Homework?

Homework. The topic increasingly dominates school committee meetings, parent-teacher conferences, family dinners and even watercooler chats among parents with school-aged children. With new research, mainstream media are also following the national homework debate. Researchers that cite homework as an effective (make that essential) learning tool show direct links to higher academic performance, improved study skills, and a stronger school-parent connection. Anti-homework proponents argue that the "extended school day" imposed by copious at home assignments can force students to miss out on social experiences, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, not to mention sleep. It is argued that homework can also discourage a child's natural curiosity, love of reading, and/or the development of critical thinking skills that flourish during unstructured free time.

While the range of points of view is vast, all educators agree that assigning homework, simply for homework's sake, as a matter of policy, is a lose-lose situation for students, parents and teachers. At the very least, homework can provide practice for the skills of discipline and time management. In the best case, homework offers an opportunity for students to apply classroom lessons to real world situations and make the valuable connections that give context, meaning and true understanding.

Daily homework assignments became ingrained in school culture when rote learning dominated educational pedagogy, and lessons consisted primarily of reading, writing and arithmetic. Memorizing math facts and vocabulary words was understood to be the most effective way of acquiring necessary knowledge and repetition was the sure route to mastery. No one would argue that there isn't still a role for repetition (so long as you are repeating accurately), but as we learn more about the way children learn and the diversity of learning styles, there is increased emphasis on homework that is student-specific, creative, and authentic.

At PCD, we consistently review our homework policy to reflect educational best practices and respond to the individual needs of its students. To ensure homework is appropriate in terms of both volume and content, PCD teachers calibrate assignments according to each academic year and subject class. Sometimes students do 'homework' in class so they are getting the help they need when they need it most. Other classes use home assignments to reinforce what's been taught during the day. PCD teachers are always looking critically at the best ways to help students reach learning goals and coordinate across subject areas to ensure that homework and test schedules are balanced. General guidelines align with national norms, but small class size and strong student-teacher relationships mean that PCD teachers have greater flexibility when planning homework assignments.

The grade level or age of the student is one of the most critical factors to consider when assessing homework policies. Recent research, including a study from Duke University, has shown that the connection between homework and student achievement is age dependent. Elementary and middle school students appear to benefit more from their in-class studies, while high school students can yield more positive results from their homework.

Beyond age and grade level, other factors including technology, learning style, and home environment greatly impact a student's success with homework. PCD teachers, as well as educators across the country, are demonstrating that the most effective homework assignments reflect individualized teaching and learning practices. When homework requires students to apply their studies to situations that have meaning in their own lives, it has a greater chance of achieving the desired results. Even better...when students design their own homework assignments they will be even more invested and committed to making it serve its intended purpose.

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