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A common-sense approach to homework

New York Teacher

For newer teachers, assigning and reviewing homework is yet one more thing to juggle. But developing a reasonable homework policy will help you keep the ball in the air. Here are four questions new teachers should ask themselves when assigning homework.

1. What’s the purpose of the assignment?

“Homework should be meaningful and used to reinforce daily lessons,” says Lorraine Gics, a teacher at PS 14 in the Bronx. “Remember that before you assign a homework task, the students need to have a good grasp of the subject matter.” That often means giving students the opportunity to practice something they’ve already learned in class. Marie Raffa Marino, a kindergarten teacher at PS 276 in Canarsie, even suggests differentiating homework assignments tailored to students’ individual skills, the same way you probably differentiate class work.

2. How long will it take?

A general rule of thumb recommended by the national PTA is that students should receive 10 minutes of homework per grade level — 10 minutes per night in 1st grade, 20 minutes in 2nd grade and so on. “It should be a quick and short review of the day,” says teacher Debbie Magluilo Nevins. “Leave time for kids to be kids!”

Denise Verde, a teacher at PS 186 in Little Neck, rotates the nights on which she assigns homework in different subjects so that the volume doesn’t become overwhelming. Teachers of individual subjects in middle school and high school should take care to balance their own assignments with those of their colleagues. Townsend Harris HS in Flushing, for example, made headlines last year when it adopted a policy prohibiting homework assignments in certain subjects on certain days of the week.

3. How will students get support with the work?

“Some of the assignments my own children get are like trying to read a manual in a foreign language,” says Dia Lisel Kuhl, a teacher at PS 13 on Staten Island. Some students may do their homework during an after-school program; others may not have support at home from adults who speak and read English.

“If your students can’t do your homework assignment independently, then don’t assign it,” advises Carrie Campis-Dugan, a teacher at PS 180 in Harlem.

For some subjects, it may be helpful to model and practice a homework routine in which students repeat the same activities each week so that they become familiar. Visual aids, checklists or step-by-step instructions can serve as reminders.

You can also let your students know that they can get support over the phone from Dial-A-Teacher, the UFT’s homework helpline, at 1-212-777-3380.

4. How will students get feedback?

“Do not give more homework than you are willing to mark and return in a reasonable amount of time,” warns Eileen Marotte, a paraprofessional at PS 203 in Brooklyn. You may decide to check that homework is completed every day but review it in depth only a few times a week.

Or, you may decide — like some teachers — to dispense with homework altogether.

“We read ‘Rethinking Homework’ [an article by noted education researcher Alfie Kohn] as a staff, thankfully,” says Liz Wanttaja, a teacher at the East Village Community School. “Homework is given as an option to do outside of school in the upper grades, but our little ones are encouraged to be kids.”

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