Blue School's balanced approach to homework

By Head of School, Allison Gaines Pell

Last week, I sat with a group of parents for an open dialogue, and the conversation turned quickly to homework. It's no surprise, given that it is a hot topic these days and that homework can be a window through which parents view their child's daily life in school. Many have asked about our perspectives on homework. So, with the understanding that opinions about homework exist on a spectrum, and the knowledge that your child will likely have a wide range of experiences at Blue School (or at any school for that matter), here are some thoughts: 

We take a balanced approach to homework at Blue School, as we do with so many other aspects of our teaching and learning practices.

1) Homework is not a proxy for expectations or the rigor of thinking that takes place during the school day. While it is of course understandable to see it that way, and many schools will talk about the many hours of homework children have as a way to describe the level of rigor in the school, it's important to know that we do not, as a general rule, expect that new learning should happen at home. Work at home is for practice, for fluency with reading or with numbers, or for further self-directed exploration. (Mostly, it is for reading for pleasure, stamina and enjoyment.) Additionally, there may be times that work time at home is used to complete work not completed in school. In general, we hope that our teachers will be present with children as they learn something new, to surface and to teach into and beyond the content presented by the learning materials.

2) We believe in a balanced life for young people. We hope that children's lives are filled with connections, explorations, play, and personal interests and investigations. These experiences, which often happen in the hours after school ends, are important for the soul and the mind. Studies have shown that play and open ended time support executive function, problem-solving, and relationship building. 

3) Homework supports time management, practice, and independent persistence. These personal skills are the building blocks for middle school and high school scholarship, not to mention the lives we live as learners beyond school walls. We want these habits to form early. So, when there is homework, we hope that you will support your children with finding a good place to work and focus, managing their time, independently reviewing their work, and packing their bags up for the next day. These experiences are as important as the work itself. And, keep in mind that parent involvement in the academic aspects of homework, i.e. doing it with or for children, does not enhance their academic achievements over the long term, so you can feel good about supporting their individual habits, and letting teachers see what they were able to accomplish independently. This is important information for teachers to collect. 

4) Homework is connected to ongoing learning goals. When teachers assign homework, which they do beginning in first grade, the homework they assign is intentionally chosen to balance the academics we expect your child to master within the year and the teachers' daily goals for learning. Additional practice writing assigned for homework can be geared toward editing, or it can be geared towards writing for expression. It is important for parents to know what the goals are, and our teachers will always strive to make them clear to children when the homework is assigned. The level of self-correcting children can and should do changes as they get older, so please ask your teachers how you can best support homework goals, and what to do if you aren't clear. 

In short, homework is nuanced; it has developmental and academic goals, and it changes over time. As with so many things in education and in life, the answer is rarely black and white. We hope that tonight, you'll curl up with a great book, whether it's a picture, chapter, board board, or novel, and enjoy how the pleasure of connecting through words and through work can contribute to a balanced life for everyone.

Posted on October 9, 2014 .