How to Make Homework Meaningful
Enrich classroom experiences and engage young learners by assigning purposeful, student-centered homework activities.
By Christen Amico
The question of whether homework assignments actually improve student learning has been debated for quite some time. Some teachers feel that homework is more work than it's worth; especially when it is done incorrectly and thus, requires additional re-teaching. Some parents feel frustrated dealing with homework when their children claim that the teacher never adequately taught or explained the homework. Every minute in the classroom is critical to the overall learning experience of each child. Homework can be an asset to classroom learning by providing enrichment and much-needed practice to develop mastery and competency of skills. Daily, weekly, or monthly homework assignments help build responsibility while also providing opportunities for families to see first-hand what their children are learning in school.
Why Give Homework At All?
When done appropriately and efficiently, homework assignments can be powerful learning tools for children of all ages. Homework should always be used as reinforcement. Teachers should not assign work that requires knowledge of a concept that has not been taught in the classroom. Ideally, the concept should be taught directly and explicitly with ample time for guided and independent practice before being assigned for homework. The homework must also serve a purpose. Whether the purpose is to prepare for an upcoming exam or to review a missed skill, homework should not be given out of mere obligation and it should be graded/reviewed by the teacher. Students who know that no one will actually look at their work are far less likely to be motivated to complete it to the best of their ability.
Alternatives to Worksheets
By far, the most typical homework assignments are worksheets or workbook pages. These are the simplest to give and assess, but provide the least opportunity for differentiation, creativity, or higher-level thinking. In order to make homework a more positive and educational experience, teachers can try allowing students more freedom and creativity in their homework while still demonstrating mastery of a particular concept. Carefully designed homework projects can also challenge more advanced students and encourage them to continue to build upon their new learning. Here are some mini-project ideas that teachers can use to reinforce classroom learning in a meaningful manner:
- Family Tree/Collage: Children of all ages can research their family history and create a tree with or without photos of their family. These types of assignments are particularly well-received at the beginning of a new year or near Thanksgiving. This is also a great way to involve parents in the learning process.
- Real-Life Math Work: Give kids a budget and challenge them to peruse newspaper advertisements to see how many things they could buy. The advertisements can also be used for a variety of real-life math problems.
- Bring In Technology: Any time children can turn something boring into something exciting, it will encourage new learning. The majority of teachers require a nightly or weekly reading log. For some pupils, this can be mundane and monotonous. Encourage pupils to use apps such as Show Me to record themselves reading a story or to create an innovative lesson that can be shown to other readers. Websites such as storylineonline.net or starfall.com can make reading more interesting as well.
- Life Book: Writing is a critical part of the learning process. By creating a life book, which is more than just a regular journal, early writers can develop a life-long love for writing. A life book is a safe and creative place for all types of writing, drawing, and collecting ideas or inspirational quotes.
As often as possible, provide substantial time for integrating art, music, or drama as part of homework. Challenges like creating a math facts rap or acting out a scene from a novel will help motivate and engage children in higher-level thinking. By incorporating real-life situations, such as writing a letter to the president, creating a class anti-bullying poster, or interviewing a community leader will also focus their attention on the meaning of the homework. Generally, children do not remember worksheets or mundane lectures, but rather, the interesting projects or atypical activities in which they engage are their most memorable learning experiences.
Additional Homework Resources:
In this article, the author describes even more ways to keep homework interesting. Suggestions include looking at one's daily life for educational opportunities and creating a PowerPoint presentation to share with fellow learners.
Here is a great plan for teaching writers how to turn basic dialogue into an exciting and creative comic strip. This would make for an interesting writing homework assignment in which learners summarize a particular book by turning it into a comic book, rather than writing a basic summary.
Talking About Your Name in Math
This would make a great beginning-of-the-year math activity in which children of any age can creatively express their names in a mathematically way. Ideas include graphing the letters in one's name or writing the letters in plane shapes. The possibilities are endless!