How schools strive for homework, life balance
(Written for Town Crier’s Education Guide Dec. 6)
Homework shouldn’t be the focus of a kid’s life. They need time for family, friends and extracurricular activities that help develop them into a well-rounded child.
While theories abound about how much homework is best, schools are working hard to help students achieve a work/life balance.
“About 10-12 years ago the Ministry (of Education) had a new policy for teachers to cover a lot of materials in schools across Ontario,” said Fieldstone Day School’s head of grades 7-12 Josephine Parody. “So there was lots of homework. Then the pendulum swung another way (less homework).”
In fact, it was complaints by parents about the amount of after school work students were given that led the Toronto District School Board to rethink its homework policy.
“The main concern was there were too many hours in the evening assigned to homework, which took away from family time and learning opportunities to participate in extra curricular activities,” said former trustee Josh Matlow, who helped push the policy forward.
Parents were also concerned that homework was being assigned just before school holidays further reducing the amount of family time available to students.
In 2008, after extensive consultation a new board homework policy was implemented which defined four types of homework: Completion homework which involves finishing lessons started in class; Preparation homework such as reading a book to help with upcoming lessons; Practise homework reinforcing what’s taught in class; and Creative extension such as assignments to help kids problem solve and deepen their understanding of how class work applies to the world at large.
The amount of homework assigned in has also changed.
In kindergarten, there’s no homework but rather playing and talking with parents. For grades 1–2 it’s reading, games and discussions. In grades 3–6, there’s a maximum of one hour of homework a day where a child works independently without parents’ assistance. During high school, there’s a maximum of two hours of homework each day.
In some cases, homework is now assigned over longer periods so a math assignment could be given on Tuesday due the following Tuesday so giving students the opportunity to schedule their work.
Homework was also banned during school holidays.
“We are trying to find a way to accommodate busy family schedules,” said Karen Grose, a superintendent with the board.
The concept of homework is introduced early at Vaughan’s Royal Academy.
For younger grades homework is often completed in class time or a teacher can recommend the child finish assignments in a homework club.
“At and early age, at four or five years old you are introducing a system that is positive,” explains Royal Academy’s director Michelle Johnson. “They understand if they complete all their work, they can go play.”
For grade 4–8 students, a one hour homework club is mandatory and if they have completed their class work they can use the time to do other tasks such as challenging math questions.
“Kids spend nine to 10 hours here (at school), there’s no reason they can’t finish work here,” said Johnson. “It would be like you put in nine–10 hour work day and your boss says, now take two to three hours work home.”
Kingsway College School has a formal program called Overtime, a study hall that allows students to have access to teachers and a quiet place to study before and after school hours.
“Sometimes students need extra help or are struggling getting homework done or it’s not done well,” said Andrea Fanjoy, assistant head at Kingsway College School.
Completing homework at school allows teachers to monitor students’ progress and offer assistance.
“Instead of sending incomplete class work home and then waiting for it to come back and finding it is wrong, the work is done right the first time.”
Grose agrees saying that homework isn’t about learning anything new.
“But (it) should reinforce or extend what’s taught in class,” she said.