Homework: How to Effectively Build the Learning Bridge
How has the global health crisis impacted the place that homework has in student learning and the school-home connection? Homework holds its place as a school tradition, expected by students and their parents as part of the experience of growing and learning. While there is ongoing debate about homework’s effectiveness, it is traditionally seen as a tool that strengthens academics by providing learning practice at home. John Hattie’s meta-analysis of relevant research on educational practices found that the overall effects of homework on learning are positive, and that the positive effect is highest for junior high and high school students but generally neutral for elementary students. In addition, there is variability depending on the type of homework as well as student demographics (Hattie, 2008).
Schools implementing the Responsive Classroom approach, whether in person or virtually, use homework to effectively build a learning bridge between home and school. When homework is used as a tool to build social, emotional, and academic learning beyond the school day, it takes on a different look and purpose than just more work to do at home. The goal of Responsive Classroom schools is to design homework that meets the basic needs of significance and belonging for every student by strengthening relationships, differentiating what success looks like for each child, and supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic learning.
Focus on Relationships
Homework that impedes relationships— either teacher-to-student, teacher-toparent, or student-to-parent—can potentially damage the home-school partnership. When educators examine the amount, type, and expectations of homework, they often start with the impact of homework on academic achievement. But when schools look beyond academic achievement and also include relationships, they will often rethink the look and purpose of homework.
Effectively building this school-to-home connection starts by replacing homework that impedes relationships with homework that will enhance them. Examples for building these connections include ways for students to share about family traditions, cultural practices, and/or family adventures. Lauren Komanitsky, a special education teacher at Christa McAuliffe Middle School in Jackson, New Jersey, observes:
I’ve seen tremendous enthusiasm for homework and projects that involve family members and their family history. [Students] love to learn about ancestors, interesting facts and stories, and simply getting a deeper understanding of their background. It inspires pride in them and that’s important for their identity. Students also love to do surveys and interviews of their family members. I think anything designed to create good, meaningful conversation between students and their families is time well spent.Lauren Komanitsky (personal communication, February 7, 2021)
Schools that use homework to strengthen home-school relationships embed opportunities for students to develop belonging and significance. As students share the home connections with their classmates and teachers, the classroom community will develop a larger sense of belonging because students see connections among common experiences.
Build Success for Every Student
Classrooms are diverse communities. While teachers intentionally differentiate learning during the school day, providing homework that meets the individual and cultural needs of each student requires additional attention.
One strategy for success for every student is to provide choice. Komanitsky has seen this strategy work when she has had students reflect on what they need and then select homework to meet that need:
Having kids select specific problems from a group, select what part of an overall project they are choosing to focus on, etc. . . . helps with creating a sense of autonomy. When we can give kids a choice in their learning based on their own self-reflection, they learn what it feels like to be in control of the process and this leads to more success.Lauren Komanitsky (personal communication, February 7, 2021)
When homework is designed for success for each student, the bridge between home and school supports a higher level of success and engagement.
Include Practice of Social and Emotional Learning Skills
The first guiding principle of the Responsive Classroom approach states, “Teaching social and emotional skills is as important as teaching academic content.” Social and emotional learning (SEL) is embedded in academic learning throughout the school day. Teachers can create a bridge between home and school by suggesting opportunities for students to practice SEL skills at home and in their community. For example, parents can have their children practice speaking with confidence by having them “make a request, place an order, or thank customer service workers” (Wilson, 2014, p. 67).
In addition, homework may involve students having conversations with family members about their learning histories—the successes, struggles, and strategies t hey encountered when they were students at different levels. When family members share their learning histories, students discover the application of the SEL and academic competencies of perseverance, cooperation, and responsibility. As Komanitsky points out:
When we share how we overcame struggles in certain academic subjects, it encourages perseverance and resilience in our students. Having parents and kids discuss their personal strengths and weaknesses and how they compensate when necessary is also a really good conversation.Lauren Komanitsky (personal communication, February 7, 2021)
Homework that focuses on SEL competencies provides for the transfer of these vital skills to a variety of real-life situations, both at home and in the community.
When schools approach homework as an extension of the learning day and see it as a way to strengthen relationships—between teachers and parents, students and parents, and students and teachers—homework becomes a valuable part of the school experience for every child. Students’ needs for belonging and significance are met and strengthened when homework provides for individual success. And when educators view homework as a tool to strengthen academic, social, and emotional learning, it becomes a valuable piece of the learning puzzle for every student.
- Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
- Wilson, M. B. (2014). The language of learning: Teaching students core thinking, listening, and speaking skills. Center for Responsive Schools, Inc