At Delaware Valley Friends School, we have an approach to homework that helps restore balance to your child’s life, allows you to reclaim your relationship as their parent, and better serves the process of teaching and learning.
At DVFriends, homework is designed to reinforce skills taught in class. Students are never asked to do something for homework they have not already been explicitly taught in class. Practicing at home reinforces the learning, and indicates whether the student has mastered that skill or concept at a level where they are ready to move on and build on it. Homework is not the time to introduce new concepts.
Assignments are of a reasonable length and duration, and sometimes geared to the individual student’s needs and circumstances. In Lower School, students are expected to spend about 15 minutes on “free reading” each night as well as some math and sometimes spelling. With our rotating block schedule in middle and upper school, students generally only have assignments in three subjects each night. The 85-minute periods also allow time in class to work on assignments with the teacher present if support is needed, and can further decrease the amount of time spent each night on homework. In upper school, there are also more long-term projects assigned with pieces to be completed over several days or weeks. As students progress into the upper grades, teachers expect that they will manage their homework planning and completion more independently. This also helps with preparation for college. However, our teachers always see our students as individual learners with different strengths and areas of challenge, and while the practice of homework is an important part of teaching and learning, there can be some variation in the assignments given to create a more equitable experience for different students.
DVFriends teachers do not equate volume of homework with rigor or concept mastery. There is no definitive link between the amount of homework a student is assigned and college readiness. What matters are the skills and concepts a student learns. Likewise, there is no correlation between volume of homework and concept or skill mastery. If a student cannot answer ten questions asking them to apply a learned concept, giving them 50 isn’t going to help. Likewise, if a student can successfully apply a concept across ten questions, giving them 50 is just redundant.
DVFriends teachers use homework as a diagnostic and prescriptive tool to inform instruction. Here, homework is not a high-stakes assessment tool, but rather the students’ relative ease or difficulty in completing homework is used to inform the next phase of instruction. Based on homework, teachers will know if they need to review or reteach a concept, or if the students are ready to move on or dive deeper into more complex aspects of the material. In this context, showing an accurate picture of what students understand or don’t understand becomes much more important than getting it right.
How can parents support their DV student with homework completion?
The good news is that within this framework, parents still have an important role, but it is supportive and positive, not adversarial or punitive. Here are a few suggestions of proactive steps parents can take - as well as some behavior patterns they may need to unlearn.
- DO help your student to create a good environment in which to get their work done. This can vary by student. Some students work best at a desk in a quiet atmosphere with all their tools organized. For others, it’s a bean bag chair with earbuds in, listening to music. Whatever that looks like for your student, helping them identify that space and encouraging them to use it as part of their work routine is a great way to support homework completion. Our only specific suggestion is that it be social media and video game free.
- DO check in with your student to make sure that they have completed assigned work. This does not mean that you need to review the content of the work in great depth, but just check to see that the student has produced something that lines up with the assignment in their planner. As students get older and become more independent, this oversight can decrease.
- DO notice if homework is regularly producing anxiety and frustration in your student. If you find that this is the case more often than not, please encourage your student to have a conversation with their teacher or advisor, and don’t be afraid to reach out to the advisor with your concern. We want to provide the support your student needs to be successful.
- DO help students plan and stick to a plan for getting homework done in the context of their other after-school commitments. With the combination of more long-term assignments and more after-school and weekend activities, it can be very difficult for students to grasp how much time they will need to complete assignments and how to fit that time into a daily, weekly or even longer-range plan. At DVFriends, we use Sarah Ward’s “Get Ready, Do, Done” method to help students create realistic plans to complete work. Make sure to communicate and work with your student to incorporate commitments they may have after school and on weekends (doctors appointments, sports leagues, music lessons, weekend trips, etc.) into their plans for how to get their work done on time.
- DO NOT spend time trying to reteach to your student the material covered in homework assignments. If they are struggling, this is important for the teacher to know. If you sit with your student and complete the homework together, this does not provide an accurate picture of what the student understands or can do independently.
- DO NOT panic if your student cannot complete a homework assignment. At DVFriends, homework is not a high-stakes assessment in relation to a final course grade, but it is critical to the process of teaching and learning. What is important is a good faith effort on your student’s part to complete assignments on time to the best of their ability AND regular communication about their relative ease or difficulty with these assignments with their teachers. It is not useful for you or your student to wage war over homework.
- DO NOT become anxious if your student regularly comes home without much homework. With our extended class periods and dedicated advisory time during the school day, it is very likely that students will be able to accomplish a lot of their independent work during school hours. This does not mean that they aren’t practicing skills and concepts and that they are not being challenged in school. This can be extra time after school that students may be able to devote to a sport, hobby, passion, more time with family and friends, or more sleep – all critical to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
At Delaware Valley Friends, we have developed a thoughtful and consistent approach to homework that fits into our overall approach to educating our students. Homework provides a critical feedback loop that helps guide the pace and direction of teaching and learning - allowing teachers to individualize support or accelerate challenge as needed. It is also a place where students can develop and practice good executive function skills, like time and materials management and planning, that will be important for them as they look forward to high school, college, and beyond. In our approach, nightly homework completion should never be a source of stress, anxiety or conflict for students or parents.