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Herriman Journal

Homework banned at two Herriman area elementary schools

Jan 06, 2020 01:33PM ● By Jet Burnham

Teachers no longer have baskets of homework to grade. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Two elementary school principals have done their homework on the subject of homework and found that it doesn’t help students learn.

“We want what's best for our kids,” said Butterfield Canyon Elementary Principal Amanda Bollinger. “If homework is not what's best for our kids, emotionally or educationally, then we should not be doing it.”

The problem with homework

The decision to ban homework at both of the schools was based on research by John Hattie, who looked at thousands of studies to find what factors have the most impact on student learning. 

“When you start looking at what does make an impact, it's not homework in the elementary school,” said Bastian Elementary Principal Amanda Edwards. “We're really looking at the ’why’ behind what we're doing, and if the ‘why’ isn't in line with our outcome of student learning, then we're looking at ways and brainstorming ways to shift that so that we're really focused on student learning.”

Petrina Steele, sixth grade teacher at Bastian, said students who don't need the extra practice are usually the ones who consistently turn in homework while those who struggle often can’t get help at home and don’t turn it in.

Rachelle Christensen, who has three children in at Bastian, agrees homework is unnecessary.

“I have very bright children, so they didn’t need extra practice on concepts,” she said. “I understand getting sent homework that you weren’t able to finish but wasn’t fond of extra work after their seven hours spent in school.”

The end of the homework battle

Unsurprisingly, there has been a positive reaction from both students and parents to the policy, which is new this school year at both Butterfield Canyon and Bastian elementary schools. 

Bollinger said between high expectations from parents and misunderstandings about how to complete the assignment (“That’s not how my teacher does it!”), homework had become a battle between students and parents.

“Homework was definitely the cause of contention and anger in my home,” Christensen said. “We did it right after school or it wouldn’t get done, and I never had a good reaction.” 

She said her children are learning just as much this year but are much happier.

“We enjoy our time spent together much more and have time for family activities now,” she said. “I can’t imagine how long we would have spent this year with three kids if we had homework.”

Heather Garcia, whose children attend Butterfield Canyon Elementary, said as family with two working parents, it is now easier to maintain a more regular and calm daily routine.

“My experience in the past with homework was that it was time-consuming and took away from valuable family time and opportunities,” she said. “It caused frustration and constant oversight to ensure that homework was done.”

Elishia Barajas said daily homework caused her family stress as well. They normally have about three hours between the end of school and bedtime to fit in homework, dinner, activities and family time. 

“It didn't leave much time to be a kid,” Barajas said. “They didn't sleep as well since their mind never shut down before bed.”

Feeling the stress

Bollinger said student stress was a major reason for implementing the no-homework policy. She said the number of referrals for anxiety has increased in the past few years. Since the no homework policy was implemented this year, that number has decreased.

“One of my jobs in teaching elementary school is to help my students develop a love of learning,” said Melanie Smith, a kindergarten teacher at Butterfield Canyon. “Homework time can easily develop into negative feelings about school.” 

Karen Shipley said two years ago, her daughter’s dyslexia made it difficult for her to finish her homework. The consequent stress was damaging her daughter’s self-esteem. She missed out on social opportunities when incomplete work kept her from recess and “Fun Fridays.”

“Megan felt that she must be dumb and was always getting into trouble for missing school work,” Shipley said. “This absolutely broke my heart.” Bollinger worked with the family and found solutions to help Megan, but this year, incomplete homework will not keep her and other struggling students from having recess.

Learning takes place at school

Because homework is not a one-size-fits-all, it is a burden for children who already understand a concept and frustrating for kids (and parents) who don’t. Instead of checking a stack of homework papers, teachers check students for understanding during class.

“If we can see they can do it in the classroom in 10 problems, we don't need to send them home with 30 more,” Edwards said. “We don't need to worry about how to correct it. We don't need to waste 15 minutes in class correcting the assignment from the day before. We can spot check three or four problems, practice them together and then move on.”

Some teachers had already adopted the no homework policy before it was implemented at their school.

Smith, who’s taught for 19 years, stopped assigning homework a few years ago.

“I haven’t seen a benefit to students who do homework and students who do not do homework,” she said. “I expect all my students to be highly engaged in whatever we are working on in school.”

She said homework is often busy work for both teachers and students and that often teachers don’t actually look at the homework that gets returned.

First grade teacher Kassidy Hall realized four years ago that grading homework wasn’t helping her identify what the students were learning. 

“You don't need to grade a big pile of worksheets to tell you where the kids are at,” Hall said. “You know which ones are low and high based off of when you ask questions in class and when you do activities in class.”

Even when she implemented the change midyear, her class still achieved the grade level’s highest scores and the school got the highest in the district for end of level testing.

“It really showed that they can still improve without loads of homework,” Hall said.

When students aren’t turning in homework each day, it frees up time that used to be taken during class or personal time to grade it.

“It's been nice,” said Bastian kindergarten teacher Heather Leister. “Less minutia, less tracking of the homework gives me more time to plan.”

Bollinger said teachers provide interventions and support for their students at school making homework unnecessary.

Change is hard

Bollinger notified Butterfield Canyon teachers one year in advance of the change to the no homework policy, after consulting the school community council and PTA boards.

“It just takes some teachers some time to understand,” Bollinger said. “But our teachers here are really focused on what's best for kids, and when they learn there's data and research to show that this is better for kids, then they get on board.” 

Edwards said the mind shift has been easier for some teachers than others at Bastian.

“We're not saying we don't grade kids or that we don't look for completion of things and understanding,” she said. “It just looks different than it did when a lot of us went to school.”

Some parents also had concerns about the change.

“While I loved relishing in the idea that all the late nights of me banging my head on the table, trying to remember how to do simple fourth grade math would be extinguished and gone forever, I could feel my concern begin to grow inside me,” Shipley said. She was concerned about the impact to her children’s learning and how it would affect them when they had homework in middle school. She talked with the principal about it.

“Principal Bollinger had truly done her own homework and looked into data-driven studies,” Shipley said. “This was a bold move on Principal Bollinger’s part because schools can get caught in the trap of doing things the way they’ve always been done and often don’t understand the ‘why’ behind what they are doing.”

Shipley said she keeps track of her children’s grades, and so far this year, she is pleased with their progress. As a mother of six, she appreciates that homework doesn’t cut into their afternoon activities any more.

“It truly has been a gift for our family to get back precious family time,” she said.

What are students doing instead?

Bastian fourth grade teacher Kelsey Christenson said it is more beneficial for kids to have free-time in the afternoon than to spend it doing homework.

“We have years of experience showing that kids need breaks in learning to perform well,” she said. “Neglecting other critical factors involved in development, such as physical and social skills, is detrimental to the overall development of a child.”

Both Bollinger and Edwards acknowledge the need for children to have free time.

“When they go home, they need an opportunity to be kids,” said Edwards. “They need to be able to be home with their families and have time to develop other parts of themselves.” 

Bollinger said many students are involved in after-school activities, and when they also have to fit in homework, something always gets sacrificed.


Karen Shipley loves that her kids have time to play outside and to build “the ultimate sled hill.” (Photo courtesy of Karen Shipley.)

 

“Usually what would happen is that families wouldn't be able to eat dinner together, or they wouldn't get a good night's sleep and they were up too late doing homework,” Bollinger said.

Without homework to complete each day, Butterfield Canyon fifth grader Kaden Garcia has been able to join a sports team for the first time.

“I was able to play football,” he said. He also enjoys having more time with friends and family and feels less stress.

Kaden’s mother said her kids were able to shovel two of their neighbor's driveways after a recent snowstorm because they were outside playing, not stuck inside doing homework.

Daily reading is still required

Students at Butterfield Canyon have four daily assignments: read for 20 minutes, play outside, eat dinner with your family and get a good night’s sleep.

“Those are the things we've asked them to do as their daily homework assignments because those are all things that do help support learning,” Bollinger said.

Bastian students are also required to read 20 minutes daily. 

Leister said since her kindergarten students no longer have homework packets to complete, reading has become the priority for their parents.

“I feel like they’re spending more time reading with their children this year than they did in the past,” Leister said. “The time that they would spend doing the assignments that we sent home they can spend on reading instead.”

There are occasional projects that require work to be done at home. Students are also encouraged to practice spelling words at home, though time is given in class as well. If students need extra practice of a concept, parents can personalize it.

Barajas said her kindergartener struggles with letter sounds. Instead of bringing home a pile of papers, she practices the concept through educational games on her tablet.

“She learns without the added stress of having to hurry and stress that a paper needs to be turned in,” Barajas said.

Sorry, teens

The homework ban is only recommended for elementary students. Hattie’s research shows homework does increase learning for students in middle and high school.

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