Teaming Up on Homework

Kids hate homework, parents expect homework, and teachers give homework. But is homework necessary for achievement or academic success? “Homework remains one of the biggest challenges and concerns facing teachers today,” author Nancy Paulu told Education World.

Middle school teams can address the homework issue and collaborate toward more effective and meaningful homework assignments within their teams and within their schools by using team planning time to discuss student project deadlines, homework loads, and upcoming tests. Working together, teams can establish homework schedules that will help students develop time management skills and, at the same time, see the relationship of concepts across the curriculum.

When team members are aware of their colleagues’ homework assignments, they are better able to plan their own. When teachers work together, students are able to concentrate on specific assignments and develop responsibility and organizational skills of their own as modeled by the team.

A master schedule board that displays team homework, test, and project dates can keep everyone updated on homework assignments and student workload. A consistent team meeting schedule to discuss homework assignments is another way of maintaining good communication and cooperation.

Effective Team Planning

Here’s one example of effective collaboration among middle school teams. A social studies teacher assigns an historical novel and focuses the homework assignments on the culture and content of the story. The language arts teacher uses the same novel as a basis for essay assignments. Science and math teachers develop assignments based on the book as it relates to their content areas, such as mapping, graphing, and ecosystems.

Homework assignments are based on a daily schedule for each subject or are formulated as each chapter of the book is covered. Students are then able to concentrate on one large reading project and complete homework assignments that meet the requirements for all subject areas.

Another example of effective team planning involves designating each day of the week as the homework day for a particular subject area. For example, homework would always be given in science on Mondays, math on Tuesdays, social studies on Wednesdays. Elective classes could also be added to the weekly schedule.

Middle school students thrive on choices and are more engaged when they can choose their assignments. A list of shorter one-day assignments could be offered each week from which students could choose, with each assignment having equal time commitments and points for grades. Teams may share and use these lists more than once to reduce work time and enhance homework interest and value.

The “Home” in Homework

For some students, homework can present unique challenges at home. Parents are not always at home to help, some parents are unable to help because of language barriers or lack of education themselves, and some parents expect students to assume responsibilities in the home, such as babysitting their siblings.

One way to ease the situation is for teachers to provide 7–10 minutes of class time for students to start their homework. This allows the teacher and the student to have a clear understanding of what is expected and an opportunity for students to ask questions to ensure they are on the right track.

Communicating with parents regarding homework is another way to keep families engaged. Teams may use a listserve of parent e-mails or the school’s Web page to communicate with parents. Teachers may be required to e-mail parents or update their Web page every two weeks. Because some students and parents do not have access to technology at home, teachers can make copies of the e-mail or Web page for students to pick up as they leave the classroom.

Homework should not require a great deal of assistance from parents. Teachers should emphasize to parents that their role is to provide time and resources for the student to complete the assignment. Of course, parents should be able to help their children if necessary, but the parents’ responsibility is mainly to make sure the child has the opportunity to do the homework assignment.

Get Talking

Determining what homework to give, how much to give, and how to make homework meaningful will probably always be a discussion in the world of education. The middle school concept is a forceful agent for developing responsibility and positive change in the area of homework. A dialogue among team teachers regarding homework can be but a starting point. Eventually the administration and the school district can have a voice in developing homework policies and guidelines that promote academic success.

Investing time and effort in creating an effective homework policy will contribute to the school community’s overall success.

Kim Campbell is a proud teacher at Hopkins West Junior High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, as well as a speaker, workshop facilitator, and consultant. E-mail:

Originally published in April 2008.