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Dreaded by kids, demanded by parents, and often disliked by educators, homework seems to find its way into every student’s backpack, regardless of school. Some teachers of younger children even admit privately that they only set homework to meet parental expectations. Debates over its value split the academic world too, with supporters pointing to the many studies which have shown a correlation between homework and achievement, while its detractors bemoan the dearth of research on its impact on children’s health and social development.
To find out how a Beijing international school reconciles these conflicting views, we talked to Hailing Wu, Director of Research and Curriculum at 3e. What, we asked her, is the point of homework? Don’t the children work hard enough at school?
“At 3e,” she told us, “students work hard on a daily basis to learn both English and Chinese languages and cultures around and through various subjects. Elementary students use homework to learn responsibility and independence, as well as practicing concepts and skills learned in both languages at school. Teachers review homework to inform their further teaching in the format of whole class, small group, and one-on-one support.”
Studies suggest that the impact of homework is greatest on the attainment of high school age children, while it is less effective with younger children. Research also however indicates that too much homework can be counter-productive. We asked Wu how the evidence informs the approach at 3e.
“3e is well aware that different studies have presented contradictory results in terms of what homework can bring students. The debate is still ongoing with respect to the pros and cons of homework. As 3e students are exposed to both languages everyday and half day in each, they need more time to practice in order to become fluent readers and writers of both languages by the end of Grade 6. Homework, when appropriately arranged, offers rich opportunities for practice.”
How much homework do children at 3e get, we asked?
“3e students will not receive formal homework until Grade 1. English and Chinese classrooms are coordinated in terms of the amount and the type of homework to give students. The expected time that first graders spend on homework is no longer than 20 minutes. As they go one grade higher, 10 more minutes will be added.”
And how does 3e balance the need for learning with the need for play and extracurricular activities?
“As the name of ‘3e’ indicates,” Wu told us, “students need time to explore and experiment with things around, and express ideas and opinions coming from their own thinking. Homework reflecting these values should be meaningful and playful for students to do at home. As part of homework, students are also expected to spend time on reading in both languages. No homework is formally provided on weekends, which allows students to play with their family and attend other exciting extracurricular activities.”
Parents also play an important role themselves. Here the evidence suggests that parents should aim to be supportive rather than intrusive, to listen to the child explaining their work rather than attempt to be the expert. This is particularly important in math, where teaching approaches have changed significantly over the years, and showing your child the method you were taught might simply confuse them.
In a 2006 essay in Educational Researcher, Professor Carolyn Riehl made a comparison between educational and medical research, pointing out that neither is a blunt instrument, but rather “an ongoing conversation and quest, punctuated occasionally by important findings that can and should alter practice, but more often characterized by continuing investigations. These investigations, taken cumulatively, can inform the work of practitioners who are building their own local knowledge bases.” Parents can remain confident that while it’s important that educators stay up to date with the latest findings, a good teacher who understands the learning needs of your individual child is best placed to decide on what their homework should be.
This article originally appeared on page 21 of the 2017 issue of beijingkids School Choice Guide. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.