Thursday July 27, 2017
For all of the district’s youngest students this year, life after the school day ends will be different, as homework assignment books will be blank, except for one word—read. Daily homework for kindergartners and students in first and second grade in all three elementary schools is now officially a thing of the past; homework in grades three through five will be optional.
Last school year, Orchard School Principal Mark Trifilio took a risk by deciding to implement an idea to see if excitement about learning could actually increase at the elementary level by eliminating homework. Instead of routine assignments, students were encouraged to read every night, play, and enjoy quality time with their friends and families. The experiment was regularly evaluated throughout the year and the results were overwhelmingly positive. So positive in fact, that in the fall, all three elementary schools will take on a modified version of Trifilio’s model, one that takes into account both parent concerns and individual student needs.
Superintendent David Young presented the information on the new policy at the July 19 board meeting and although the item did not require board action, there were nods of agreement as Young and Trifilio explained the policy. Martin LaLonde said that he wished that the policy had been in place when his children were young. Last year, some parents at Central and Chamberlin felt conflict regarding Orchard’s policy since their children continued to finish their school days with homework assignments to complete. This universal policy will help create equity among the schools, quelling concerns that student preparedness would vary due to different homework policies across the district’s schools.
In the 2017-2018 school year, each grade level will have homework guidelines. For kindergarten through grade two, reading an appropriate level book will be expected nightly, but no other homework will be assigned. For grade three, students will be expected to read nightly, and homework will be optional, though it will focus on personalized learning, not weekly routine work. This will also be the case for grades four and five, and homework assignments will focus on project based learning using Vermont’s transferable skills as a guide for independent work.
When Principal Mark Trifilio made the “no homework” decision with his 40 staff members at a one-day in-service training last year, the staff were “passionately” and unanimously in favor of implementing the change. Over his eight years as principal at Orchard, Trifilio had become increasingly concerned about the assignments that were going home with students at night. He noted they were inconsistent from grade to grade and class to class. Trifilio also noted the stress on both children and families that homework was creating as part of the impetus behind implementation.
“We already have them [children] work a six-and-a-half-hour shift,” Trifilio said, “why are we asking them to put in even more time when they get home?” Parents and guardians are all too familiar with the arguments that can ensue around getting homework done vs. going to soccer practice or playing with friends. This policy removed that stressor as well as assisting families for whom English is not a first language.
In addition, Trifilio said he was skeptical about how vital homework actually is in those early grades in terms of prepping children for middle school. For those who would argue the no homework policy hinders academic achievement when children move to middle school, Trifilio said there is no research that supports this, at least at the elementary level. Trifilio also pointed out that he brought up the philosophy of homework assignments helping to prepare for the following school at an administrative meeting and both high school principal Patrick Burke and middle school principal Karsten Schlenter said that current work should not be for preparation for the following school.
A document provided to the school board at their July 19 meeting outlined the rationale for the change. This included the aforementioned “second shift” work, but also that homework could diminish students’ interest in education and limits the time they have to follow their own passions. The evidence from Orchard School’s experiment showed that students arrived at school more excited and eager to learn and some were reading even more than required.
In order to address parent/guardian concerns for additional reinforcement for their children of concepts learned in school, teachers will collaborate with the parent/guardian on possible assignments. All schools will be in communication with parents on what is covered in school curricula and their children’s academic progress. There will also be resources provided by the schools for families who want assignments like math games to enhance comprehension.
Newsletters and updates from the schools will include more information on this new policy.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent