This week, EndTheRace.org, the website in support of the film “Race to Nowhere”, which we screened at ISTP last year, sent out an email asking schools to participate in the “Homework Pledge” - to work towards homework-free weekends and breaks. It brings up the question of where ISTP falls when it comes to homework. We certainly agree with the overall ideas of the film, and know that certain types of, or approaches to, homework can be pointless, but we are in a unique situation as a bilingual school.
I agree that much homework in monolingual schools has little to no value - when I taught in an independent elementary school in New York, the only homework I gave was to do research - ask your parents how you got your name, interview a family member about their travels, gather recycling to bring in to build our model of the neighborhood, etc. I think it can make sense to have research-based homework that helps kids connect to their families and communities, but it shouldn't be all the time. When I taught high school, most of the homework I assigned was reading and revising writing, or memorizing scenes from Shakespeare or certain poems. It is good to exercise the memorization muscles, and to have quiet time to review and revise, but in moderation and for a clear and greater purpose.
That said, ISTP is a unique school. Because there is less time in both languages, the teachers do have to make choices about what they will spend more or less time on, and it also takes a bit more practice to solidify the languages. Memorizing a poem, revising book reports, or learning spelling/vocab are all possible for students to do independently (for the most part), and thus a way to be more efficient with the learning in the classroom. It is good reinforcement and practice of what has been learned because the students lack a bit of this time that they would otherwise have in a monolingual school. There is also the benefit of helping students to develop responsibility for and autonomy in their work, and developing good study habits.
So, we have asked teachers to be thoughtful and intentional in their homework, and for it to really serve a purpose, not just be homework for homework's sake. Homework is a way to memorize, revise, and research what has already been introduced at school; to consolidate skills and knowledge. We remind teachers before breaks that they are not to give any homework beyond reading and/or the occasional journal entry. Both of these activities are especially helpful in reinforcing the language not spoken at home, as well as being just good habits in a lifelong learner. Our homework does make sense, but we also want to be mindful of the whole child and remember that so much can be gained from down time, family time, or other activities after school. If homework is getting in the way of outside discovery, learning, and essentials like sleep, please do let the teachers know so that they can make modifications. We want to do our part to “end the race”, but we also want to make sure our students benefit as much as possible from their bilingual education.