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  • Why Schoolwork Outside of School Time Might Matter

    By Jennie Kroeger | December 19, 2018 | Posted in: Blog

    As winter break approaches for most schools, many students may be taking school home with them for the holidays. To get some perspective, we talked to Drs. Nicole Patton Terry and Alysia Roehrig about their thoughts on the issue of schoolwork outside of school time. Here’s what they had to say:


    Homework over winter break?


    As parents, we too have thought “Oh no!” when our kids brought work home to complete over the break. For students, it can mean tears, sour attitudes and plain old avoidance. For parents, it can provoke unwanted battles with their children, or worse – dreaded “parent homework.” These negative reactions may be appropriate. There are a limited number of research studies to actually support a strong causal conclusion about the positive effects of homework on achievement. Positive relationships between homework and achievement tend to be smaller in elementary than in secondary school. In addition, more time on homework has been reported in schools serving higher income families, which suggests that there is a chicken and egg problem—which comes first? Students with higher achievement may spend more time on homework, as might students from families with more time and resources to support their students’ homework completion. All in all, we are not convinced that homework packets, especially over the holiday break, are beneficial to anyone, let alone stressed out parents and over-scheduled children. However, there is some evidence to suggest what productive out of school time might look like. Teachers who want to assign homework over extended breaks should consider individual differences of children and families and how assignments could support positive family interactions.


    Why schoolwork outside of school time might matter


    Although it remains unclear whether homework over school breaks will support school achievement, there is some evidence that engaging students academically outside of school time may be beneficial. For example, researchers and teachers alike have observed “summer learning loss”: students returning to school from summer vacation seemingly having lost all that they learned the previous school year. Although many students experience some slide in reading and math performance during the summer, it appears to be more apparent among vulnerable students who are growing up in low-income households and economically distressed communities. In fact, some argue that summer learning loss is an under-noticed culprit in closing the achievement gap. That is, most children, including struggling students, demonstrate growth in reading and writing skills during the school year. However, their experiences during the summer can vary widely, with some children (typically more affluent students) having enriching experiences that promote and sustain learning while others do not (typically less affluent students). While the results from empirical research on this topic are mixed, positive findings have led to a proliferation of summer learning programs with proponents arguing for increased academic time out of school to ensure greater achievement in school.


    Yea or nay?


    So, should parents schedule party time or homework time during the holidays? The answer: it depends. Like summer learning programs, quality matters. Based on important findings of successful summer learning programs, the following guidelines can help ensure the effectiveness of homework and other learning activities, no matter what time of year they take place: 

    1. Balance academic and recreational activities: successful programs include both academic and recreational time, infusing the content with lots of hands-on activities and excursions to keep children engaged and make learning fun. Remember, “fun” doesn’t mean “not learning.” Successful programs are intentional in the content of their instruction, so that children learn through play and experiences. Take, for example, the classic game Simon. Playing Simon teaches children about numbers, colors, and order and promotes skills like working memory, turn-taking, and planning. These are all very important academic-related skills, made even sweeter if you beat your big brother or your granddad!
    2. Provide high-quality interactions with children: all children thrive when they have high-quality interactions with the people in their lives, be they teachers, camp counselors, parents or siblings. Children learn best when those interactions are supportive and responsive to their needs. Reading a book, playing a game or attending an event at the local community center together can be just as powerful as completing a homework assignment – perhaps even more so!
    3. Leverage resources available with community partners to ensure success: communities have a wealth of resources for children and families, and many of them are free. Search for events that allow children and families to interact together and can be extended to learning that is happening at home and at school. While you check your local libraries and museums, be sure to also look for engaging activities in unusual places. Perhaps you’ll find a story time event at your local coffee shop or book store, arts and crafts activities at the local hardware store, holiday events at local parks and recreation centers, and even llamas in pajamas at the local petting zoo or farm. These are all creative and fun learning journeys that will keep your children active, engaged and ready for school when they return in January.


    Dr. Nicole Patton Terry is the Olive & Manuel Bordas Professor of Education in the School of Teacher Education and associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. She directs The Village – a center responsible for creating and maintaining research-practice partnerships with diverse community stakeholders, including early childhood education centers, schools and school districts, state departments, philanthropic and nonprofit groups, and civic and business leaders. Taking a collective impact approach, The Village strives to promote reading achievement and school success among vulnerable children and youth.  

    Dr. Alysia D. Roehrig is an associate professor and graduate program coordinator of educational psychology at Florida State University. She directs the Partners United for Research Pathways Oriented to Social Justice in Education (PURPOSE) training program, which partners with CDF Freedom Schools® summer camps. PURPOSE works to evaluate the free, culturally relevant summer programming at Freedom Schools, providing social justice research training for college students that is intended to increase the diversity of the doctorate in education.