By Susan Riddell
Whether high school students need to finish a term paper for U.S. History or primary students need to write a book report, student learning can easily continue over the holiday break.
The questions many teachers face, however, are how much homework do they assign and what are the best methods to make sure students still are able to focus on family time over the break.
Lois Conely is in her 28th year as an educator and her eighth year as a middle school teacher at Anchorage Elementary School (Anchorage Independent), a K-8 school.
She said keeping students consistently learning over break is important but doing so should be handled delicately.
“It helps students use and practice their skills and stay somewhat engaged with and connected to content,” Conely said. “Especially during holiday breaks, students may have family gatherings or special activities or they may travel. The students and their parents don’t need to worry about homework assignments during these times.”
Conely suggests handing out an assignment in the days leading up to the break, not the day before one starts.
“I have found it helpful to make assignments a few days in advance of the break and not due for a few days after the break so that if a student wants or needs the extended time, it is available,” she said. “In addition, if you post the homework assignment on your school website and/or notify parents via e-mail that an assignment is due, it helps students who might be unclear with directions or who need the actual assignment.”
Anchorage school district’s holiday break – like many others in the state – lasts two weeks. Conely said she doesn’t normally hand out homework strictly for the break but will offer links to websites. “I don’t do something that’s only online because some students travel and will not have access to a computer,” she said.
In past years, she has assigned a family history project that involved students interviewing family members and gathering photographs and primary source documents over the holiday breaks.
“The project was assigned several weeks prior to the break so that they could plan ahead and then use the time during holiday gatherings when they would see relatives they didn’t ordinarily see,” Conely said. “The actual project was not due for a couple of weeks after the holiday break so they had time to compile and format their work.”
Teresa Hinton has been a 5th-grade grade teacher at Calhoun Elementary School (McLean County) for 13 years and primarily teaches mathematics. She feels strongly that students “need to practice math often to retain those skills” but said that she tends to choose not to hand out homework over the break.
“From experience I have found that most likely the only students who would actually do the assignments would be the students who don’t need the extra practice,” Hinton said. “The struggling students tend to be struggling because they rarely complete daily assignments. I consider the break a ‘break’ and remind the students that we will be ready to start back at an intensive level when we return.”
Hinton said it’s important to emphasize to students that once the break is over it’s time to really focus on learning.
“On the first week back from our break, I stress repeatedly to the students that we are going to be working hard and focusing on what needs to be learned before the end of the year,” Hinton said.
“I try to do a review-type activity when we first come back to help them get back into the flow of things. This also serves as a confidence boost to do something that they should know how to do. Sometimes, especially in math, confidence is half the battle. If the students feel that they can be successful, often times they work harder to continue to feel that success.”