Gloversville experiment studies value of elementary school homework

If the experiment under way this year at Park Terrace Elementary School is a success, the word “h

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Categories: Schenectady County

If the experiment under way this year at Park Terrace Elementary School is a success, the word “homework” will no longer instill dread in the Gloversville grade-school population.

After two years of research and discussion about the need to shift more learning to the classroom, Park Terrace administrators and faculty are curtailing homework assignments and focusing more attention on individual students.

Park Terrace Principal Stephen Pavone, who two years ago began pondering the proper application of homework as a learning tool, said there is considerable research questioning the conventional assignment of homework to elementary-age children.

“We assign homework, but what do we do with it when it comes back?” Pavone said. Many teachers grade the assignments, he said, but there is no way to verify whether it was the child who completed it. In some cases, it could be a parent or a sibling. And then, he said, some children never do their homework.

For those who fail to complete homework there has often been some sort of punishment. The conventional approach to homework, Pavone said, has created a punitive atmosphere that for some children — particularly those from disadvantaged circumstances — colors their attitude toward school in general.

“A lot of good discussion has come out of this,” Pavone said, noting that he recently presented a synopsis of the experiment to the board of education.

“Things my teachers are doing now are so much better . . . more student-centered,” Pavone said. It is also important to remember that homework has not been eliminated at Park Terrace, Pavone said.

Superintendent Robert DeLilli said the Park Terrace program is a pilot for the district and its four other elementary schools.

“It’s something worth exploring,” DeLilli said, adding that the experiment will help district officials determine the best use of homework in the early grades. “What works the best,” will be the guidepost, he said.

“Homework has been around for as long as schools have been in existence,” DeLilli said. The district has a written policy on homework, but its provisions are very general, he said.

Pavone and DeLilli both acknowledge that proponents and critics of the experiment will be anxious to review results from the standardized tests given in May.

But, DeLilli said, the test scores should not be the deciding factor in preserving or killing the program.

“Educating a child is much more than a bunch of test scores,” he said. Some children are not afforded the opportunity “to go home to a nice environment to do their work.”

District officials will continue to monitor the experiment, DeLilli said. Perhaps, he said, the program will establish a proper balance between classroom work and homework. “What is too much and what is too little,” DeLilli said.

Park Terrace’s fourth- and fifth-grade teachers, a five-member team, issued an e-mail discussing the program.

“This concept is certainly in the experimental stage. It is true, however, that a large number of our students never did homework, regardless of the consequence. In turn, by constantly being punished, their love of learning certainly diminished. We struggle to motivate our students to want to learn; punishing them constantly was not supporting that,” the teachers said.

The e-mail, signed by teachers Laura Smeallie, Jeanie Pavlus, Antoinette Barboza and Nancy Brown, discusses a new emphasis on learning projects that have generated enthusiasm and positive feedback from parents tired of fighting over homework.

“We continue to look at creative ways to work in the reinforcement of concepts that homework provides, and develop responsibility and discipline in our students,” the teachers wrote, adding, “our goal is to develop lifelong learners who will go on to graduate from high school and college.”

Pavone said the experiment has its critics and he said their voices are important to the process as the school community continues to shape its new program.

If it becomes a success, Pavone said, the proof will be “happier kids who want to come to school and learn.”

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