No more homework? Greenfield elementary schools rethink approach

  • Jake Toomey will be the new principal at The Discovery School at Four Corners. Here he talks with Lucas Spofford and Alexis Parker at the Academy of Early Learning.

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/16/2016 10:28:34 PM

GREENFIELD — Let’s face it: Back in elementary school, nobody liked the feeling of being on Problem 2 with 36 more to go on that math homework while a fresh pile of snow in the front yard beckoned just outside the window.

In Greenfield, the principals of the three elementary schools decided to nip that in the bud this year, re-thinking their approach to homework by virtually ending the practice.

Discovery School at Four Corners Principal Jake Toomey said the goal is to reduce stress and anxiety among students caused by having to spend the day in school, then go home and work more before getting up and doing it all over again the next day. That, he said, is expected to improve educational outcomes by helping the pupils focus more during the school day and have time to relax and unwind at home.

“The overall intent has been to have the families engaged and participating in the student learning, to reinforce what’s happening at school,” Toomey said. “We wanted to take the pressure and angst off of schoolwork for kids; it has such a negative connotation for students and families. We want to change that mentality.”

The new guidelines recommend that parents read to their children, listen to their children read to them, practice math for a few minutes with flash cards or games, play outside or cook together in place of formal homework.

“It encourages oral language and relationship building,” Toomey said.

He said the administration is building a list of websites and applications that are mobile friendly that students and parents can use in place of traditional homework.

Besides informal check-ins with students to see what they decided to do the night before, there’s no formal accountability system for tracking homework, Toomey said.

Bharati Winston, who teaches second grade at Four Corners, said many parents had questions about the changes in parent-teacher conferences, and the program has been rolled out on a case-by-case basis.

“I have one student who her parents and I and she decided she’d read each night,” Winston said. “Every once in a while I’ll check in and say ‘Did you read last night? What did you read?’ It’s a little less pressure, but still a check-in.”

Sometimes, she’ll send home a riddle or a mystery picture in a weekly e-mail and challenge students to work with their parents to figure it out.

“They’re spending the day really putting out a lot of work — they’re staying focused and there are so many expectations,” she said. “When they get home, they can just take a deep breath, relax and spend time with their families. … That seems more enriching than ‘Do these 30 problems.’”

Winston said the changes could help take some stress out of juggling homework with after-school sports or other activities.

“Those are just as important to an overall look at a child as 10 minutes of flash cards are,” Winston said. If a student needs extra help, she said she may still encourage a little take-home work or recommend an application.

While the results of the program haven’t been traditionally measured so far, Winston said she’s seen fewer tears from the students and fewer frantic e-mails from parents about their children failing to complete an assignment the night before.

“It’s more positive experiences now, and zero negative experiences,” she said. “Any time you can make school a positive experience is the way to go.”

Eliza Cavanuagh, whose son is in third grade at Four Corners, said nightly homework assignments seemed to be adding only stress to her son’s life and actually began to hurt him academically.

“Homework seemed to be adding anxiety. It might be a positive thing for kids who thrive on meeting expectations to do the homework, but my son is not one of those kids — it seemed to detract from his experience and sense of accomplishment,” she said. “Now, our son doesn’t need help to stay at grade level.”

You can reach Tom Relihan at: 413-772-0261, ext. 264
or On Twitter, @RecorderTom


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