Managing and Organizing the Homework Environment
The key goal of Managing and Organizing the Homework Environment is to create a "space for success" by setting up the physical environment, providing supplies, and managing daily schedules in ways that support program goals and help students learn.
What Is It?
Managing and Organizing the Homework Environment involves supporting students' homework completion by setting a predictable schedule for homework, establishing routines, and creating safe and productive spaces with easy access to materials.
What Do I Do?
Begin by determining a regular time during afterschool that is devoted to homework. Establishing and communicating a schedule will help parents and students know what to expect, and will encourage students to use time-management skills. Having a consistent schedule helps students develop an effective homework routine.
Think about the space you have, the students in your program, and what they need to be productive and successful. If you have students in a range of grade levels, structure smaller spaces for individuals or groups to work quietly. If some students finish homework before others, set aside space for quiet activities such as reading or computer activities with headphones.
If your afterschool program is in a school or another organization that does not provide permanent closets or shelves to store supplies, purchase or request donated rolling carts, rolling suitcases, or storage bins. Keep your materials and supplies organized and ready to roll out and use each day.
Be Certain To Do This
Communicate with school or district personnel about how much time students should be devoting to homework. Research recommends that students spend 10 minutes on homework for each grade level per day. For example, a fourth grader should spend no more than 40 minutes on homework.
- Make sure students have a quiet, well-lit place to do homework.
- Arrange the room before students arrive so there are three clearly distinct areas: 1) an area for independent study so that students are not disrupted; 2) an area with tables for small group work, with no more than four students to a group; and 3) an area with comfortable space where students can relax and read silently
- Keep materials on hand that students routinely forget, or that are specific to the content they are studying.
- Provide books or educational games for students to do once homework is completed.
What Do I Need?
Whether you are starting with an empty gym or a well-equipped classroom, having the right materials and space configuration is essential. Learn more about organizing your space with these sample Space Diagrams for Homework Time (PDF).
Why Does It Work?
Research shows that students are more successful when they devote regular, set amounts of time to homework, and when they are able to work on their homework in a structured, self-selected space. When the homework environment is organized and managed effectively, students know what to expect, begin working promptly in their designated space, and are less prone to distraction. Routines, clear expectations, and well thought-out space configurations reduce behavior problems and disruptions, leading to more productive use of time and increased achievement.
The purpose of this section is to explore some of the skills and procedures shown in the video vignetteManaging and Organizing the Homework Environment. In the video, you can see how a real afterschool program implements elements of this Homework practice.
You may want to watch the video once prior to reading this section so that you can become acquainted with how the featured afterschool program organizes its homework center and manages homework help. Jot down notes as you watch. Next, read about suggested ideas in Build Your Homework Help Practiceand answer the accompanying questions. If time permits, view the video a second time. Compare the strategies that the instructors use in the video with your own current practice.
What to Watch For
At the Hillside Elementary School Program in Berlin, New Hampshire, fourth through sixth grade students receive homework assistance in a range of subjects based on the school-day curriculum for that grade level. Afterschool staff work with textbooks and other materials that students bring to the afterschool program to complete their individual homework assignments.
The afterschool homework environment accommodates group collaborative study and individual one-on-one help. In a classroom setting, desks are arranged so that students with similar work can help each other with the guidance of a qualified facilitator. There is also a quiet room where students work on an individual basis with a Title 1 instructor. All students rotate between the classroom and quiet room to maximize their study experience.
Students work at their own pace. If they finish before the homework portion of the afterschool program is over—or do not have homework on that particular day—they can move to another space and work on education-based games either individually or in groups.
1. Work with individual students on homework. In the video, afterschool instructors primarily help students with homework by providing one-on-one assistance and tutoring. Sometimes instructors ask open-ended questions to elicit student thinking about the problem they are working on. At other times, instructors ask questions to assess student understanding and comprehension. Some instructors are school-day teachers and are able to provide help with specific content-related problems.
How do you use questioning techniques to draw out student thinking and help them find their own answers to problems? How do you use questioning to test student understanding? Are there school-day teachers or other staff who can provide support for students in a particular content area?
See also: Tutoring, Mentoring and Building Study Skills
2. Plan a schedule for homework center activities and follow it consistently. In the video, when students first enter the homework help portion of the afterschool program, they are provided with a snack and an engaging warm-up activity such as a group game or question of the day. If students have no homework, they sign up to play educational games or work on projects in a separate space from the homework help center.
Do you follow a consistent routine with students so that they know what to do and where they need to go (whether they have homework or not)? Does your homework center provide a collection of educational games and activities for students who don't have homework, or for those students who have finished their work early?
3. Provide at least two separate areas where students can focus on their homework. In the video, a Title I classroom provides a quiet place for students to get one-on-one help with the instructor. A regular classroom provides a space for students to talk about assignments and work collaboratively.
How do you plan and develop your homework center workspace with regard to students' homework needs? Do you arrange the desks for small-group or large-group collaborative work? Are there ways that you can organize the space to better meet students' homework needs?
See also:Space Diagrams for Homework Time (PDF)
4. Offer help to students who have difficulty reading or understanding assignments by allowing them to work in a smaller, private workspace with one-on-one attention. In the video, a student is shown working with an instructor in a Title I room. In this smaller room, with partitions that provide privacy, it is easier for students to get and accept individual help. The instructor sits closely to the student as he or she works. She asks each student to read the text or assignment aloud. She asks each to explain what he or she is doing as they work, or thinking about the assigned work.
Do you have a quiet, private space where students who may require more one-on-one assistance can receive it without judgment or embarrassment? Do you ask students to re-read text or assignments to test their understanding of what they are working on? Do you ask them probing questions?
5. Set goals and outcomes for students' homework progress and program effectiveness. In the video, students report that outcomes from homework help include:
- increasing awareness that they need to read more to be able to increase their reading comprehension;
- increasing confidence that they know what they can do and accomplish well;
- feeling secure in knowing they have enough time to complete their homework assignments;
- believing that their instructors practice patience and understand their needs; and
- seeing their grades on homework improve.
What are the outcomes of organizing and managing a high-quality homework help center? Do you think that these outcomes are met by your homework help center? Are there ways that you can organize and manage your homework center to improve student outcomes?
Continuous Program Improvement
Think about your answers to the following questions:
- How do you organize and manage your homework center?
- What did you learn about this practice from seeing it in action?
- What are some new strategies that you would like to try in your program?
- What are the benefits of doing this? What outcomes do you expect?
- What are some of the challenges? What will you need to do this?
What skills do practitioners need in order to manage and organize the homework center environment?
Practitioners need to know how to:
1. Create a learning environment (or safe space) to accommodate students' needs
- Consider use of space: See Space Diagrams for Homework Time (PDF)
- Consider grade-level groups
- Small groups
2. Pay special attention to materials before, during, and following homework help time
- Provide all needed materials
- Plan for materials prior to homework help time
- Organize materials prior to and during homework time
- Store materials following homework help time
3. Set a reasonable homework schedule for students
- Students' time matters
- Ten minutes per grade level (for example, 40 minutes for fourth graders)
4. Provide meaningful after-homework completion activities that:
- Build study skills
- Capitalize on students' interest
- Enhance school day content/projects
- Book clubs with high-interest reading
- Test/study groups
- Test practice teams
- Educational games
- Art center
- Writing center
- Cyber study center
5. Determine leadership/management
- Large group check-in
- Communication processes/procedures
Technology Tip for this practice
A "cyber study center" can be set up with only one online computer with headphones. Allow all students to rotate through the center sometime during the week. Stock the cyber center with appropriate, high quality activities. Check with regular day teachers to see if computer enrichment games are available with textbooks students are using during the school day. Additionally websites such as Fun Brain and Gamequarium provide links to many fun, free online learning games.
Note that using the cyber center only as a "reward" for having no homework or completing homework may result in students who need technology time not receiving it.You should consider your overall program and goals in your utilization of the center.
Print resources for this practice:
Rosemond, J. (1990). Ending the homework hassle: Understanding, preventing, and solving school performance problems. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel.
Schumm, J. (2005). How to help your child with homework: The complete guide to encouraging good study habits and ending the homework wars. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
United States Department of Education. (2002). Helping your child with homework: For parents of children in elementary through middle school.
Web resources for this practice:
General Information and Research Studies
Cosden, M., Morrison, G., Albanese, A., & Macias, S. (2001). When homework is not home work: After-school programs for homework assistance. Educational Psychologist, 36(3): 211-221.
Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J., & Patall, E. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1): 1-62.
Cooper, H., & Valentine, J. (2001). Using research to answer practical questions about homework.Educational Psychologist, 36(3): 143-153.
Cooper, H., Valentine, J., Lindsay, J., & Nye, B. (1999). Relationships between five after-school activities and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2): 369-378.
Muhlenbruck, L., Cooper, H., Nye, B., & Lindsay, J. (2000). Homework and achievement: Explaining the different strengths of relation at the elementary and secondary school levels. Social Psychology of Education, 3: 295-317.