Customizing Homework


The debate over homework often falls into two categories: “Yes, I’m for it” or “No, I’m against it.” I am of the mind that homework can be a powerful tool that fosters a love of learning, creates strong partnerships with families, and pushes students to reach learning targets.

However, in many instances, homework has become an afterthought in instructional planning. Instead of serving as an opportunity to nurture problem solvers, critical thinkers, and motivated learners, homework is one-size-fits-all chore.

At Vinal Elementary School in Norwell, Massachusetts, we set out to design individualized homework, which Cathy Vatterott details in her article in Educational Leadership. With this approach, students establish standards-based personal goals, practice related skills, select learning strategies, and monitor their progress toward mastery. Homework assignments vary and can entail students creating presentations about personal interests to practice speaking skills or writing songs that include math facts in lieu of skill-and-drill worksheets. Students are given flexibility as to when they complete their assignments—a valuable lesson in work habits. In all cases, the goal is to provide students with choice in how they demonstrate their knowledge and develop new understandings.

Homework gives families a look into the school day and their child’s learning. With traditional homework, families often see students bring home worksheets, spelling lists, and study guides. However, individualized homework reflects what is happening in our classrooms and brings it to life for families. In our classrooms and in our homework, you see project-based learning, kinesthetic activities, academic choice, and differentiation.

One misconception we’ve encountered with the roll out of this initiative is that individualized homework means students have no homework or get to do whatever they want. This is not the case. In fact, individualized homework is more rigorous in the way students strive to master standards and more meaningful because it meets each student where he and she is.

As we enter a time when personalized learning should become the norm, we need to apply the elements of good practice to all parts of our programming. This includes homework–a vital tool for learning beyond the classroom.

Patrick Lenz is principal of Vinal Elementary School in Norwell, Massachusetts.