If we have to have homework for our youngest learners, I prefer homework that is project-based, if the parent is going to participate, with lots of choices for how the project can be completed. I want homework that becomes quality time for the parent and child. I am not interested in the kind of project where the parent takes over to present a designer finished project. I am tired of hearing parents say, "I got an A on that project!" As teachers, I wish we valued "a child definitely had his hands on this project" more! Earlier in the year, I remember a class assignment where some of the classes decided to try an open-ended project after an author study. The children had to present a book of their choice, but they could choose the type of grouping (individually, small groups) and the way that they presented (for example - a poster, Readers' Theatre, a puppet show). I remember being amazed at the creativity and the way that the groups functioned together. The end products were not professional, but the learning that came out of the project was amazing! That's more of what I would like to happen at home - where the goal is the learning, sharing and quality time together.
My favorite reading homework is simply about listening to your child read and reading to your child - and reading something that is delicious! My kind of homework would be cuddling together in bed and reading a book about a favorite subject or a story that you loved when you were a child -discussing it and playing the parts, practicing voices and generally having fun with the assignment - not half listening to a book while you cook or drive to practice in the car - an assignment that has no interest to you or your child. My kind of homework would be playing a game - perhaps a board or even a video game together - and then discussing the best strategy that you used - or watching a television program or cartoon together and discussing what connections you made to your own life or perhaps to a book you have read - or stopping by to watch someone decorate a cake while you're grocery shopping and then going home and writing Grandma a letter all about it - or helping to cook dinner and then writing the recipe down to send to the family or collecting for a family cookbook.
I HATE homework that requires the parent to reteach or to try to figure out what the child should know because the child seems not to have a clue! Even with this philosophy, I have trouble in my own school really influencing the homework trends. It seems that when we move in a direction of choice and "less is more," then the very next year less choice is given and more is added! Even with grade level homework which tries to minimize work at home, teachers feel a need to add some more of their own.
I know teachers are often pressured by parents, especially of academically gifted children, to give more homework, so the change would have to be for both teachers and parents. You don't HAVE to give homework in EVERY subject to be a good teacher! For instance, I would like to do away with spelling tests and spelling homework because the research says that memorizing a list of spelling words will not generalize and that the child will not spell those words correctly in their writing, but when we've tried to do away with spelling, teachers often say that it's one of the things that parents feel comfortable with and know how to do with their child.
I certainly don't have all the answers about homework but I'd love to hear what you think. Maybe we'll do a survey and see what our parents think...