Monday, July 4, 2016

Homework?



Do you give students homework?  I am not a big fan of homework overall.  I feel that students already devote 6-7 hours of their day to school.  They need time to be a kid!  For this reason, I RARELY send paper/pencil work like math sheets or other fill in the blank stuff.  I feel that it is more likely busy work and not really helping the student move any closer to understanding the standard.  Not to mention, many students have no support at home and completing paperwork is a source of frustration for them, not a source of learning.

Every year, one of the first things a student (and sometimes a parent) asks is, "When do we get homework?"  It seems that it is a novelty and they WANT to have some homework.  At my open house for parents at the beginning of the year, I always explain my homework philosophy to the parents.  I think the most important activity a child can do at home to support learning is to read.  I talk about reading all of the time!  When parents ask what they can do to help at home, I say READ!  You can read to your child or with your child.  You can listen to them read to you.  All of it is important!

But then I have to explain that reading is thinking.  At first, parents think I just want them to say the words on the page, you know… word calling.  Well, this is not what I am talking about when I say "read."

I give parents all kinds of information about reading strategies and how to engage with the reader.  But the short version of what I tell them to do is:
*Talk about the book before you read.  Talk about what you expect to find out or what questions you have.  You want to have a purpose for reading.
* Stop every couple of pages and retell what has happened so far in the book.  Think some more about questions you might have.  Think, read, talk...
The important part of "reading" is the thinking and the conversation that happens while you read.  Reading without thinking is not reading.

So, the homework that I give my students is centered around reading.  I would love it if every parent read with their child, but I know that is not a reality.  I also know that it is difficult to manage time in the evenings and weekends when you work a full time job,  have children involved in extra curricular activities, and/or have other family obligations.  I am very empathetic to "family" time.  My homework is very flexible and allows for choice.

Basically, I am trying to appease the people who want "homework" but also make the homework meaningful.  I don't send specific books home with students to read.  I tell them that they can read anything they want.  Most of my students have access to books at home in addition to library books from school.  However, if I have a student who may not have lots of reading material at home, I send baggies of books home about every other week.  I make sure they have reading material at their independent reading level.

Students take home the homework sheet on Monday (or the first day of the week) and return it the following Monday.  This gives them a full week to complete it.  I don't tell students they have to do a certain thing on a certain date.  They have some flexibility in completing the assignments.  The stars are for student reflection and accountability.  If a student only does a small portion of their homework, they color in one star.  If they complete each activity and meet their reading goal, it's 2 stars.  If they complete each activity and read MORE than their goal, it's 3 stars.  As a class we strive for 2 and 3 star homework papers.

There are essentially 2 things for the students to complete during the week.  The first one is to study spelling words.  I use the DSA spelling framework from Word Journeys.  The students can study their words as much or as little as they need.  I leave that up to them.  All they have to do is answer that they did study their words.  By the way, we spend some time each day working on our spelling words.  For this reason, most students are able to be successful on their spelling list even if they never study outside of school.  I believe I should be providing the support they need to be successful and not force them to rely on support outside my circle of influence.  I can't be sure that every child will get support at home.  Therefore, I make sure they get the support at school.

Every child sets a goal for reading each week. This, again, is using choice as a motivator.  They choose the total number of minutes per week that they plan to read.  At the beginning of the year, I help with goal setting.  We talk about who likes to read at home and how much.  I explain that to get better at anything, we must practice.  If you want to be a better reader, you will need to read.  There are no shortcuts.  The power to improve is with each person, but it is a choice.  To start with, I tell them to consider how much they like to read at home.  If they say they really don't do it, we start with a smaller goal.   This is fine.  We talk about how we want to set a goal that we can do and work on growing as the year goes on.  I really want each child to feel in charge and comfortable with their "homework."

Some students are already avid readers.  Believe it or not, I sometimes have to tell them to set a LOWER goal.  I love that they want to read, but a kid has to eat and sleep too!

The only other thing on the homework sheet is to write a little something about what they read.  This varies from student to student. Some students write a detailed summary about something they read during the week.  Other students tell their favorite part.  Still others tell about strategies they used while reading.  I really don't care what they choose to tell me.  I just want to be sure that THINKING is going on while reading.  Also, I feel that this homework approach is naturally differentiated.  Students who are capable of reading and writing more will do so.

I collect the homework each week and write a note or two on it.  I want to give some feedback to encourage each reader and nudge them forward.  Sometimes I ask a question and sometimes I just comment on what they did.  Also, we have a class goal for 100% participation each week.  I put a little blurb in my newsletter about our percentage.  I don't give negative consequences for not doing homework.  I just focus on the positive.

For me, giving homework is more about motivating students (and some parents) to read at home.  I know that time spent reading is powerful.  My goal is not necessarily to teach students responsibility, although it is inherently part of "homework."  I feel that I can work on teaching responsibility in the classroom with other choices and natural consequences.

Overall, this system works for me.  I have been using it for a few years now and plan to use it this year as well.  Do you give homework to your students?  What is your philosophy on homework?  I would love to hear your thoughts!


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