I used to hate homework.
My school district requires third graders to do 30-45 minutes of homework/night, 2-4 nights/week. I used to assign — and try to correct — traditional homework every night, with few results to show for all my effort.
My effort did earn me parents who complained that their child received too little/too much work, work that was too easy/too hard, and that it all ended in yelling/tears/slamming doors/a refusal to do anything except pout.
I started listening more closely to the national debate about the value of homework. Some studies like Professor Harris Cooper’s work at Duke show that homework does benefit students (much more so older kids than elementary students) so long as the right work is assigned in the right amount. Other sources argue from a parent’s perspective that homework is at best unnecessary, and at worst, hurtful to kids and families: The Case Against Homework (Bennett and Kalish) and The Homework Myth (Kohn).
Most of the sources I’ve read agree that American schools often assign busywork, and too much of it.
I do know some heroic teachers who have created — and corrected! — individualized homework packets for every child in their classroom. But let’s do the cost/benefit analysis on that one. How many teachers spend more time making, assigning, and correcting homework than their kids ever spend doing it? Is homework really the best use of so much of our time?
All this led me to want to create a homework system that would:
- be valuable. It should help students achieve their learning goals.
- be low-stress (for kids and parents). (Oh yeah, and me.)
- adapt to each student’s needs. (Without requiring 23 different assignments.)
- teach students about “effective effort.” (More posts on this later!)
- help families reinforce and extend learning at home.
My solution is homework choice.
At its heart, homework choice is about helping students identify, plan for, and reach their learning goals. It requires teaching students to identify where they need to focus their effort. It requires giving them the tools they need to put in “effective effort” and ultimately, be successful.
That’s to say, it’s about much more than just a homework notebook.
The last two pages are where students record their homework. Each notebook has enough of those pages for each week of the year. First, students write down two learning goals they want to accomplish the following week. Then, from the Homework Menu on the first page of the notebook, students choose assignments that will help them reach their goals. The pages that follow the menu contain directions for all the activities.
And the activities are really fun.
Each night, students do 20 minutes of homework and 20 minutes of reading for pleasure. On Thursday night, part of this 40 minutes includes doing their Thursday Night Reflection (perhaps not so fun, but really important). Students use the checkboxes to show whether they accomplished their goals (and if not, whether they need to put in more time or more effective effort), and then they write a short (but, I hope, thoughtful) reflection.
At the end of the week, I check the notebooks using the checkboxes on the bottom of the recording pages. When students have done everything that’s required, I put a sticker on the cover. Students who haven’t done everything need to finish it on their own time the following week, and I send notes home to parents as needed.
And it works. Seriously. For two years now, I’ve seen third graders accomplish really impressive things through this system. Modified, it might even work for younger students, and it would certainly work for older ones.
You can effectively enable every child in your class to do the right homework every night if you let them choose it. In the long run, your kids will get much more enjoyment out of their homework, take pride in their success, and learn how to set and accomplish their goals.
These are the basics, but there’s a lot more to be said. More posts to follow soon! And, for those wanting to make their own notebook, here it is in Word.
— a. fox