Whether we’d like to admit it or not – the new school year is upon us. I even have colleagues who are already back in their classroom. For myself, I like to look at the new year as a way to fix what didn’t work and implement new strategies that will make this year even better. One area that I’ve been taking a stronger interest in and feel needs revamping is homework. I follow the work of Alfie Kohn, in that homework is no good (The Homework Myth). Now, yes, some homework needs to be given, but if you can integrate some of these strategies, you will be able to make the whole homework situation easier on you and your students. Furthermore, these ideas should also help your students in understanding why they are doing the work, why it matters to them, and how they can gain ownership over their assignments.
- Explain It
- A lot of times, we (the teachers) understand the purpose and value to the homework that we give; but our students may not. If you can take the time in the beginning of the year to explain what homework is, then you can create a greater sense of purpose to it for your students. I like to say, “Homework is work, done at home. You do it after class and school are over, so that you have a chance to step away from your lessons and really recall what it is that you did in class. Then the homework gives you the chance to put that learning into practice. It also lets you be free from distractions and let’s you see where you are proficient and where you still need help.” Homework is also an opportunity to come back the next day and allow students to ask teachers for clarification on areas that they might not understand; as well as allow them to interact with their classmates the next class session.
2. Make It Meaningful
- Students catch on quick. So when you assign homework, but don’t check it or throw it into the trash – students will notice it fast. If you can have the homework be more meaningful, then they are more likely to take it seriously and to complete it thoroughly (which is what you were hoping for anyway). Tell them what the purpose of this particular assign is and how by doing it, they are going to positively impact their learning the next day.
3. Less is More
- Is it really necessary to do forty math problems tonight, when 15 will do the trick? Plus, will you have time to go over it in class, fully, the next day? Probably not. Is it going to help to have students read 30-50 pages in one night and complete a dozen short answer questions? By rethinking what needs to be homework and what can be small group or partner work the next day – you can help reduce the amount of at home work that needs to be done.
4. Conference with Other Teachers
- I think sometimes we forget that we aren’t the only teacher that our students see in a day. By taking some time to chat with fellow colleagues and learning how much work is being given in other classes – you may all agree about making reductions. If there are six classes in a day and each teacher gives out 40 minutes of homework an evening – that’s four hours worth of work that a student has to do in one night. Yikes. And yet, sometimes we, as teachers, are so enthusiastic about giving our students the right assignments that we forget that they have other educators who feel just as passionate. Maybe you could switch assigning homework to every other night; or make the homework a weeklong assignment. Then you can make it easier on you and your class.
5. Make it Count
- Along the same lines as ‘make it meaningful’ is to make the work students do count. If students know that there is something to be gained out of the homework, they are more likely to do it; (because, unfortunately not every student will inherently understand the intrinsic value of nightly work). Plus, by assigning a point or grade to the homework – you are also teaching your students about the values of responsibility and ownership.
- Even though you want to make the homework count for points, I’m not saying that you need to correct each problem or spelling word yourself. You can create a point system for certain assignments: nightly reading chart – a check mark for completion, math and/or spelling problems – 3 points, short answer reading questions or textbook reading assignment – check mark for completion, etc. You can create a system at the beginning of the year (and review it early on with your classes) of what your expectations are and how it’s going to matter.
6. Integrate Multiple Subjects
- Instead of having students just read 30 pages for their daily reading – can it be reading 15 pages and writing a summary? This way they are working on their reading, grammar, and writing skills? Could you have the reading assignment be taken from their Social Studies or science text? Instead of doing the normal spelling list, could they be math, science, or art terms? Could the weekly vocabulary be done the same way? When we are able to combine subjects together into a singular assignment we are giving our students more ways to gain meaningful learning from their work; as well as reducing the amount of individual homework that is given. If you can combine curriculums or subjects, similar to the way we create thematic units, then you have eliminated some of the other homework that your students need to work on that evening.