I completely changed how I approached homework this school year, and I am happy with the results. As I reflect on how this has changed my classroom, I wrote down three key points that made the most impact.
Ditch the Reading Logs
I started out the school year ditching the reading logs. I explained to students I wanted them to read every night. The purpose of reading every night is to increase our reading fluency through the LOVE of reading. Read what you enjoy, to the point where you are sucked into the book and cannot stop. Do not focus on the minutes read. Focus on finding a book that you cannot put down because it would drive you crazy to not find out what happens next.
At our parent night (two weeks into the school year), I explained the purpose of reading at home and the “no reading log” policy. They knew I would talk with their child weekly about what they are reading and take notes about our conversations. Two months into the school year, a parent spoke about this new policy. The father stated, “Last year, my daughter use to leave her room every five minutes asking, ‘Has it been 30 minutes yet?’ Now she just sits and reads, not worrying about how much time has passed. She is actually reading!” This father did not realize how much his statement meant to me and confirmed my reasoning for the new policy.
No More Nightly Math Homework
Every year I have taught (since 2001), I have sent home a daily math homework sheet that came with the curriculum. I found, after the first few months, less than half of students would bring back math homework consistently. Others would complain about working on the page for an hour and a half while parents and students would be brought to tears out of frustration. Is this the purpose of homework? Others would complete the math sheet with ease, five minutes tops.
This year, because my top priority was for students to see themselves as readers, the first two months, I only required reading as homework. I kept track of this through our weekly, individual conversations. But as I saw the need for continued math practice on concepts we already covered and mastered, I decided to speak with my students about math homework. We discussed a scenario where a student forgot how to multiply decimals. Our conversation then went to keeping those skills fresh in our memory. As a class, we came up with a plan for math homework. A weekly math sheet would be sent home, which included math concepts ALREADY taught and mastered. Students would complete problems and indicate ones they needed a refresher on. Students understood we would revisit this new policy after a few weeks and discuss the effectiveness/impact on our learning.
During our first few weeks of weekly math review homework, I received many comments from students. For example, “Wow, I forgot what to do when dividing decimals. Can you remind me?” When students see the value in the homework, it has such a greater impact.
Passion Projects (Genius Hour)
Now, I did NOT intend for this to be a part of our homework routine. Many students have MADE it a part of their routine. Here are the reasons I believe this is happening.
- Students are so excited about their project, they cannot wait until the next class time to work on it.
- Students actually have time at home to work on their project because they are not bombarded with mountains of homework.
- Students do not see their passion project as homework, or something they HAVE to do.
Student voice, along with clear learning goals, has impacted much more than homework. It has transformed my classroom.