Wonderland Kansas City

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 20 2012

The Homework Problem

Do you assign your students homework? If yes, how much? And do they actually do it?

Please answer in as much detail as you think will be useful. Looking ahead to the fall, when I’ll actually be in charge of my own classroom, I’m wondering what’s a realistic expectation for student homework. I’m thinking TFA’s “high expectation” rhetoric will result in my students getting an hour of homework from my class every night–which is great, if they actually do it. Right now I’m teaching in a high-performing school in the suburbs and it’s still difficult to get students to do their homework. What’s the best way to implement a homework plan in your classroom? Any ideas or suggestions? I’ve had tons of jaded teachers tell me to “just not assign it” and I remember a few classes in high school where I never got homework. This does seem wrong to me. So if I’m going to have some homework, what’s the best way to do it? On the other hand, if I send students home with a big assignment and they all come in the next day saying they “lost it” or “forgot” do I fail them all?

Also, I read recently in my literacy class that assigning homework doesn’t always lead to student learning anyway. i.e. if the kid isn’t getting it in class, he’s not going to get it at home. If you’re not teaching it right, there’s no point in assigning homework anyway. And if you are teaching the material and the kids are understanding, homework is usually not a good tool for reinforcement–it’s basically just a waste of time and becomes a “busywork” grade. I guess that all depends on what kind of homework you’re actually assigning, but still, it does make sense in a way.

13 Responses

  1. Coach K

    I think it all comes down to the culture of the school at which you are placed.

    I think academic rigor is defined by these two characteristics: 1. the level of challenge and push in the classroom and… 2. the level of time commitment required of students outside of the classroom.

    That being said, you will have your schools with very high standards for the level of academic rigor both inside and outside of the classroom. Successful (or soon-to-be successful) public, public charters, and private schools are where you see this. And on the other hand, you will have schools like mine… Schools that don’t hold really any standards at all in regard to rigor… Or student achievement. It’s the cultures in these types of schools that make assigning homework impossible.

    Maybe if we could create insanely great cultures just inside our own personal classrooms, our students would engage in this kind of work outside of the classroom regardless of school culture (a solution I’m currently brainstorming)…

    Definitely a good question to keep engaging!

    • wonderlandkc

      Thanks for your input, and I completely agree. I’d love to create a classroom that requires the extra effort outside of class–personally, I think you can do so much more with your class if students can do some of the work on their own at home. However, if my classroom culture is completely opposite from the culture of the rest of the school, I can’t be surprised when my kids can’t make the transition between the two. And I certainly couldn’t penalize them for it when it comes to their grades.

  2. My students do reading journals and course projects as homework. Other than that, it’s just whatever they didn’t finish during class.

    • wonderlandkc

      Good to know. Can you provide a little more info about the reading journals? The teacher I’m working with now assigns reading journals, but I know there are a lot of kids who BS them five minutes before class…I’m wondering if there’s a more efficient way to make sure kids are reading at home. Because I do think that extra reading outside of the classroom is critical, but difficult to enforce.

      • I grade them according to a fairly demanding rubric, and the kids have to include quite a bit of information (varies depending on fiction vs. nonfiction and poetry vs. prose, but things like character development, tone, figurative language, author bias, etc.). So if they have strong enough language skills to BS that on the way into the room, then they probably aren’t hurt TOO much by not taking their independent reading tasks seriously.

      • I should mention, the primary reason I don’t assign daily homework is that I have a multi-grade, multi-subject classroom (I’m at a tiny two-teacher school), so I really, REALLY need kids to stay occupied quietly with their own schoolwork while I’m teaching other groups. We’re big into “natural consequences” and a natural consequence for being off-task when you were supposed to be working is that you have to take your work home. At my previous positions I had “traditional” classrooms and I assigned daily homework every day except Friday and special occasions.

  3. I do assign homework almost every night, but I don’t make it worth very much; homework is worth 10 points while classwork is worth 30 points, tests are worth 100, etc. It also depends on which subject you teach — I teach math, and that daily practice is important.

    But I haven’t found homework to be very meaningful — you’re right, if they don’t get it in class then they won’t often get it at home.

    The more important thing I’m teaching, I hope, is self-discipline and the necessity of taking responsibility for one’s own education. Even so, only about 2/3 of my students do their homework on any given night.

    • wonderlandkc

      You’re completely right about teaching self-discipline and responsibility. Especially if you’re preparing kids for college–lord knows they’re going to have to do homework then! I guess my question would be how to get the 1/3 of students who don’t do their homework to take that step. They’re also probably the students who don’t worry much their grades, so repeatedly reminding them that they’re missing assignments or that their grades are suffering probably isn’t an incentive. What to do?

  4. Megan

    I think every classroom has its own challenges with homework, but here are some things that have worked really well for me and I think can apply to any grade.

    1.) Make homework extra practice that students absolutely can complete at home independently. The logic behind this is that if I tell my studnets read a chapter and my lesson plan for the next day involves that being the prereq and over half my students don’t do it, we can’t do that lesson plan. That being said, that extra practice truly is crucial to my students’ success.

    2) If the homework is not as self explanatory, I often put directions as part of the homework or a sample problem. For math, I include 100s charts; for reading, vocabulary explanations. That way, if parents/older siblings are able to help, they know exactly what I expect.

    3) I try to make it pretty low maintenance for me. For a literacy classroom, it may just be “read a book for 30 minutes, complete your book log for that day, and fill out a sequence chart”. I send home a weekly book log and make a ton of copies of sequence charts and I’m done.

    4.) Give some incentive/competition to it. I’ve done things from individual student incentives (4 days of bringing homework back means you don’t get homework for the weekend, rewards after certain times they bring it back) to table/team/class points where we get to watch a movie or even a quick youtube video if they read so many books total at home.

    5.) As you stated, make homework matter. Show students the direct correlation between completing homework and their grades/mastery/growth. Every school has different criteria as to how much homework is worth, but really show your students why and how it matters. While I agree that students may not always need homework, most of the students we teach are behind enough that extra practice reading every night, at minimum, is a necessity to achieving true growth.

    6.) This goes for everything in my classroom, but I believe in reasons, not excuses. I absolutely hold my kids to the expectation that they will have homework done, but I also understand that my students – at the age of 7 or 8- are already the primary caretakers for their siblings and don’t have consistent home lives. So I give my students the benefit of doing the following when homework is not complete: 1) Come up to me and tell me the real reason why your homework is not done. 2) Give me a solution as to how you’re going to solve this. (These solutions include “I will stay in from recess/gym/do it during lunch/double up on homework tonight.” I ONLY give consequences if they don’t follow through with their solution.

    Hope that helps.

    • wonderlandkc

      I love love love your suggestion number 6. Rather than penalize kids who have disruptive home lives, teach them the skills that they’ll need to compensate for it. It’s a sad reality that some kids will need to make sacrifices such as skipping recess to do their homework, but unless they learn the importance of making these kind of sacrifices, they’re in for quite a struggle later down the road. I would also want to try to find a fair way to reward these kids later for their responsibility and hard work.

      Thanks for all the great input. I’ll keep it all in mind as I plan for the fall.

  5. An hour a day?? What grade will you be teaching? If their other teachers assign that much (which is unlikely, but possible) that’s 5 hours of homework per night! I let my kids make up their homework any time before the end of the report card period.

    • wonderlandkc

      That was hyperbole…I was trying to hint at the difference between what TFA might expect my kids to do, versus what I know they will actually do.

      • wonderlandkc

        Although, since I haven’t officially started teaching for TFA yet, I’m still unsure about their expectations. I’m just assuming they’ll want my kids waaaay ahead of where they’ll actually be.

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