Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homework, Yea or Nay?

Homework is one of those things where you can please some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time, but you will never please all of the people all of the time.  And, by "people" I mean parents!  I had a reader post a comment asking what my homework policy is, what I assign, etc. I have many thoughts on the topic, so I thought I would respond and tell you how I probably manage to irritate a portion of my parents every year!


What's My Homework Policy?
My district follows the "ten-minutes-times-grade-level-give-or-take-ten" rule.  So, second grade would have 20-30 minutes of homework assigned nightly, third grade gets 30-40 minutes, and so on.  This means I should be assigning my fifth graders between 50-60 minutes of homework each night.  The only other directive we have is that every night should include writing in the form of journal writing and some type of math homework, Monday through Friday.  Yup, we give Friday homework.

Now, overall I agree with the above policy, but I don't make myself crazy with it.  At Back to School night, I am very clear on MY homework policy with my parents.  I tell them that their child should have 50-60 minutes of homework according to district policy, although the amount of homework I assign nightly is dependent on what we are working on in class at the time.  Some days there will be more homework, some days there will be less. 

However, I do tell them that this doesn't mean on the days there is less homework their child shouldn't put in that hours time.  That hour should be considered an hour of homework/study time.  I suggest that if homework is done in less than the district's suggested time, the student spend that time reviewing or studying.  This helps my friends who are headed to middle school next year build the study habits and work ethic necessary for middle school and high school.  The Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote an interesting article on the topic this past winter.  It seems my policy and that of my district is pretty standard, yet still somewhat arguable by some. 

This brings me to only pleasing some of the people some of the time.  Every year, I have parents who think I give too little homework, just enough, or not enough homework.  This year, I had a parent who felt I don't give enough homework try to rally the other parents to come to me and request that I give more.  Thankfully, the large majority of my parents are pleased with the amount of homework I give.  In fact, at conferences one after another told me what this parent was trying to do.  When it came time for this parent's conference, the parent told me before I could even say anything. Although nobody else would agree, the parent still felt there should be more homework.  I calmly reexplained the district policy, my policy, and the reasoning behind both.  I then gave the parent some suggestions on how to better use the study time.  We also had a conversation about feeling free to approach me with any concerns rather than trying to "rally" parents, but that's another topic!

What Do I Assign?
Well, as per our district policy, my friends have a 25 minute journal write each night.  We didn't start at 25 minutes.  The time increases to 25 minutes as they build writing stamina over the year.  It is a free write with an optional topic assigned.  This allows them freedom to write what they want, but provides a topic for the "I can't think of anything to write about" crowd.

We use the Everyday Math program.  This program comes with a workbook page of homework for each lesson, and we pretty much do a lesson a day.  That means math homework is given.  I find the workbook pages to be too easy for my friends this year, so I often supplement with an open ended math question.

Those are the two areas of homework I am required to assign.  My friends also have a reading log to keep up with.  It requires them to read a minimum of twenty minutes five nights a week.  The log is assigned every two weeks and comes with some sort of activity or small project to be turned in with the log.  That generally makes up my daily homework.  Science or social studies is given as needed, but not often.  Our science book is a tough read, so I don't assign a lot of homework from it.  We really need to do it together.  Occasionally, social studies will be assigned, but as I wrote not often.  In addition to all of that, there is always the study time for any upcoming quizzes or tests.

One of the reasons I don't assign, in my opinion, a lot of homework is that I see how busy my friends are out of school.  They are busy with sports, religious education, and oh yeah, you might just want to be a kid and play outside for a bit!  And, how about a little family time?  Yes, school comes first, but I think it is important for them to have balance in life, just as it is for us.

How Do I Assign Homework?
I know exactly what I have assigned for homework every day of the school year.  If a parent were to ask, I can tell them what was assigned on any given day.   In my class, we keep a class agenda.
Our district supplies each child with an agenda in which they write their homework each night.  I keep an extra in that container above.  One of our class jobs keeping the class agenda.  That student is to write the previous day's homework in the agenda each morning.  Then, they erase the homework board so we start the day fresh. 

This works for us for a variety of reasons:
1.  It tracks all homework.  As I noted, I can tell a parent what was assigned at any time.  More importantly, I can tell them when something was assigned.  This has come in handy when I have a friend who fails to write down an assignment in their agenda and a parent insists their child didn't know.  Oh, really?  Well, let's just look at the class agenda and see when it was originally assigned and how may times they were reminded after that.  Enough said!
2.  If I have a friend who was absent, they can quickly check it, copy the homework they need to do, and see any reminders they missed.
3.  I like being able to look back and see what I have assigned all in one place.  I can really see if I've neglected any area or have been giving too much or too little homework.  I also keep my agendas from the previous years, so it is interesting to see what I was doing the year before. 

I like the agenda book because each page is a day, and each subject is clearly labeled with space at the bottom for extras.  I like this agenda so much that if the district didn't provide them every year, I would probably order them myself.  It keeps my friends accountable.  This is what the agenda looks like.
As you can see, on this night my friends had three math pages.  Two pages in their journal and one worksheet.   It seems more than I said I give only because the journal pages required them to just finish two problems on each page.  The real homework was the worksheet.  They also had a social studies test to study for as well as a DARE report to write and a Spanish quiz coming up.

You can see at the bottom there is also a place for a teacher message and a parent message,both with a line to sign and date.  That has come in handy on several occasions!

So, that's my take on homework.  What do you think?   Do you agree? Disagree?  What's your policy on homework?

17 comments:

  1. HOLY COW that is a LOT of homework to grade. I think the amount is great for them to adjust to middle school but man I can't imagine keeping track of who did what and how long it must take you to grade. What is your policy on grading it? Is it a complete/incomplete or do you actually score it?

    I tried a little experiment this year.... NO HOMEWORK. I work in a triad so the kids still had math and science HW from their other teachers. But in the past, I have not been able to get kids to do their reading HW (usually a reading passage with questions) and I found I was wasting a lot of time prepping it, tracking down who didn't have it, and above all wasting a lot of trees. I wanted to see if I could get the same growht out of my kids if I didn't give weekly homework and only gave a reading log and put my focus on that. It has worked just as well, if not better.

    You inspired me! For today's topic I will write about my homework policy!!

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    1. Hi Lindsay. I should have mentioned that in my district we are not allowed to grade homework. It cannot part of a student's grade because we have no control over who has assistance at home and who does not. We also have no control of the parents that offer a great deal of "help" as in doing the work themselves. What we can do is keep a record of homework completion. If, when grades are averaged for the marking period, students with a borderline grade (say a 87 is a B+ and they average out to an 86.1) we can use the record of completion to either bump the child up or leave them as is.

      As for checking and keeping track, I always check math homework with my friends at the start of the math period. I walk around and look over thier work as we go over the answers. It's a good time to clear up any lingering confusion before moving on to the next lesson. As for writing, I just can't read it all every day. I do spot checks and once a week we make time to share homework writing. The spot checks keep them on their toes so they keep up with the assignments. Plus, you know who doesn't keep up with homework and who does. I just try to spot check my "forgetful" students a bit more often.

      Hope that clears it up a bit. I can't wait to get over to your blog and read your homework thoughts. :-)

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    2. HI:

      I am a new follower. I love your website. I am also a first year teacher and my mind is constantly swimming with new ideas, what ifs, omg moments, the things I'm not doing or doing too much. However; I love the homework agenda idea and it is a great way to communicate. I will start this on Monday. I also think the reading log is a great thing as well, I love how you have them turn it in every two weeks with a project. What is the project?

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  2. I'm pretty much the same. Can't please all the parents all the time. I do give SS homework somewhat regularly, though. They have "flashcards" with the state testing question lingo on them and they have to draw a picture representation of them. I find it strengthens their understanding of the vocab and topics.

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  3. LOVE the Agenda. I think I'll make that a classroom job next year. And I think you give the "Goldilocks" amount of HW.

    My school recently had an handful of parents who made a homework petition. When my principal read off the names of those children whose parents were involved (either spearheading or signed the petition), I said to the staff, "Say good-bye to your A+ money. Those are the kids in the bottom quartile..." Those parents don't value homework because they don't want to deal with the nagging and fighting or they just want their child to be "whatever they want when they grow up".

    I have ONE parent out of my 19 who has ever complained this year about homework. Her son has ADHD and she chooses not to medicate him. I (out of best practices-because he doesn't have an IEP) allow him to do half of the work to help Mom out. He needs to play and he needs to have quality time with family. She struggles daily with him at home because she MAKES him do all of the work and his grades are still declining. What can we do?? He LOVES school and I'm sure it's because I don't nag him like Mom does. "You didn't do your homework, Sorry. Here's your ticket." Three tickets and no recess. I use a ticket system to manage homework, responsibilities and behavior. It is non-emotional and easy to manage.

    I give a fair share of homework. Book Club nightly, which is reading and written response. A short vocabulary workbook page 2 nights, sometimes grammar practice, math practice and sometimes science or social studies, depending on how much I have assigned already. The kids/parents don't complain so I think I'm safe.

    I had to tell that one Mom this when she complained to me: "Look, I live by a rule of 80/20. There will always be 20% of people who I will never make happy. You are one of those people. And I'm okay with that." The mom was like, "I know, I know." But somehow she still loves me :) I don't know how I do it.

    Just keep your chin up :) Homework is necessary and so is studying. If a parent complains, ask them, "What are your expectations for your child beyond high school?" If they say, "College." Then homework is vital. Every profession from lawyers to construction workers, has some sort of homework. If they don't say, "College" then you know where you stand. You can't care more than their parents... It will eat you alive.

    Love your blog :)

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    1. You are so right!!! It is all about parent expectations. We don't do this job alone. Despite the legislators out there who put student's success entirely at our feet, without parental support, we are teaching with a handicap. I can only push my friends so far. If they go home and parents don't place the same value on what we do, neither will our students.

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  4. I think homework is an important habit to have (or learn). My second graders get one sheet per day (one side reading, one side math) M-T and a reading log. The county policy is 20 minutes. I also offer extra math (as a choice). Besides that, if a parent wants more, I am happy to suggest some things.
    We grade the homework together and I check that they read daily.
    As a mom...I hate homework!!! After a full day of work my kid needs to go and play :)
    My Second Sense

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  5. How crazy! I am just thinking about homework. I assign ELA homework usually every night (vocabulary, reading, etc) except for Friday and Science homework usually 2 nights a week (I am on a team where someone else teaches math/social studies). We still get complaints from parents (these kids are in 6th GRADE!) that, "School is school and home is home." They don't want us to give ANY homework! It's so hard to know what to do!

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  6. Wow! Thank you! Thank you! I was the one who asked the question about homework, and I can't thank you enough for taking the time to be so thorough, specific, and QUICK in your response..even though I knew you would be!

    Thank you also for touching on each component. I have been teaching 5th grade for 5 years, and I have been struggling with the amount of work to give because they are getting ready for middle school. I completely agree that you cannot please everyone. I like that you give a writing component for homework. It is something I have had a difficult time deciding on because I wasn't sure what exactly to assign. I think journal writing is a great idea. I also love that you have an extra agenda and a student who is assigned to compile the homework for the year. I will be using that idea next year for sure!

    Your ideas and reflection are always appreciated! Thanks for opening your classroom up to us!

    Renee

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    1. No problem, Renee! Thank you for the great blog topic! :-)

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  7. I like the idea of the class agenda. My firsties use agendas too and this is a great way to keep track for parents and students who are absent. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Would you mind sharing where the schools get their agendas from? They look like they have a great set up! If you know the brand as well, that would be helpful. As a child, my elementary school provided us with agendas and we loved them. It keeps you and the teacher organized and lets the parent know what their child was working on at school. I like how there is a spot for a signatures as well. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Kayla, I will check with our school secretary on Monday and comment again with what I find out. Thanks for reading!

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    2. http://www.premier.us/
      http://www.schoolspecialty.com/home

      We use Premier brand, but order them through School Specialty company. All the info should be on the first link. What's nice is you can customize the inside and cover to fit your needs. The School Specialty catalog also offers some generic agendas that have the same format as ours but have a basic cover. Our agendas have a school mascot cover and inside we also have a copy of all policies that students and parents need to be aware of. I think you could get away with the generic agenda if you have budget issues. Hope this helps!

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    3. Thanks Nancy! That is all great information :)

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  9. Wow,nice information about assigning homework.According to me Homework is very essential thing for everyone and especially for beginners because it provide practice and guidance for them.So that they will not face any kind of problem in future with higher section's topics.Generally children takes homework as a burden but it is very essential for them.They need some practice and daily guidance so that they can understand the topic.Teachers has to jut take care of this thing that they should not give it in bulk.And parents also take care of the kids assignments and the strss related to it.

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  10. I am a brand new follower of your blog and am absolutely enthralled and obsessed already! You do a fantastic job of explaining and describing the rationale of what you do and how. Thank you so much for this blog topic! I have gone back and forth struggling with myself on what to assign and what not to. I tend to find in my area (a very urban area of Phoenix, AZ) that the kids who need that extra practice at home are the ones who never or hardly ever do their homework. But I was already wanting to start journals for HW next year and am glad to hear you do that as well. Would you mind sharing examples of the types of "prompts" you provide or where you get them from? I need a starting point for myself. And I am also looking into getting back into giving math homework each night, but to make it easier on myself and my time crunch, I need to purchase a book that basically has it made for me...since our Investigations curriculum doesn't have something like that. Any suggestions? I teach 5th grade Gifted cluster (sounds exactly the same as your district's enrichment model...but I also have regular ed students as well).

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