What about homework???

homework

Homework.

A topic familiar to almost any public school student. And parent. With staunch supporters on either side of the debate, homework remains nestled in the crossfire. So what are my thoughts on the issue of homework? As I assigned homework to my students over the years I have seen the same, predictable results.

The predictable results are: stress and conflict, frustration and exhaustion. For years I assigned a black homework duotang on Monday mornings, and requested that students complete and submit the package by Friday of the same week. I would mark it on the weekend. Every Friday the same group of students didn’t have it finished, another group was stressed because they didn’t understand something and did not have support at home to assist them with homework, and yet a third group likely finished all the work in about ten minutes and probably got it all correct. I know early on in the year which parents are doing the homework for their children (isn’t this encouraging cheating?), and I recognize by the ashamed and red faces students who don’t have a home life that facilitates making homework possible.

I began to ask myself why I continued to administer this archaic form of work. The assessment I was pulling from the homework could easily be done in class through conferencing or other methods. So I began to reflect on my practice and asked myself – what if there was no homework?

Alfie Kohn explains that, “the surprising news is that there are virtually no pros to balance the cons (of homework). Even if you regard grades or test scores as good measures of learning, which I do not, doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school”.  The Homework Myth (Da Capo Press) Which I can totally understand. Most learning should take place in school, and we as teachers should be able to ascertain on a weekly basis who needs more support in their learning. And sending more work home is not going to help them be more successful.

What if we rethink what happens at school and see if we can remove the stress from homework that is affecting some students’ love of learning? What if we fostered more student-led, critical thinking in our classrooms? What if the homework that needed to be assigned was valuable, meaningful, and student-centered?

Kids should be kids. They spend nearly seven hours a day at school. Why not let them experience life and grow in ways that matter outside of the classroom. Let them go to swimming lessons, hockey practices, chess matches, drama and dance rehearsals. Let them enjoy family time at the end of a long day instead of cluttering it with worksheets, assignments, and memorization. I believe the removal of homework can work to eliminate  social inequalities, help students and parents’ relationships and home lives, and add a new dimension to valuable classroom learning and assessment.

 

 

Student Mailboxes

If there’s one important thing I’ve learned in my years teaching, it has to be the idea that we should not reinvent the wheel. And most teachers don’t – we share, borrow, tweak, and seek innovative ideas from Pinterest. If somebody else has done something successfully in his/her own classroom, I’m all for trying it with my students, as long as it’s something that meshes well with my own educational and personal value system.

My very first year of teaching I was at a loss for how to organize my students’ “stuff” without taking up a great deal of space. Space in a busy classroom with 25+ students is at a premium, so taking up a big chunk of classroom real estate is not an option for most teachers. I created a wall of mailboxes for my students using clear shoe organizers. The shoe organizers are fairly inexpensive and can be purchased at most dollar stores or department stores.

photo

 Next, label each “mailbox slot” with students’ names. On the first day of school I take photos of all the students, then have them printed that night so they are ready the next morning. (Have extra prints of the photos made so that you will have extras on hand as you need them throughout the year.) Cut the photos so they will fit in the slots, then glue them to heavy card stock so that they are fairly durable. Lastly, laminate each card. The year I didn’t laminate the cards they lasted only until December, then were quite frayed and tattered. Laminating ensures you’ll have your cards until the last week of June.

I use the mailboxes as a way to do attendance in the morning. The photo cards are kept in a small basket beside the mailbox wall. I check for empty boxes after my students sign in in the morning, indicating to me who is absent. When students are absent, the class helper is responsible for placing missed work in the missing student’s slot. Upon return to school, a student who has been away picks up their missed class work and I don’t need to worry about who missed which assignments.

The students seem to love the sense of ownership having their own personal space creates. It’s also an asset for supply teachers coming in to a class where they may not know any of the students. This give a clear visual and quickly matches a face with a name.

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