A 5 Step Plan to Break the Homework Habit
By Jacqueline Fiorentino
I stopped assigning homework to my second grade students last year and something surprising happened. They actually started doing more work at home. This inspiring group of 8 year olds actually started using their newfound free time to explore subjects and topics of interest to them.
Even better, they excitedly reported their findings back to their peers–who then became inspired enough to further explore their own areas of interest. I wish I could say that this was part of my master plan and that I’m just that good, but my students get all the credit for this one. These are just a handful of examples of the in-depth learning that occurred at home once my students were given the gift of time:
Student 1-After learning about weather patterns during our science unit, she decided to learn more about the effects of Hurricane Sandy on our local community. She created a cardboard model of the aftermath in Belmar, NJ.
Student 2-After learning about Harriet Tubman during Social Studies, she made a 3-D model of the Underground Railroad, complete with a map from “slave state” to “free state.”
Student 3-After learning about the Civil War, he made a 3-D model of the Battle of Gettysburg and a trifold display of key figures, a timeline, and interesting facts.
Student 4-After learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., she took the initiative to learn more about his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and created a cardboard model of the March on Washington complete with a book report.
It’s become abundantly clear that it’s time to break the homework habit in the field of education. The minor academic benefits to assigning mandatory nightly homework simply do not outweigh the substantial drawbacks.
A 5 Step Plan to Break the Homework Habit
- Explain it to parents. Back to School Night is a perfect opportunity to explain your philosophy on homework to the families in your class. Do not send your homework policy home in a letter. Parents get a ton of paperwork in the first few weeks of school–it’s nearly impossible to read through it all. Instead, create a presentation backed with research and walk the parents through it in person. Most of the parents will be on board immediately–homework causes a lot of stress and fighting in most families. For the skeptics, you will be able to answer any questions on the spot and avoid a drawn out email back and forth exchange.
- Encourage at-home reading. The key word here is encourage, not force. During your presentation, explain the benefits of reading at home. You can even send home reading logs, but do not assign a due date for them. Your students should not have “mandatory reading time” every night. Reading should be a choice, not a chore. Remember, we are trying to create lifelong readers. When we make reading a mandatory assignment, we take away from the joy and pleasure of the experience.
- Send home weekly spelling words and math facts. At the beginning of each week, send home a list of spelling words and math facts that need to be mastered. It will be up to each child to figure out the best way for him or her to learn to spell the words correctly or master the math facts. If you want to send home a choice board for the students to use to help guide their studying, do it. Just do not make it mandatory.
- Start creating monthly family projects. I send home family projects at the beginning of each month. These projects are designed to inspire a dialogue between the student and his family and are meant to be fun. For example-cover a pumpkin with family photos, complete 5 random acts of kindness, make a bird’s nest out of household materials. The students and their families have the entire month to complete the project. The students bring in their projects on the last day of the month and present it to the class.
- Create voluntary lesson extensions. Some children love homework. I had two students last year who would actually bring in a binder and ask me to fill it with assignments for them to complete at home. Resist the urge to give them busy work. Instead, create lesson extensions and post them on Google Classroom or send them home each week. Point them to outside resources to expand their knowledge on a topic learned in class. Give them the opportunity to report their findings back to their classmates.
Thoreau eloquently stated that “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” As educators, we need to strive to provide authentic learning opportunities for our students. Busy work is a waste of time for all of us–students and teachers alike.
What are your thoughts on homework? Start a dialogue in the comments below.