alfie kohn, classroom management, discussion, no homework

But How Do You Really Get Rid of Homework and Still Know Where Students Are At?

Image from here

One great thing about blogging about what happens in our classroom and to me as a teacher is that I am often asked to clarify how all of this works.  So after my latest post “My Kid iS Drowning in Homework” I received an email from Mr. Feltman asking me some questions.  I figured my answer back might be helpful to others as well, so with his permission here is our communication.

Mr. Feltman wrote;
If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask a few questions, that would assist us in this endeavor.

Do you have research or articles backing this up?

What percentage of tests and other activities make up the students grades? (another way to ask is when you switched to “no homework” how was your class grading scale affected?)

How do you assess their mastery of learning (especially poor test takers)?

And here is my answer (emphasis added by me);
I do have research and articles!  A big push for me came from Alfie Kohn’s book “The Homework Myth” in which he collects a lot of research about it, and other sources which I have some of here

I did want to do my research as well so that my principal would back me.

Along with the no homework I am opposed to letter grades, however, my district is not.  So the compromise I have figured out in my room is that students only get letter grades on their trimester report cards, and those  are decided through discussion with me after we have decided as a class what each letter grade means.  The limited homework that does go home is therefore not used to determine grades but rather to determine instruction needs.  So my grading scale was affected in a positive way since students know that if they do work in class and hand it in, we discuss and dissect it and then figure out their needs from there.  There is no final letter-grade assigned to it but rather a common conclusion is given and we determine the path from there.

Tests are part of my formative assessment and students are mostly given a chance to revise and rethink their answers.  I do not want a snapshot of that kid at that time, I want to gauge their overall understanding.  Because the pressure of letter grades (and the finality aspect of a test) has been removed, students also tend to work through assessments much more calmly because they know I am looking for their depth of understanding rather than the pressure to perform right then and there.  This has provided me with a much more comprehensive view of the child’s abilities, which in turn I communicate to parents through feedback and observations.

Mastery of learning is shown in many ways.  I always think of what the large goal is or the skill and through conversation or even in-class work I can figure out if they have mastered that skill.  Math tends to be the only area where there is daily work (class time is given for this) but other than that most students are involved in longer projects covering a range of goals from the common core and district standards.

I know giving up homework can seem daunting but once you take the plunge it really isn’t that scary.  Sure you will have some parents that do not understand it but if you communicate your intentions clearly; mine are to keep school at school as long as the students work hard, then parents seem to come on board.  Getting rid of homework means I have to be much more on top of class time and what we need to get done with a focus on the larger goals rather than small worksheets where the students just regurgitate information or daily work that could be covered in a long-term project.  

Thank you for the email Mr. Feltman and good luck!

4 thoughts on “But How Do You Really Get Rid of Homework and Still Know Where Students Are At?”

  1. One thing that struck me about the comment was the notion of percentages. If it is truly about mastery, then a standards-based approach is more accurate. And if that's the case, the work should be done in-class, where a student can receive instant feedback.

  2. Oh, how I wish I could visit your classroom for about a week! I love your ideas, but have such a hard time picturing what they really look like in action and how I can apply them to middle school.

  3. The question is not whether or not there should be homework, but what power the teachers has to enforce behaviors in the home. I’m not an educator, but a psychologist, and I don’t know how important it is for teachers to get feedback from work done at home in evaluating where the child is at. But I am confident that if you insist that the child keep working until all the work gets done, you will not receive much useful information. If you ask set a limit on how much time (by the clock) the child spends doing homework, reduce or eliminate the penalties, and ask that parent to be an observer rather than an enforcer of homework behavior, you’ll get far better information than you will if you use excessive and punitive grade consequences, and drive that parent to desperation. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. Author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.

  4. John, I absolutely agree, we have to move away from the percentages and look at mastery and depth of knowledge to truly assess a student. And the student should be involved in that discussion as well.Jennifer, my door is always open!Ken, Yes, I agree and have blogged about that before as well. We have absolutely no right to outside time after school.

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