Be the change, being a teacher, homework, no homework

On the Need for Getting Rid of Homework

I realize I have not written much about homework the last few years.  Not because it is not worth writing about, but because I do not really give it.  Yet, the other day, as I presented a workshop on passionate literacy, someone asked me how much homework my students have, when I told her they are asked to read 20 minutes and that is pretty much it, she was surprised.

After all, how can we cover everything there is to do when we only have 45 minutes without giving homework?  How can I provide enough practice for my students without telling them to work on something at home?  How can I make sure they are ready for 8th grade, for high school, for college, for real life if I don’t ask them to work on things outside of class?

Well, it turns out that there is a way to do this, where I am able to ask students to read outside of class but almost nothing else.  I have written extensively about my decision to limit homework; some of the many reasons include the research that tells us how little benefit homework has for kids, how much it drives stress, the research on how much teachers versus students speak, but most importantly; my students telling me how they really feel about our homework practices.  I realized that the kids who needed the extra practice, needed further teaching, not more work.  That the kids who did the homework diligently didn’t really need to do it.  That some things that were not meant to take a long time did.  So seven years ago or so, I decided that I would try to limit the amount of homework as much possible, here is how we have done it.

We make a commitment. 

I start every year by telling students that in our classroom I will make them a promise; if they promise to work hard, then I promise to not assign homework beyond the 20 minutes of reading I expect every day outside of English.  One of the big reasons often touted for assigning homework is that it builds time-management and resilience in children, but so does hard work in class.  I make sure my students have enough work time in class to practice what they are learning.  If they decide to not work hard, then the natural consequence is that they still have work to finish once the class is over.  This approach has motivated many students to use their class time better, and it has definitely clued me into which kids are working super hard and still having a hard time understanding the work, then leading to further teaching.

We slow down.

Rather than doing many small projects, I have the luxury in English of focusing on several large projects, we call this being a part of the slow learning movement.  It is, therefore, rare that we have an assignment that requires being turned in the very next day.  We don’t have quizzes or tests either, and so the bulk of what we do takes a week or longer, therefore allowing the students that need extra help or practice to get it in class.

We work hard.

I used to take a more leisurely pace when I had the luxury of more time, but now a sense of urgency often drives us forward.  This doesn’t mean we rush, it just means that time is precious in our classroom.  At the beginning of the year, we discuss how to be more effective with our time and students quickly set up routines for this to happen.   Instruction/exploration time starts the moment the bell rings and ends when the bell rings again.  We don’t have a lot of transitions or downtime as students manipulate the learning environment as needed, most of the time, not waiting for me to tell them to get ready for something, find supplies, or any other small things that can end up taking a lot of time.  This means that most days, though not all, we get the most out of the precious instructional minutes give to us; 45 minutes to be exact.

We look at deadlines together.

The team I am on have a shared Google calendar that I try to keep updated with big project/tests deadlines.  This allows us to see at a glance where big things may collide and then gives us a way to avoid that.  While not all deadlines can be moved, many can, and I have no problem adding an extra day if it means students will not experience the unnecessary burden of multiple things do, thus being able to produce higher quality work.

We do bigger projects.

Another part of our slow learning movement is that most projects cover multiple standards.  That way I don’t have to constantly invent a project or an assessment and students are working on long-term goals, rather than short ones.  It also means that many students can find success within a project even parts of it are still difficult for them.

We have venues for extra practice.

In the seven years since I have severely reduced homework, I have had one parent complain about it.  Yet this is an assumption that runs rampant; how parents, other teachers, or even administration will react.  I certainly do encourage you to partner with your administration, a great way to get permission is to ask to pilot limiting homework, and also discussing with your colleagues.  Some may see it as a knock on their own practices, although it is not.  In regard to the one parent complaint, I have had, this parent wanted more educational experiences for their child and I gladly provided them.  I created a list of additional resources they could use with their child if they wanted to further practice their skills, in turn, I told them that I did not need further proof of their understanding and so all extra work could stay at home.

We spiral our curriculum.

Because I am dictated by a standards-based curriculum, I have the luxury of spiraling our standards.  That means that all seven of our standards are taught in more than one quarter.  Why does this matter?  Because it means that even if a child does not achieve proficiency in a standard the first time it is explored, that standard will come back again, allowing me to assess them once more.

I limit my speaking.

I really try to monitor and actively limit how much time I spend giving direct instruction to students, instead of thinking of various ways I can scaffold the instruction I need to provide.  Tools such as Google Classroom, anchor charts, and even extra handouts or other visuals (one of these years I will make videos as extra reference points) help students work through the progress rather than frontload all of the information.  Because the students I teach are at so many different stages it simply does not make sense for me to deliver most of my instruction orally.

We continually commit to it.

Limiting homework has been such a natural part of our every day, and yet, it is also a commitment I make.  It is not that all of my students “get” something the first time around, it is that I try to help them practice with the content in class, rather than outside of it. It is that I want to honor the commitment that kids bring to the work we do in class.  It is that it is my job to figure out how to do the work we do within the time we are given.  It doesn’t always happen, but most of the time it does.

It, therefore, sounds incredibly simplistic, and I do not mean it as condescending, but limiting or completely getting rid of homework really does come to down to us; to how we spend our time in class, to how much we stop talking, to how we do not waste any time, to how we look at our curriculum as learning explorations and not stand-alone projects.  To how we tell the kids that, in here, we will challenge them, but that means that they will get the reward of no work after if they rise to the occasion.  That it is on them to use their time, to ask the questions they need answering, to reach out if somehow they are missed.

Seven years ago I told myself that all of the extra work I assigned was not really worth the time of my students, and I was right.  It turns out they don’t need the extra work to learn deeply.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, homework, no homework, Student dreams, student driven, student voice

Are You Doing Your Own Homework?

itec-passionate-learning-environments-google-slides-clipular

This summer as I saw my niece, who is now a sophomore, we inevitably spoke about her reading life.  She used to be a voracious reader, we could not get enough books in her hands.  Then she came to the whole class novel, which inspired this post, and since then her reading life has been limping at best.  This summer I asked, as usual, “What are you reading?”  She told me The Kite Runner and then scoffed.  Surprised I asked why the reaction.  She then told me that she had read the book and loved it but now had to reread it to annotate it.  “The whole book?”  I asked.  “The whole book.”When I asked her why she was not quite sure, perhaps they would use parts for discussion.

I wondered then, as I often do, when I come across homework assignments that appear nonsensical, whether her English teacher had done their own homework?  Whether they had taken the time to annotate the entire book themselves.  Whether they understand the labor that was involved with that task and how it would take away from the enjoyment of the book.  It seems to me that once again something that is meant to teach kids how to better thinkers, instead is implicit in the killing of their love of reading.

Several years ago I started to do my own homework.  From the stories we wrote, to the essays, to the speeches, and to the presentations.  I started to experience what I was putting on the shoulders of my students and I quickly realized that what I thought would just take a few minutes never did.  What I thought would be easy hardly ever was.  What I thought would be meaningful sometimes wasn’t.  So I stopped giving homework, except for reading.  I stopped going by the formula of grade times 10 minutes.  I stopped handing out packets and instead vowed to stop talking so much and instead spend the time in class on discussion and work time.  I expected pushback or concern, but have hardly gotten any in the last six years.  Most parents express relief instead.

So every year I make a deal with my students; if you work hard in our classroom, you should not have to do work outside of English.  If you give me your best then besides reading a good book you don’t have to give me anything more after you leave our classroom.  And for most it works.  Most of my students come ready to work, ready to learn, and they hand their things in.  Not everyone, just like when we have homework we have those kids that do not get it done, I also have kids that do not use their time wisely.  So I work individually with them, after all, the acts of a few should never determine the conditions of the many.

So if you are still giving homework, I ask you for this simple task; do it yourself.  Go through the motions as if you were a student and then reflect.  Was it easy?  How much time did it take?  What did you have to go through to reach completion?  In fact, if you teach in middle school or high school, do it all, truly experience what we put our students through on a day-to-day basis. I would be surprised if the process didn’t shape you in some way.

I still do my own assignments, although I have been slacking lately.  Whenever I do, I am reminded of just how much time homework swallows.  Of sometimes how little actual practice it gives, or even learning.  How homework is unfair because we have already been given hours of their time in school.  How those who really need the practice do not need it at home, but instead with us as support in our classrooms.  Do your homework, tell your students, and see how they react.  Then ask them how they feel about homework.  Let their thoughts shape you as a teacher, I promise you won’t regret it.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

Be the change, homework

Why the Grade X 10 Minutes for Homework is a Fail

Note: Some of my older posts did not survive the transfer from Blogger to WordPress, thus these are older posts that still bring up valid points.

As I prepared for my first orientation day powerpoint as a new teacher, I knew I had to fill in homework expectations and how much parents could count on.  I was reminded to use the old formula 10 minutes times the grade of the child, excellent, 40 minutes of homework for a 4th grader.  Now this is what my brain should have thought;  “Wait a minute Pernille, 40 minutes of homework, a night?  Plus 20 minutes of expected reading with parent initials?  And a book report every 6 weeks?  And math tests every 3?  Not to mention science and social studies quizzes, which really are tests but just with a friendlier name.  What in the world am I saying?”  Except,  I didn’t and the rest, as they say, is history. Those kids had homework coming out of both ears because that is what I thought teachers did; assign work.  40 minutes seemed fair and reasonable and why shouldn’t it be?  Aren’t we in the business of making students accountable and responsible?  Aren’t we teaching them how to be effective workers, preparing them for the real world?

Except homework is really not thoughtful when you just spew the formula.  Homework then becomes the brainless act of repetition, not metacognition that we all should be striving for.  Homework becomes the incessant chore we all seem so hellbent on making it.  I know we are trying to raise responsible children, but is homework really the only way we can do this?  Can we not accomplish those same goals of responsibility, time management, and work habits without the insane amount of homework?  Can we, as educators, realize that perhaps we do not have the right to infringe on students’ lives outside of class up to an hour or more every night?  Haven’t students already given us 7 to 8 hours of work?

I, for one, limit my homework giving and not because I am a hippie that doesn’t believe in hard work.  We do work hard in my classroom, in fact, my students relish how much we get done in a day because it means they are managing their time.  It means they are creating a work ethic that says give school your undivided attention for a whole day and you will be rewarded with free time.  Do your job here right and then you don’t have to worry about it as much outside of school.  And a formula can never encompass that.

So it is time we give up on the formula.  It is time we realize that homework is not something we have to give just to give the kids work, that there are other ways to teach students motivation, time management, and effective work habits  There are other ways to ensure all of the curriculum is covered and that knowledge is garnered.

This year, on the first day, I will tell the parents that there may be work outside of school and that it will differ from day to day.  I will tell the parents that my mission is to keep work inside of my classroom so that the students may breathe a little bit.  I will tell them there that will be projects, there will reading, sure, but there will also be time to be a kid, to live a little.  No homework doesn’t mean no learning, it means school was kept at school and that is a good thing.

Be the change, homework, new year, no homework

How To Get Rid of Homework in 11 Steps – Or At the Very Least Limit It

image from icanread

I was asked by SImpleK12 to do a webinar on how to get rid of homework and realized as I prepared for that although I have written a lot about the reasons why to get rid of homework or at the very least limit it, I have never written about how I did it in my own classroom.  With the advent of a new year now is the perfect time to get rid of homework or at the very least limit what you assing!  (Note by homework I mean the traditional worksheet, out of school projects and such. ) Here are my ideas:

How to Get Rid of Homework in 11 Steps:

  1. Find the desire.  Be honest with yourself; how many times do you know exactly what the results will be from the students when you assign a piece of homework?  How many times do you know who will hand it in perfect, who will hand it in half-finished, who will never hand it in?  I knew and I think many of us do.  This was a huge reason for why I got rid of homework and here are more.  To get rid of homework you first need to have the desire to do so to be able to stand behind your decision.
  2. Do your research – You are going to face an uphill battle in some situations so you need to know your research.  Fortunately a lot exists to support the idea that homework does not enhance learning as much as we think, particularly at the elementary level.  Look up Alfie Kohn and read his stuff, he has done a lot of research for you already.
  3. Involve your administrators.  You have to be upfront and transparent here, particularly if you work in a more traditional school setting where you may be the only one getting rid of it.  Explain your reasoning and present them with the research. Perhaps they will not support getting rid of all of it (perhaps they cannot because of directives) but they should be able to support you to limit it.
  4. Involve your team.  I think it is vital to also involve your team and explain what you are doing and why.  My team knows that I don’t believe in homework and they respect that.  It is important that even if they do not agree with your decision that they see that it is not a rip on how they do things.  And the more you discuss it, the more they may start to come around as well.
  5. Front load with parents.  I tell my parents in our welcome letter that there will be very limited homework and why.  Invite the conversations and questions right away so that they can understand why your classroom may be different than others.  You may be surprised at how parents react so give them a chance to speak to you about it.
  6. Think about each subject.  What do you traditionally assign and why?  Can you structure your time differently to include work time or practice time?  How can you still cover what you need to cover to check for understanding and depth?
  7. Start at the end.  I plan backwards meaning I think of where we need to end up and then try to envision how to get there.  This works incredibly well with student choice as well since that way I can include student ideas and thoughts in the process.  This also means I know exactly what my learning outcomes need to be and where we are headed.
  8. Stop talking!  The biggest consumer of time in a classroom tends to be the teacher.  I know I felt like I had to be the knowledge bearer and thus had to impart that knowledge on my students through lecture.  I now realize my mistake; students will understand and love whatever they are learning about if they get to explore and dig into it rather than sit and listen to me explain.  While I still do openings and support throughout, I got rid of homework by letting students work on concepts in class rather than listen to me.
  9. Check for understanding through conversation.  Often I used worksheets or projects to see how much my students understand, now I accomplish that through conversation.  This seems so simple and yet conversation and checking for understanding is the quickest and most accurate way to see what a child knows and what you need to help them with.  I often have a clipboard or a notebook with me as I check in so that I can jot down any observations and assessment I take throughout class.
  10. Start small and easy.  I got rid of homework in almost every subject my first year of doing it and I now only ask students to read 30 minutes outside of school but do not check it (I can see who reads and who doesn’t).  You don’t have to do what I did though, you can just find one subject area and cut back there.
  11. Don’t beat yourself up.  I thought getting rid of homework meant that I never assigned anything ever again.  This is not how it is in reality for me.  There are times where I assign students tasks but I try to make them meaningful and worth their time.  I limit the times I do and I try to give them a long time to do things outside of class.  You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.  I have written about my struggles here so don’t feel you have to be perfect as you get rid of it, but do take steps to think of the meaningfulness of the things we ask students to do outside of our classroom.  Start somewhere and reach out if you have questions.  I am here to help.

 

I am a passionate 5th grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

 

being me, classroom expectations, homework, talking

Flipping for the Flipped Classroom Seems To Be the Trend but Not for Me

from icanread

Hey Pernille, we watched a video on the Khan and the flipped classroom model today.  I think you would love it!

Oh, yes I am already familiar with it, why do you think I would love it?

Well, you love technology….

It’s true, I love technology for what it does for my students and I.  I love that we can grab cameras and document our learning.  I love that we can blog and start conversations with others.  I love that I send my students out the door with tools that others may not know about in middle school, thus spreading their knowledge and giving them options.  But I don’t love the flipped classroom, it’s not for me, sorry.

Sure, it is a cool concept.  Videotape your lecture so that it can be accessed anywhere and then use the class time to discuss and investigate and really learn more.  I love the classroom part.  I love the idea of not standing in front of students talking and instead getting to the actual work stage, the exploration, the stage that the kids so desperately want to get to anyway.  But the lecturing is not for me.  Sure, there are times when I have to provide background for my students, in fact, every day that happens, but the idea of taping a lecture and then forcing them to watch it on their own time upsets me.

When I do my background providing, or “teaching” in class, we have discussions.  The students ask questions, clear up misconceptions, and sometimes we end up in a totally different arena then we intended.  I know I need to keep it short, I know I need to keep it relevant so that we can do the work, so that the kids can have time to explore.  I know I could talk a lot longer if I had the opportunity.  Being on live in front of the kids mean I have to be a story teller, I have to be at my best so that they stay with me and stay engaged.  Sure, there are times I wish I had it recorded so that they could watch it again because they didn’t get it the first time, but then I realize that they didn’t get it because I didn’t do a good enough job explaining it.  And having a recording of me explaining it poorly is not going to do them any favors.

Then there is the homework aspect of the flipped classroom.  We expect students to use their time outside of school to watch all of these videos. Can you imagine how much time that would be if every class in a high school setting required this?  My teenage rebel self rolls her eyes.  I would never have been into that as a teen and in college I did my homework on my breaks at work, my breaks between school and work and wherever I could.  I didn’t sit in front of a screen, nor did I have access to it.  I worked full-time while going to school full-time and did much of my reading in my car.  Flipping my classes would have meant that was not an option.  Sure, times have changed since I graduated 5 years ago, students have more access to portable computers, yet we are still asking them to take their outside time and do the work in a matter determined by us.  We are still taking their time.

So I leave you with this simple question, why not skip the lecture altogether?  Perhaps we wouldn’t need the concept of the flipped classroom if we just stopped talking and got to the point?  Perhaps if we actually honed our craft as story tellers, not as lecturers, students would have the opportunity to get the teaching and the exploration all at once?  I know it sounds crazy but I think it can be done, we just need to stop talking so much.

alfie kohn, assessment, Be the change, being a teacher, change, choices, grades, homework

Change Doesn’t Have to be All or Nothing

I remember the first orientation day when I had to face parents and explain to them that their child would probably not have much homework in my classroom.  I remember the fear that almost made me choke on my words, the way I had to remind myself to look up, the way I held my breath waiting for a reaction.  Then I added that instead of letter grades students would get feedback and we would set goals, grades would only show up on trimester report cards and no where else.  By now I was breaking into a cold sweat, my stomach churning, hands were clammy.  Somebody had to react, and then…nothing.  No raised hands, no sour faces, just a quiet wait for what else I had to share. 

Big changes for sure coming from this sophomore teacher.  Big changes that I felt had been necessary for me to be a better teacher and to provide a better education for the students.  Big changes that I had decided to do all at once.  And yet, you don’t have to.  Even though I speak passionately about how throwing out grades or limiting homework has been the best decision I have ever made, that is exactly it; it was my decision.  Something that I knew I had to do to restore my sanity, my passion for teaching.  And yet, that doesn’t mean it is going to work for you.  Perhaps my ideas are too extreme, or just do not fit with your educational philosophy and that is perfectly fine.  But maybe, just maybe, you would be willing to try it for just one little assignment?

Perhaps you are curious but just not ready to go all out.  Perhaps the idea of limiting homework overall sounds insane but maybe it could be tried for a unit?  Perhaps rather than a letter grade, for one project, feedback could be given or students could assess themselves?  Perhaps just trying something different one time will work better for you?  Perhaps, you might like it, perhaps you wont, but perhaps one time will change your mind?

As a first year teacher, if someone had told me to limit homework, or to get rid of grades, I would have rolled my eyes and not listened.  I would have thought them radical, extreme, or totally clueless.  I was not ready for that type of teaching.  I was not ready to take my teaching in that direction.  That direction had to come from within me, the timing had to be right, as did the purpose.   And that is ok.  It is ok to not embrace what Alfie Kohn says.  It is ok to have faith in whatever one believes is the way to teach, there is room for us all in education.  But perhaps, we should all try something else, just once, and then see if that change is meant for us or not.