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.

 

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

Are You Doing Your Own Homework?

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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.

 

 

 

being a teacher, education reform, MIEExpert15, no homework, student voice, students choice

Before You Assign That Homework – What Students Wish You Knew

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“Should teachers assign homework?” was the question I asked my students today.  I thought I knew the answer, a resounding no I was sure, and yet, once again my 7th graders surprised me.

While some pleaded for no more homework, many said they understood the purpose of it, that it was a necessary component of school and then wrote a paragraph asking for change.  Asking for their thoughts to be considered.  Asking for teachers to think before they assign.  So what my students wish teachers knew before homework is assigned is now written here for the world to see.

They wish teachers knew just how busy they are.  That we ask them to live balanced lives that involve sports, family, friends, and sleeping, yet assign hours of work that pushes their bedtime later and later.  They cannot fit everything in, even though they try.

They wish teachers knew just how stressed they are.  That they feel like our expectations are through the roof at all times, but sometimes they are bound to mess up, and can we make that okay as well?  Can it be okay to forget once in a while or to not get it all right?

They wish teachers knew that they don’t always need the practice.  That homework should be for those kids that don’t quite get it, not assume a need for everyone, and that those that really don’t get it won’t get it after they do the homework.  That they need help in school instead.

They wish teachers knew how much we all assign.  That we spoke to one another more so that we see that our class may not assign a lot but when you add each class together, it is now hours of work, not just a little bit of time.

They wish teachers knew that they have worked really hard in school and wish they could have a break.  That homework on some days is okay but it doesn’t need to be every day. Nor does it need to be over the holidays.  That tehy get we have a lot to cover but can they promise us to work hard in school in exchange for time off from school?

Finally, they wish teachers actually did their own homework.  That they tried the assignments so they could see how difficult or confusing they may be.  That they worked through it with kids, not in a pretend way, but really, and then shared their own learning with students.  That teachers truly felt what it means to live the life of a student, along with the pressure of homework,  to understand why homework continues to be a problem for some.

Once again, my students thoughts push my own thinking.  I quit assigning homework years ago but still run into my old ways once in a while; there always seems to be so much to cover, so much to do.  Now, I only assign reading every night, but even that adds up with everything else.  So I wonder; if we all asked our students, what would they say about homework?  And what would we do about it?  How would their answers change education?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  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.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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.

 

Be the change, no homework, reflection

No Homework – 2 Years Later

Two years ago, I decided I had had enough of taking my students’ time outside of school.  Two years ago I decided that I had had enough with worksheets, meaningless extra assignments, and sending work home with kids well knowing that they probably could not do it.  I had had enough of giving kids zeroes and A’s never quite knowing who had done the work or whether they truly “got” it.  So I stopped assigning home work  or at least tried to.  You see, stopping homework in out test obsessed, common core aligned  standards based education is not that easy.  It looks great on paper and I wish I could say that my students have no homework, but it is not quite true.  They have limited homework because there are some things I cannot get around.  So here are some lessons I have learned in the last 2 years:
  • Common core aligned does not mean more focused, it usually means more pages to get through.  Our math curriculum went from averaging 3 pages a lesson to 5 – I now rush through them so that students can have some work time in class and I can reteach the concepts I need with small groups but I am sad to say there is almost always math homework at the end of the day.  And don’t even get me started on the crazy amount of pages in Lucy Calkins stuff.
  • We don’t have enough time to read.  I used to have a luxurious 30 minutes of independent reading built into my day where students actually just read.  I would confer with small groups, read one on one with students and move about leisurely discussing strategies with them.  Now we have to have guided lessons, small groups, write about our reading and one-on-one discussions within 45 minutes.  I am lucky if my kids get 15 minutes of pure reading time so every week I ask them to read 210 minutes throughout the week.  I don’t care what they read, as long as they read, and no, they do not have a log to fill out, we have the honor system.
  • Kids will struggle with getting things done in time even when you give them classtime.  We do spelling as our morning work so every day students have 10 minutes to work on it with being due on Friday.  For most students this is no problem and they finish by Wednesday  but those that have a hard time focusing, getting started, staying motivated; they still end up with late work.    And not just for spelling, when I give students in-class time to finish science responses, do social studies projects and so forth, there are always some that struggle with deadlines.  Every week I have this in my classroom and I am still not sure what to do about it.  
  • Taking recess is still against my beliefs.  I very, very, very rarely ask a student to stay in during recess and if I do it is to discuss something behaviorally with them.  However, once in a while a child gets so behind, so lackadaisical about getting work done and using their time wisely that they have to stay in.  So far this year it has happened once and only after I had given the child a whole week to finish the work outside of school.  Once they were done with the work though; out they go.
  • Some parents will want more work, some parents will want less.  To no fail some always feel I don’t give their kids enough work to practice their skills or get them ready for middle school, while others still think it is too much.  There is no magical way of making everybody happy, but only contuing to communicate what we are doing and why.  
  • I still believe homework is unnecessary but boy it can be hard to get rid of.   Our curriculum is written to be extremely difficult to get through in a regular school day so I battle this every day.  But it gets better every year as I get wiser and smarter about how my students can accomplish their learning goals and show me they have mastered something.  I do not use worksheets outside of class and we do much more project based learning with student and teacher determined learning goals.  

I have never lost my belief that homework should be banned in school and as I continue to work through my new curriculum, I maintain that belief. I do not believe that homework is the only way to teach students time management, responsibility, and to show me they have learned something.  There are many ways to do that, but to do it well you have to tear apart your curriculum, tear apart your expectations of what a finished product looks like, and tear apart what you think students can accomplish.

If you are looking at going no homework but unsure of what to do, reach out, I will gladly help if I can.  

grades, no homework, rewards

I Need to Let Go, But Not of Everything

With the babies arriving any day now according to the doctor I have been mentally preparing to let go of my classroom, at least for the first two months of school.  This task is proving much harder than I ever envisioned.  Don’t get me wrong, trying to mentally prepare for twins is strenuous, but letting go of how I set up my room and community, yikes.

Those first two months are vital, ask any teacher and they will tell you just how much they matter, and yet I have to forget about that.  I have to trust my sub, who by the way is brilliant, but still…how will they know how fantastic 5th grade will be?  How will they know what my expectations are?  How will they know the kind of classroom I envision?  I swallow my fears and focus on the positive; the babies, the new life awaiting all of us and I realize I have had to let go.  I have had to let go of how the curriculum is taught, how their day to day lives will be, how the sub will treat them and build community with them.  I have to let go.

Yet, there are three things I cannot let go of, 3 things that I refuse to lose control over, as I reiterate to my sub just how important these are.

  1. Limited homework.
  2. No rewards/no punishment.
  3. No grades.

Is there more, well of course, but these 3 things are deal breakers, pillars of my philosophy, the things that cannot be sacrificed whoever is teaching.  And I need the students and parents to know that from day one, not day 40 as I venture into the room.  I need the parents to feel comfortable with the why behind these decisions and I need the students to know what is expected of them.  I need them to know that they set the rules, that we work together, not that learning will be forced with a carrot and stick method.  I need them them to know that work will be at school and they should see very little outside work if they spend their time wisely.  I need to get them ready to set goals, think about their learning and take control of it.  So those 3 things, those I am not letting go of.