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How I Learned to Love Homework

How I Learned to Love Homework

I hate homework. I hate homework as a teacher because dealing with the logistics of it takes up so much of my time. I hate homework as a parent because I don't want to spend my precious time with my kids at night fighting about assignments.

Homework time can leaving everyone exhausted and frustrated.

Homework time can leaving everyone exhausted and frustrated.

A couple of years ago I tried to stop giving homework to my third graders. They were to read and do something active every night, but there were no assignments. Reading and being active are two of the activities that have been proven to grow our brains. 

Unfortunately, while I was on maternity leave, my substitute was told that she (and I) had to assign homework. For the next two years, I struggled to come up with a homework routine that worked for my classroom. I finally settled on "morning work" pages that were sent home every Monday. Every Friday I would collect the pages. Then, after school, I would recycle the pages. I didn't even keep track of who completed the homework. 

I think my hatred of homework stems from the busy work nature of it. Teachers can't assign meaningful work because students may need help at home. In elementary school, most kids are not independent enough to do this meaningful work without the support of a teacher or an involved parent. 

So, do we just stop assigning homework? A lot of people think this should happen. Several studies have shown that homework in elementary school does not impact student achievement. In other words, homework doesn't help kids learn.

When kids can complete an assignment independently, they will be more likely to complete it.

When kids can complete an assignment independently, they will be more likely to complete it.

While I think no homework would be a fine solution, some teachers just don't have this option due to school rules. After many months spent thinking about homework, I have a solution for these teachers. 

Two words: math facts.

Kids need to know their math facts to be successful in math. Most middle school math struggle can be traced directly to unmastered math facts. This is because our brain can only work with about four pieces of information at a time. If that space is occupied by solving simple math fact equations, there isn't room to work with new information.

There is no magic trick to memorizing math facts. It just takes practice. Repetition is the magic word when it comes to memorizing math facts.

So, for homework, give your students a tool to practice math facts. I like to use a model paired with equations for my math fact practice. You can make these pages on your own, or I have created monthly fact books. These can be done in class or sent home for homework.

Another option is to send home a nightly "timed" test. This is a page of about 50 problems specific to the math facts a particular student is learning. This can be done with addition/subtraction or multiplication/division facts. These are the pages teachers use to give timed math tests at school.

Give kids a chance to show you what they know.

Give kids a chance to show you what they know.

I am not a fan of the timed math tests, but these pages do give the students repetition. Don't tell the kids it is a timed assignment, just ask them to complete it. They will automatically work as quickly as they can to be done with it.

There are some fun activities and games kids can use to practice their math facts. I wouldn't assign these as homework because they require parental involvement. Instead, I would send home one page that the student is able to complete independently. I would keep is so short and simple that the student could complete it in the morning before school starts if necessary.

By making the homework something the student can do independently, the homework is teaching the child responsibility. Plus, your students will feel good when they have completed the task on their own. 

Design a homework program that helps kids fall in love with reading.

Design a homework program that helps kids fall in love with reading.

The other part of "homework" should be reading. There is a significant body of research that shows that making children record their reading is actually counterproductive to encouraging reading. Do you record when you read? Instead of requiring students and parent to keep track of reading, build reading journal time into your morning routine. Have the kids spend a few minutes writing about what they read last night every morning. This will require them to practice the skills of retelling, predicting, and making connections. Plus, it doesn't feel like homework because the "work" is done at school. Plus, the kids will be motivated to read at night, so they have something to write about in the morning. If a student didn't read the night before, they can write about why they weren't able to read. Those kids are still practicing important skills even though they missed their reading. 

You don't have to read the journals every day, but you can skim them to talk with the kids about what they are reading. They will love to talk about their books, and this relationship will build a love of reading. 

So, as a teacher who hates homework, this is a homework routine that I love: one page of math facts a student can do independently and reading. What do you do for homework? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Comment below to let me know!

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