Thursday, December 17, 2015

I gave up homework this fall....and we all survived

This summer, I had the good fortune of participating in a 2 1/2 day institute with Laura Terrill, during which I committed to writing a thematically based curriculum for my 4th-6th graders.  Gratifying. Invigorating. Completely overwhelming. Laura gave a clear message to the participants that when taking on something new, we have to give something up, too.

Hmm? What to give up?  It only took me about 5 seconds to figure out that homework had to go, and from then on my mantra has been "Grade less. Plan more." I only have so much time-more learning comes from planning than grading.  Thank you Laura Terrill.   So, why the switch?

  • There is mounting evidence that homework doesn't support academic achievement in elementary(see The Case Against Homework), with little evidence that it does.
  • Thanks to Google Translate and Spanish speaking babysitters and family members, often the homework is not the student's work, and I don't get an accurate picture of what they can do or what they have practiced. 
  • I see over 200 students per week-tracking their progress and giving timely feedback on their in class work. In a day, I usually have eight class meetings.  There simply are not enough hours in the day for me to spend grading homework or giving up precious class time for students to check homework that doesn't support proficiency.   
Fortunately, I teach in a school that is open to change based on evidence, and I was able to let it go. Homework now is for fun projects like occasionally writing pen pal letters; and not every day nor every week.

I'm now three months in and here's how it's going:
  • Utter freedom from the looming pile. While my workload, like all teachers, is still heavy-I now focus my time on planning units, lessons and giving feedback on class work.  I don't feel guilty or overwhelmed by the paperwork or Google Voice assignments waiting in my inbox.
  • No one is losing out.  The children in my program continue to progress and build proficiency without homework, AND our time together is free from nagging about missing homework assignments.
  • I  assess/grade what's important: what students can actually do in the language.  By giving up  homework, I evaluate only assessments(free from GT), which demonstrate what students can do in the language-not how they've managed their time outside of class. 
  • I gained time to focus on the most important work. The last two years, I created my own homework book-which entailed writing performance based tasks for each unit, then have it copied and bound. I now spend more time planning for in-class learning experiences, and have more money in the budget!
  • Flexibility. Even though I created my own workbooks, I then had to stick to them. What if we wanted to spend more time exploring a topic or take it further?  The homework book didn't support that. 
  • I'm happier-which is better for my students.
I know that not all teachers can make this choice due to district/school requirements. But if you can-it feels almost as good as tossing your textbook.

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