Happy Sunday, readers. I’m trapped in my car as a result of a stalled train. Rather than a rant about how annoying this is, I plan on making use of this unexpected ‘me time’ to blog about homework. Yes, homework.
As an elementary school student, I remember sitting at the kitchen table everyday for a couple hours to complete the daily routine: a couple math worksheets or pages from the math book, reading worksheets, spelling (sentences, 5x each, definitions), science fill in the blanks, and other printables. Maybe we had a book report or project in the mix every once in a while, but for the most part I completed mindless practice and my parents made sure it was done before dinner. Due to unforeseen circumstances, my students do not have the luxury of sitting at the dinner table to do homework because they are making the dinner. Regardless, my students despise homework. I despised homework and in previous years I found grading homework unbearable. Forgive me, I’m human.
In the past 4 years as an urban teacher, I’ve made a few observations in regards to homework:
1) Homework is rushed.
2) Homework is copied.
3) Multiple choice means circle any answer choice at random.
4) Students frequently tell their parents they have no homework.
5) Homework is scribbled before school, in the hall before class, and/or in the hall before the end of the day.
6) The dog eats homework on the regular.
7) Kids lose backpacks. Crazy, but my kids really lose backpacks.
Worksheets don’t grow dendrites (I’m not knocking worksheets entirely. Graphic organizers, authentic texts to annotate, teacher created materials, etc. are extremely beneficial and OK in my book). Teachers can’t assess or check for understanding when everyone copies off the same paper. Students loathe homework when it is robotic busy work and when they are not completing something that is purposeful. How do we combat all of the above?
Differentiation, that teacher buzz word will save the day! I’ve transformed my homework after ordering Wesphal’s Differentiating Instruction with Menus. If we are differentiating instruction with flexible grouping, differentiated assignments, and assessments, why wouldn’t we differentiate homework too?
Using menus appeals to multiple intelligences and all students need to know and feel that they are intelligent. I’ve included a photo of what I posted on my classroom website related to homework. In a nutshell, I have used menus from the book below and/or created my own menus to be used during 5-10 week periods. Students complete homework 3 times out of the week, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Yes, only 3 days out of the week because I’m concerned about quality, not quantity.
Using menus empowers students because of the freedom of choice in how they want to demonstrate their understanding and what they choose to do homework on. In previous posts, I mentioned that my students participate in Science Daily 5 so they are reading student selected informational texts at their reading level. Differentiated homework allows students to create products based on the content we are learning in class or the content students are reading in their Daily 5 book.
Tips for using menus:
1. Explicitly model how to do whatever you have on the menu. If you don’t model, then your kids will not magically know how to do it. (I learned this the hard way.)
2. Create a rubric to accompany the menu. The book has some great samples, but I prefer the one I made on Rubistar.
3. Teach your students how to cite sources using APA or MLA. I had a couple wise guys who thought I wouldn’t know their work was copied word for word from their Daily 5 book. C’mon silly, I’m a teacher
4. Encourage students to be creative!
5. Grade with robust comments!
6. Showcase amazing creations on your bulletin boards.
Teachers, please spice up your homework. It should not be a torturous experience for students or the teacher!