Self-Selected Homework



I've made a really exciting change this year to my homework routine and I've been waiting to see how it played out in real life before sharing it with you all here on the blog. It's been about five weeks now and things are going pretty darn great, so here we go!

I've never been a huge fan of homework and I've secretly wished I could just not deal with it at all for a long time now. So, when I started to read the recent research that homework was not as beneficial as we had assumed, my curiosity was piqued. Add to that, I work for a progressive principal who has made it clear that he would rather not see homework in its traditional form at our school. I was a little afraid to completely drop homework without having something to replace it with, so Self-Selected Homework was born. 

I calculated that assigning students homework took about 30 precious minutes of class time. Seriously, add up the time it takes to pass out papers or have students find the right page in a workbook, copy things down in an agenda, and pack up a backpack. Then add the time it takes for you to check agendas, even if it's only one or two students who have a hard time copying. Then add in the minutes it takes for you to collect, check, record, and pass back homework from the previous day. Don't forget the time it takes to plan, copy, and explain the homework assignment and model writing in the agenda. See, lots of precious minutes! We have a relatively short school day in south Florida - 6 hours. Really, when you take out specials, lunch, recess, and walking to and from different places, I have about 3 and a half teachable hours. Giving up 30 minutes of that so they could have something to do at home, seems kind of crazy, especially when you consider how different each child's homework experience can be. 

So what's the alternative? In a nutshell, my students are encouraged to study things that they are naturally interested in or pursue hobbies they might normally not have time for because of traditional homework. They are then asked to bring in something they've made to showcase what they've learned. I know that sounds super loosey-goosey, and to be honest, it really was in the beginning. But now I've started to refine things a bit and communicate the changes with my parents. I was even recently asked to share what I'm doing with my faculty. I feel really lucky that my vision is being embraced and I hope that continues as the year goes on and I refine things even more.

To start with, I would suggest clear communication with your parents from the very start. Our Open House {Meet the Teacher} night is about about 6 days of school into the year, so that was my first parent communication. At the time, I had intended to just go paperless for homework, using some of the online programs we have access to, such as Achieve 3000, TenMarks, iReady, Spelling City, etc. As it turns out, we didn't actually have access to all of those programs any more and for the ones we did I needed to have the students complete the initial testing in class, so I had to make some quick changes.

I started talking to the kids about things they could do at home and I mentioned showing the action or setting of a story in a diorama. I quickly realized they had no idea what I was talking about, but lucky for me Crafty Carol over at Cool School has this amazing video explaining exactly what one is and how to to make one. Then I had some kids bring one in the very next day! Here's where I made a big mistake that you can avoid. I still had not clearly communicated my new direction to my parents and I started getting emails about not understanding "the diorama project" and asking when homework was going to start. So I remedied that quickly with a simple email. You can snag a copy of it in Word here, so you can edit it to to fit your own needs. 



After that email, I felt like I was really committed to carrying out my new vision for "homework" and I was SO ok with that. You can see from the letter, there is a lot of choice involved. Students can still access online reading, math, and spelling programs, but they can also feel free to explore their natural curiosity. Have I had any kids choose to do NO homework project at all? Yes. And that's ok too. The research just isn't there to support the fact that doing homework will help them succeed in school, so I've totally let go of that notion.

Below is the slideshow I used when chatting with my faculty. You can download a pdf of it here. It may not make a lot of sense without me explaining it, but it might give you some ideas. I promise more blog posts really soon with specifics because I know this is a lot of info at once already!

A few disclaimers: I teach in a relatively moderate to high income SES school where we had the top test scores in the county. Add to that, I teach a self-contained gifted class. I have parents who hire tutors to help their children even when they don't really need it. I know this may be very different from your teaching situation. I never attempted this type of homework program when I taught in the exact opposite situation. BUT, I will say, when I did teach in the opposite situation, I still had parents who tried hard and wanted the best for their kids, however most of the time, homework that I assigned did not come back or came back done incorrectly because the parents were unable to help either because they were busy, faced a language barrier, or did not understand the material. Now if those parents could help their kids make a quick poster on something they know about, imagine the possibilities! Families could share their heritage, hobbies, crafts... it could be amazing!

I think a big part of the success I'm seeing is from how I help the kids present. I will share that in the next blog post along with some projects the kids have shared. There is a definite springboard effect in place and I think it's essential to capitalize on it. So stay tuned for that! In the meantime, check out my Instagram feed to see examples of my students' projects. I have used the hashtag #selfselectedhomework to make it a bit easier to find them. 

If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer the best I can or I will include the answer in future blog post. 




4 comments

  1. I LOVE this Denise...your letter is absolutely perfect!!

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    1. Sounds like we have very similar mindsets about homework! Can we just team teach please?

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  2. I love the idea of this! I believe that kids should have time to just be kids, and that doesn't always seem possible with such crazy schedules and homework to finish. The idea of having students pursue what they are interested in at home sounds like a wonderful alternative! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Denise, What a marvelous initiative you have undertaken. I am a gifted 4-5th grade teacher in CT. My mindset regarding homework is the same. Having a supportive administration has truly enabled you to change our traditional educational practice and I am thrilled for you. Would you mind my learning from you remotely, as I wish to develop similar changes to my homework instruction. Also, I was curious how the faculty received your ideas? As well as, how you tackle math homework now - as I foresee resistance in this subject area.

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