Friday, September 19, 2014

Let’s call it “practice” or an “opportunity” to showcase learning!

Homework is a hot topic with many different philosophical beliefs.  Learning is becoming a 24/7 endeavor for students, especially with respect to technology that is readily at their hands.  So, is homework necessary?  I do believe there is a place for strategic “practice” outside the school day.  When I was teaching, I would ask students to finish their “opportunity” at home.  It was their “opportunity” to showcase their learning for the day!  The word “homework” tends to have a negative connotation, whereas “opportunity” or “practice” can empower learning and learners.  I understand that it is just a word; however, it is a powerful word, and changing our mindset can transform traditional homework assignments into empowered practice. 

Watch this inspirational Youtube video via Rick Wormeli:
-              We call it practice in our classroom.
-              Homework has emotional baggage… between parent and child or child and teacher.
-              Give different practice for different levels of readiness.
-              Homework is formative in nature
What percentage of a student's grade should homework be counted toward? Should I give the same homework assignment to each student in the class? And if a student demonstrates mastery, yet doesn't turn in homework, is it accurate to give them a lower grade for the course? Rick Wormeli (Fair Isn't Always Equal) offers his take on the burning issue of homework.

As a staff, we watched Rick Wormeli’s video and organized dialogue with respect to our homework beliefs and expectations.  We asked the questions: 

·         How do we give feedback on homework?
·         What do our parents think about homework?
·         What do our students think about homework?
·         What do teachers think about homework?
·         What is the roll of homework?

These questions, along with academic research and watching videos like the one above, truly shape our conversations about after-school learning.  We want students to be motivated and empowered to learn outside the school day.  Throughout the year we will continue to analyze our philosophical beliefs and discuss methods to enhance our current procedures. Continuing to find ways to make after-school learning more relevant and differentiated for learners of diverse readiness levels is vital.  We plan to utilize the attached chart as a guide to generate conversation in our never-ending quest to improve student engagement.  Alternatives to Traditional Homework

alternatives to traditional homework

Homework conversations are not just isolated to my career as a building principal.  I am experiencing these conversations as a parent of two school-aged children.  They both receive appropriate practice that is congruent with their developmental level; however, my son doesn’t enjoy homework.  Can you believe it?  The son of a principal doesn’t enjoy homework!  It definitely can be a challenge for him, particularly reading and writing assignments.  He becomes very frustrated, not because he is unable to do the work, because he thinks it is boring.  We try to make it a game and provide some incentives from time to time.  We always “talk it up,” showing excitement when he brings it home, giving accolades for his efforts and breaking assignments into chunks so it isn’t as overwhelming.  His homework is appropriate (needed practice), focused on skill building, and the assignments seem to connect to student interests and ability level. 

My son’s teacher has also implemented an interesting Team Approach to completing homework assignments.   The process is differentiation with student choice being at the forefront of many practice assignments.  My son is even excited about receiving points.  I imagine that his teacher is modeling enthusiasm surrounding this approach and it is catching on with her students.  My son is also enjoying the choices involved within the spelling practice.  It is giving him ownership over the practice, where he is assuming responsibility for his own learning.  The extra effort seems very empowering and I applaud the teacher!  My only suggestion would be to change the word "homework" to "practice," but it is a difficult thing to do when the word is so embedded into our culture.  All in all, my son seems to be off to a nice start in 2nd grade in regard to nightly homework... I mean... practice!   

The debate will carry on and homework will continue to be given to students.  Children need to be assigned practice and activities to build skills; such as memorizing facts, spelling, word study, etc.  My suggestion to all educators and parents is to provide targeted and differentiated practice, allowing for choice and empowering students to assume responsibility of their own learning.

Remember to embark on all homework decisions with a basic question:  Is it good for children?

Have a great week!


  1. It's valuable to start any conversation about work outside of the classroom by looking at its purpose. I love how your son's teacher is empowering her students through choice. I also love having this conversation with your staff. Thank you for sharing their responses -- it gives me a lot to think about.

    1. Thanks for reading! HW has always been something that generates a lot of conversation. Have a great week!

  2. I'll second Amy's comment about the value of choice in homework.

    Far too often we (parents AND teachers) confuse homework with rigor. By no stretch of the imagination am I an anti-homework person, but we must ensure that the homework we assign is purposeful and meaningful to our students.

    1. Thanks for reading! I feel it needs to be purposeful, meaningful, and differentiated while providing some choice. Empowering students is the key. Have a great week!