Friday, April 22, 2016

Five Ways to be Homework Free

I have a bit of an anti-homework reputation that my students love, colleagues envy, and parents fear.

Whenever I meet a fellow elementary or primary teacher who wants to break free of the homework chains I jump for joy on the inside. Now, I know that some teachers are in a position where they have to assign homework because of school or district mandates. If that is true for you, check out my post Three Homework Guidelines. However, if you are one of the fortunate who is not mandated to assign homework try these tips.

1) Know your own homework beliefs. Have a very clear idea about why you will not assign homework. Is it because you think that homework is developmentally inappropriate? Is it because the research does not support homework effectiveness in younger grades? Is it because you don't want to grade it? Do you view homework as busy work, and find that to be a disrespectful use of students' extra-curricular activities and responsibilities? Is it because you see it as your job to teach and differentiate for your students? Once you know why you will not be assigning homework, be prepared to explain your (no) homework policy to parents, administrators, and colleagues and be prepared to stand by your decision (conviction).

2) Have a clear plan about how you will provide students that need additional practice or enrichment. Will you be available before or after school? Will you have guided reading, writing, and/or math groups? Do you have support staff that you can take advantage of to pull groups (in addition to your small group work) to work on specific skills?

One thing that I've found to be highly successful while being homework free is rethinking morning work. Instead of providing mindless worksheets that I'd never get around to correcting I taught the children how to make just right learning choices. Their morning work was to choose to read, write, or practice math facts (teach them to facilitate their own mad minutes or use programs like XtraMath). Sometimes if they requested to finish something else or do word work I encouraged this because they clearly knew what they needed to practice. The goal is to for the children make academic growth and morning work is a perfect opportunity for them to practice basic skills.

3) Frequently assess. I will be honest and admit that I am not a huge fan of assessment. However, when it comes to assessing what students know and what they learned from a lesson I strongly believe in assessment. The assessments I am speaking of are pre-tests and formative assessments.

Pre-tests give a very clear picture of what skills, knowledge, and strategies your students currently possess. If you are about to teach time, pre-test. You will be able to determine which students are ready for more advanced time concepts like elapsed time, which are ready for telling precise time like telling time to the minute, or those that need to begin with telling time to the hour.

Formative assessments are great and can be in the form of an exit ticket, quick gauge of understanding and/or comfort like thumbs up/middle/down, worksheet they completed, around the circle share of one thing students learned / need help with, etc. Pinterest has a variety of formative assessment ideas and if you are lucky enough to have a 1:1 environment students can check in on socrative or google form. In the end, you will know what to re-teach or enrich and for who.

4) Use support staff provided to you and/or parent volunteers. I set up my paraprofessional to pull small groups every day for fact fluency and reading fluency. The groups were organized by fact mastery - some were still someone on adding 1 while others were working on division fluency. Reading fluency groups were organized by reading level and had texts to read out loud a provide a quick comprehension check.

If you don't have support staff (or if you do) request parent volunteers to come in and teach them how to facilitate fluency drills or practice word work with small groups. If you decide to go this route, be sure to 'train' parents how to do this and share privacy expectations. You can train in person or online with a video!

5) Communicate with parents. One of the biggest reasons parents want their child to have homework is so that they can see what their child is learning. Find alternative ways to do this: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email blasts, Class Messenger, etc.

Also, encourage parents to ask their child questions about their day, and share questions to ask so that they are getting meaningful responses.

Another tip is to provide parents with ideas for supporting learning at home.
- Suggest a family reading hour where everyone in the house reads at the same time for a designated amount of time and then shares what they read. I learned this gem from a family I had the opportunity to teach three of the children.
- Provide websites and / or apps their child could use at home that will support the current curriculum or necessary skill practice.
- Share words the children are working on and provide ways for the children to practice at home.