Most students are motivated by grades and if they know that an assignment isn’t going to be graded, it becomes about as important to them as finding a good mutual fund to invest in for retirement. So how do you assign meaningful homework when your district has a policy that doesn’t allow for it to be graded?
It has taken several years for my team and I to figure out what works best in our classrooms, and we continue to tweak the process. Here are some strategies that we have come up with for meaningful homework assignments.
1. Assign quality over quantity.
As a math teacher, I was used to assigning upwards of twenty problems a night that were often repetitive and lacked depth. Depending on the subject, try to assign only a handful of problems that allow students to practice what they learned, and one or two that really challenge their critical thinking skills.
2. Encourage more.
Even if I’m only assigning a handful of problems, there are always more available. Try to narrow down the problems to cover a range of difficulty, and a variety of strategies that must be used. There’s still no way I can get students to do every type of problem I want them to practice and keep their homework manageable. Let students know that if they find the problems that were assigned to be difficult, then they need to do more on their own. Most will. Some will do it on the nightly homework, some will do it when studying for the test, but the students who want to do well will always do extra when they’re struggling.
3. Don’t grade it, but still kinda grade it.
Many teachers used to grade homework only on completion and that inflated students’ grades. If we grade only summative assessments, then the grade accurately reflects what students know, which is how it should be. But, it’s still nice to keep track of completion both for ourselves and for parents. It’s nice to be able to say, “Well, maaaaaaybe the reason your son isn’t doing well is that he only completes 40% of the homework.”
4. Put homework problems on assessments—and let the students know that you’re doing it.
I have taken homework problems and put the exact same problem on a quiz or test. When we go over the quiz or test, I tell my students, “If you did the practice problems I suggested the night before the test, this was one of them.” If students didn’t understand that doing the homework will help them on the assessments before they took it, this idea will quickly become very clear to them and they will want to start doing the homework.
5. Make it a requirement for something else.
My district also requires teachers to allow test retakes, and teachers can decide what makes a student eligible to retake. No homework? No retake. You may choose to require only a certain percentage of the work to be done. Or, you may require that no assignments were late. You might even allow the retake on the condition that they go back and make up work that was missing. If students didn’t make an effort to learn the material before the assessment, then they don’t get to retake.
6. Grade it.
I know, I know. I said we can’t grade it. BUT, we can if it’s NOT practice. If the concept has been taught previously and students have had time to practice multiple times and come in for help if they needed it, you can go ahead and assign it as homework and grade it. You might tell students that once a week you will collect homework and grade a review problem. Then do it – don’t make it an empty threat, make it part of your homework policy. You can even wait until you have gone over it in class before you collect it. The only excuse for not getting it correct is that they simply chose not to do it and not to fix it when given the opportunity.
7. Invite them to a homework party!
If you have students who habitually fall behind on the homework and show no interest in catching up, invite them to a homework party after school. Give them an invitation and let them know attendance is mandatory. (Yes, this is a detention, but it’s disguised as a party! Kids love parties!). Often, students who aren’t doing homework need the extra help anyway and won’t come in without you requiring it. Some students will be pushed to do the homework to avoid your super fun parties. The students who really need extra help will see this as a more positive alternative to a detention.
8. No homework, no test.
I’ve known teachers who would not allow a student to take a test until all the homework was done. This can be a nightmare, because some students will simply choose not to take the test either! (Then they get their invitation to the homework party.) This one works best when nothing else seems to work with the habitual homework avoiders who really do need the practice to be successful. It also works better when you provide additional help to the student so they can complete the work, since it’s very likely that they’re not doing it because they’re discouraged.
9. Let them choose.
This one is especially useful when faced with a chapter review which has dozens of problems. You know what’s going to happen if you tell them to pick ten problems. They will pick the ten easiest problems. But if you assign ten problems, you might be assigning problems that some students don’t really need to practice. Tell them to pick one problem in each group of 10 in order to do some easy problems and some advanced problems.
What are your strategies for creating meaningful homework? Please share in the comments.
Homework has become somewhat of a hot topic lately. I’ve read articles about schools adopting no-homework policies. I’ve seen research on the ineffectiveness of homework. I’ve found infographics on the absence of homework in other successful nations.
All of this has made me question whether or not my students should have homework. I’m a Kindergarten reading specialist, so I don’t usually assign homework in my current position. But as a Kindergarten teacher, I did give out a very brief weekly homework packet. Was it a waste of my time? Did I damage my students’ learning or home lives? Should Kindergarteners have homework at all?
I believe that the answer to this last question is yes, Kindergarteners should have homework. No, I don’t mean 5 meaningless worksheets a night. No, I don’t mean elaborate projects that their parents end up doing. But I do feel that Kindergarten homework can be valuable, particularly when the homework is reading. And here’s why:
- Homework is an opportunity for parents to show kids that they value education. When a parent (or other family member) sits down with a child to work on homework, that adult figure is telling the child, “Hey, this is important. This is something I value.”
- Homework can give parents an idea of what students are working on in class. Kindergarten was a long time ago for many parents! Kindergarten expectations have also changed greatly over the years. By assigning meaningful homework that is relevant to what is going on in class, we can give parents a window into their children’s daily lives and learning.
- Homework can provide students with additional practice and repetition. I don’t know about you, but my Kinders sure need a lot of repetition to master concepts! Having my students spend 5-10 minutes practicing something outside of school is an opportunity to get in some of that extra practice.
- Homework can send kids the message that learning needn’t be restricted to school. When you assign kids meaningful homework that encourages them to interact with their families and home environment, this sends the message that learning happens everywhere – not just at school. Here’s an example of a simple homework task that sends this message: “Find 4 things in your house that start with the letter g. Draw them on this paper.”
What Appropriate Kindergarten Homework Looks Like
Okay, so homework can be positive. But what kind of homework is appropriate for Kindergarten? Here are some suggestions for designing positive homework experiences:
- Emphasize reading. It’s so valuable for kids to spend time reading with their parents. Maybe for homework you request that parents read with their children for 10 minutes a night – and that’s it!
- Give assignments that are SUPER brief! Kindergarteners’ attention spans are short. So their homework should be short, too! Send home nightly tasks that can be completed in about 5-10 minutes. If you send home a weekly homework packet, make sure to educate parents about the importance of doing some each night (rather than all of it on Thursday night!). Check in periodically with students and parents to make sure that the homework isn’t taking too long.
- Provide tasks that are meaningful. I have to think that an assignment like “Find 4 things in your house that start with the letter g. Draw them on this paper” is more fun and engaging than a worksheet on the letter g! When possible, involve family members in completing the homework. Games and scavenger hunts can get everyone in the family involved!
- Assign tasks at the right difficulty level. Why assign homework at all if it’s way too easy or way too hard? It may take a little time, but giving students slightly different homework can help maximize its effectiveness.
- Create a “homework bag” to provide necessary materials. If you think that students may not have pencils or crayons at home, why not send a few home with the homework? Also, reading with an adult makes for a wonderful homework assignment, but make sure to send home books. Many families do not have access to books in the home.
- Teach students how to do homework. Some students may not have an adult in their lives to help them with homework. Talk to students about how to have a snack after school and then work on homework. Explain that even if an adult can’t help them, they can still sit down to do the work by themselves. If the assignment is to read, they can read with a pet or stuffed animal. You may want to go over the homework and directions with students before sending it home each night, so that they can complete it independently if necessary.
Challenges of Assigning Kindergarten Homework
In theory, the suggestions above can be relatively easy to implement. But it’s never quite that easy, is it? Here are some of the challenges that I (and my colleagues) have encountered when assigning homework to our students:
- Not all students have parent or family support to complete homework. I believe strongly in educating parents during Open House and other school events about the importance of devoting home time to learning. However, some parents are still not able to help students with homework for a variety of reasons (language barrier, time, education, etc.).
- Finding or creating differentiated homework assignments is very time consuming.I always have a huge range of abilities in my classroom, and I want to provide homework assignments at my students’ individual levels. I don’t want students to become frustrated by the homework, or completely bored by it. But differentiating homework takes a TON of time!
- Keeping up with missing assignments can be challenging. Kids don’t always turn in their homework. I can’t tell you how many times I inquired about a missing homework assignment, only to find out that it had been in the child’s backpack for a week! Kids also don’t always do their homework. Trying to track down missing assignments can take up a lot of time.
In spite of these challenges, I still believe that a little bit of homework or time spent reading with parents can be very valuable for Kindergarteners. Because I know firsthand how time-consuming it can be to find the right homework for students, I’ve created a Leveled Literacy Homework series that you can use with your Kindergarten (or 1st grade) students.
The idea behind the series is to give you materials that are engaging and meaningful (like family games), can be used to differentiate your homework assignments, and are ideal for students who either do or do not have family help with completing their homework.
All activities (except for simple worksheets) come with parent instructions in English and Spanish. They also have links to optional videos that parents can choose to watch to learn how to read with their child or play the literacy games together. To learn more about the series, click on the image below.
What are your thoughts on homework in the Kindergarten classroom?