Thursday, November 16, 2017

6 Don'ts When It Comes to Homework

My last post was on my 6 Do's for Homework. Here are my top 6 Don'ts:

Don’t Say You Are Preparing Them for the Next Level
Let’s stop pretending that students aren’t flexible and can’t adjust when given a new challenge. In my previous blog post, I wrote about how if another level has a bad policy that it is not our job to match bad policy. If you teach elementary students, then do what is right for elementary students. If you teach middle school students, do what is right for middle school students.

At middle school they don’t have recess, does that mean we should take away recess so we can “prepare them” for middle school? No, of course not. The high schools in our area start around 7:45 and most of our elementary and middle schools start closer to 8:45. Does that mean that high school students don’t make it to class their first year because our elementary schools didn’t prepare them to wake up earlier? Of course not.

Also, a lot of times you will hear middle school or high school teachers say they are preparing their students for all the homework they will have in college. In college, you go to class 15 hours a week. In middle school and high school, you go to class over 30 hours a week. In college, you get to choose your classes and possibly even choose which days and times those classes are scheduled. Do we do that in middle school and high school? No, we do not. Usually, when a student starts college they are 18 years old. Let’s stop pretending an 11-year old (or worse, a 5-year-old) should have the same responsibilities as an 18-year-old.

Don’t Punish Students For Not Doing Homework
I usually like to hear what people have to say on different topics because I know I am not always correct in my beliefs. However, if a school or teacher is not allowing a student to go out to recess because they did not do their homework, it is wrong. In elementary school, this is usually called putting the kid on a bench. Kids need recess. If they didn’t do their homework more than likely they don’t know how to do it, have other activities that are important for that child and family, or don’t have a parent that is able to help them.

For middle school, punishment usually comes in two forms: lunch detention and taking away enrichment periods. If a student doesn’t have their homework, teachers may have them sit in a room to work on it during lunch. Some schools have built in time during the day for enrichment and intervention. Sometimes the enrichment will be taken away for not completing their work. If they don’t understand a standard and you want to reteach, or if it is an assignment that they need to complete to show understanding, that is one thing. But don’t make students come to intervention just because they didn’t do homework.

As Stanford Professor Jo Boaler states, “When we assign homework to students, we provide barriers to the students who need our support. This fact, alone, makes homework indefensible to me.”

Don’t Make Homework Part of a Grade
If you do give homework it should be for students to practice something they already know, reflect on their learning, or give them suggestions on ways to improve to meet a certain learning target.

Assessments or projects that are assigned to see how students are doing on specific learning targets should be done in a controlled environment like the classroom. When students are doing assignments for grades outside of the classroom you are more likely to cheat or have a parent do the work. We also know students’ home environments are not the same and it is not fair to have them showing their learning in an environment that is not the same as their peers. If you are truly measuring student learning, then the work needs to be done in the classroom.

Don’t Say You Are Teaching Students Responsibility
There is no research to back this thought up. A student completing the exact work a teacher assigned falls more under the category of compliance than responsibility. As a teacher, I had plenty of students who did their homework that were far from responsible and I had plenty of students who never did homework who were plenty responsible.

Don’t Worry What Parents Will Say
One other thing that comes up with teachers anytime I talk homework is that they are worried what parents will say. If you give parents the research, explain why you are changing your homework policy, and show you have a plan for communicating, a lot more parents will be happy with the change. At Stoneridge, we had around 575 students. I only had three parents that were adamant that their child needed more homework. I gave them websites and other resources and told them they are more than welcome to work on any additional work with their child, we just would not count it for points or punish their child for not doing it.

Don’t Give Homework That is Due the Next Day (or to be done over a break)
If you give a student an assignment on Tuesday and expect it back on Wednesday you are dictating how that family needs to spend time that night. As a father of two girls who have sports and other activities, there are some nights where we do not get home until 9:00. If we are going to have homework it is better if there is a window. And for all those math teachers thinking they need to practice what they learned in class that night, learning is not so fragile that if it doesn’t happen right then it will be gone forever. In college, you never have homework that is due the next day. If we don’t do that to college students we probably shouldn’t do that to our youngest students.

If you feel you do need to give homework here are some guidelines I would recommend:

-It needs to be something they can do independently if it is for practice.
- The hardest thing you do is done in class. Kids shouldn't be assigned independent practice problems that they’ve never seen in class and be expected to do them successfully or held accountable for those problems.
- If you are using it as a check for understanding, make it short (and definitely do not count it as a grade).
- There is no point in reviewing the homework answers in class as a whole class. You only get so much time in class with your students, use it wisely.
- It is not new learning.

Do your students see you as an advocate or an adversary? If you are doing any of the don'ts above, they will see you as an adversary. We have to have high expectations for our students and demand a lot from them, but that should be done in the classroom. The classroom is where you can give them feedback, not at home where you as an educator have no control over their environment. We should all be advocates for our students and change old homework practices.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

6 Do's When It Comes to Homework

Before school started in August 2015 I wrote a blog post to the Stoneridge staff discussing my thoughts about homework. I shared with them that I wanted to have a conversation about homework as the year progressed and by the end of the year I wanted to see if we could come to some common agreements. You can read the post here: Let's Talk Homework.

After reading over research and discussing throughout the year, we came to common agreements for our staff and to share with our parents. At that time, I wrote another post that was shared with the entire school community: If We're Going to Have Homework, Let's Do It Better

It was a great experience leading a school site through changing homework practices. I have continued my learning on homework through attending conferences such as the Assessment Institute by Corwin, read Ditch that Homework by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller, read Hacking Homework by Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton, and also presented about the research on homework and alternatives to current practices with Kristina Allison at Fall CUE.

Through my learning, here is what I consider 6 Do’s when it comes to homework. Tomorrow I will post 6 Don'ts when it comes to homework.

Do Look at the Research
It’s common knowledge that homework causes stress for students, parents and even teachers.  It takes away time that our students can be playing or doing other extracurricular activities.  A lot of times it decreases a student's love of learning.  We also know it takes up a lot of teacher time to think about homework, grade homework, and worry about students that do not do their homework.  That time could be spent working on lesson design or giving students actionable feedback on work that was done in class.  For all the stress, time, and potential harm that homework can do, you would think that doing homework would have a strong impact on learning for teachers to continue doing it right?

John Hattie is a leading educational researcher.  He has looked at 195 different influences on student achievement.  An effect size of .40 is what he calls the "hinge point.”  Anything above the hinge point is considered something that has a greater than average influence on achievement.  Homework comes in with an effect size of .29 which would rank it 120th out of the 195 influences on student achievement.  Now .29 might not seem that far off from .40 but that is for all students, not just elementary students.  In the book Visible Learning for Literacy, it states the the effect size of homework for elementary students is only .10, which would rank it 171st out of the 195 influences.  In fact, Hattie himself says that homework for students in K-3 has an effect of zero.
For students in grades 7-9, the effect size is .31, still below the hinge point.  Student-teacher relationships have a larger impact than homework for students in those grades.  Even for students in grades 10-12 where there is more of an impact on learning, there is danger in giving too much homework (where learning can actually decrease).   And feedback has an even higher impact size than homework.  Could you imagine if teachers took the time they usually spend on homework (thinking about what to assign, grading it, and going over it in class) and put that time into how they could build student-teacher relationships and give them specific and actionable feedback on how they could improve?  If this change happened, student learning would improve a lot more than it is right now by giving homework. Do Put Reading First
I am a former math teacher and would never have imaged this would have been one of my most important Do's when it comes to homework. However, the research behind reading is clear. Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who read for pleasure make more progress in vocabulary, spelling, and math than those who rarely read (Sullivan and Brown, 2013). As Donalyn Miller points out in her blog post, I’ve Got Research. Yes, I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?, “Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume—how much reading people do.” Not only are there academic benefits but studies have shown that both parents and children find reading together as a special time.

We want our students to seek out reading on their own and read for pleasure. We need to provide them books they want to read if they don’t have those books at home. And no, this does not mean making them read for points like AR. If a student wants to read a science book, comic book, or poetry book, let them read! Do Give Yourself Permission to Stop Giving Homework (Or At Least Assign Less)
It was interesting when we were presenting at Fall CUE to see how many educators were just looking for someone to give them permission to stop giving homework or to give less. Yes, it is ok to not give homework.

I know some teachers feel they are “fitting in more of the curriculum” by assigning homework. You might be assigning more of the curriculum but it doesn’t mean students are learning more. Find the key standards that need to be taught and teach those in class. If it is that important, it needs to be done in class.

Every year I worked at Stoneridge less and less homework was given. Here are our scores over the past three years:  

72% (38% exceeding)
65% (31% exceeding)
73% (40% exceeding)
67% (31% exceeding)
73% (45% exceeding)
71%(33% exceeding)
I cannot stand that we make so many judgments about learning and schools based on a single end of year exam given by the state, but people do look at that data.  My point in showing this data is not to say that whatever gains we had was because we gave less homework. Some might say if we gave more homework scores would have gone up more, but anyone making that claim would be doing so to provide evidence to support that more homework would have made the gains even higher.  Based on the effect size data above, there's no evidence in support of that being the case. Do Give Specific Things that Parents Can Work On With Their Child If They Ask
If you lessen homework or get rid of it, you will have some parents that still want their child to do work.  I know some students are behind and their parents want to help.  It is ok to tell parents what their child needs to work on to improve and share resources that are available.  It is important though to not just give a student work to do if they do not have the support at home to do it.  Instead, focus on what interventions you can put in place when they are at school.

Do Make Sure You Are Still Communicating With Parents
I also know some parents say that homework was their way of knowing what was happening in the classroom.  In this case, homework is a form of communication.  There are many ways to let parents know what is happening in the classroom without sending home homework.  It could be an assessment binder, using a tool like Bloomz, a class blog, website, sharing on Twitter, or emailing parents what is being covered.   Do Know That Homework Takes Longer Than What You Think
I came across this interesting survey of teachers asking how much homework they assign.  My problem with surveys like this is that teachers are reporting how many minutes of homework they think they are giving, not how long it is actually taking the student.  We also know that an assignment that takes one student 10 minutes might take another student 50 minutes.
One rule we implemented when I was principal was that if an assignment was taking too long, a parent could just write a note to the teacher.  Parents didn’t abuse it and multiple parents commented to me how much they appreciated being able to communicate with the teacher that their child did not know how to do the work without worrying if they would be punished for not finishing.   This obviously isn't an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it helps educators, parents, and students. Tomorrow I will post 6 Don'ts when it comes to homework.