Archive | March, 2012

Method 1: The Question Method (March 27 – 30)

30 Mar

I began my homework active research with an idea I got from my vice principal.  During the faculty meeting which initially began my questioning on the purpose of homework, he told me about his homework assignments as a university professor.  For each class, he assigns a reading from the texts.  Students have to come up with a question that they bring to the next class.  Class opens with a discussion based off of these questions from their reading.  I came up with the idea to adapt this to my third graders.  For each lesson I taught students were to do the following:

  • Take notes as I am teaching the lesson (They’re used to this already).
  • Take their notebooks home.
  • Teach the lesson to someone at their house (Mom, Dad, Auntie, Uncle, Cousin, the dog, etc.)
  • As they are teaching the lesson and come across questions, write the question down and have the person initial it.
  • Bring it to class and be ready to share it during the opening discussion.

In my mind, this was a great idea for several reasons.  For starters, they are not having to do rote practice drills.  In my experience, I have realized that I learn something so much better once I have to explain it to someone else.  As I’m explaining and come across something that I do not understand, I discover holes.  These would be the parts where students would write down the questions to bring back to the discussion.  Additionally, it is beneficial in that parents will know exactly what their students are learning.

I began this week by writing a letter to parents to explain the homework change to them.  I printed it out and stapled it in each student’s agenda where they write their homework assignments.  I then had a whole class discussion about the new assignment.  The students seemed excited.

After the first night, I only had roughly five out go eighteen students who brought in their questions.  None of these were initialed by the parents.  Throughout the rest of the week, less and even less brought in their questions.  By today,  no one brought in a question.

Students’ desks are arranged into tables of fours.  I started each day having each table chose one question which they were going to contribute to the conversation.  We would then all write down the four questions and discuss the questions.  This is an example of the notes and questions that came from Wednesday’s discussion:

Questions and Discussion Notes


  • Discussions were actually successful.
  • Some students aren’t so great at taking notes as this is their first year to do it.
  • Most students forget to take their notebooks home.  Sometimes I literally have to go through each homework assignment and tell them exactly what to put in their bags and we’re already in the third quarter.
  • Most students did not bring in their questions.
  • Some students pretended like they came in with a question when in reality they just made it up on the spot.
  • Not one single question had a set of initials on it.
  • I’d be willing to bet that no one actually even taught the lesson like the were supposed to do.

Would I be willing to use this method in my future classes?

I feel like the only way this method may be successful is if I set it in place from the very beginning and explain it to the parents on Open House night face to face.  This method would probably only work in a school / community that has a lot of parental support (which mine did not).  If parents were more willing make their children comply with this method, I feel like it could be extremely beneficial.  Trying to start something new in the middle of the year is typically not successful.  Take R.I.S.E. for example.  The students and parents have been reading and initialing every night since Kindergarten.  R.I.S.E. is a common household phrase within the entire community.  They know exactly what they’re supposed to do and for the most part, they do it.  A new method such as this one would have to be explained in detail to all parties involved before they were able to make it a routine.



29 Mar

Imagine if every student read for at least twenty minutes every night…

(The following was found at:


Student A reads 20 minutes five nights of every week

Student B reads only 4 minutes a night…or not at all!

Step 1: Multiply minutes a night x 5 times each week.

Student A reads 20 min. x 5 times a week = 100 mins./week.

Student B reads 4 minutes x 5 times a week = 20 minutes


Step 2: Multiply minutes a week x 4 weeks each month.

Student A reads 400 minutes a month.

Student B reads 80 minutes a month.

Step 3: Multiply minutes a month x 9 months/school year

Student A reads 3600 min. in a school year.

Student B reads 720 min. in a school year.

Student A practices reading the equivalent of ten whole school days a year.

Student B gets the equivalent of only two school days of reading practice.

By the end of 6th grade if Student A and Student B maintain
 these same reading habits,

Student A will have read the equivalent of 60 whole school days

Student B will have read the equivalent of only 12 school days.

One would expect the gap of information retained will have widened considerably and so, undoubtedly, will school performance.

How do you think Student B will feel about him/herself as a student?

Some questions to ponder:

Which student would you expect to read better?

Which student would you expect to know more?

Which student would you expect to write better?

Which student would you expect to have a better vocabulary?

Which student would you expect to be more successful in school….and in life?


*If daily reading begins in infancy, by the time the child is five years old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food!

*Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week, and the child’s hungry mind lose 770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and stories.

*A kindergarten student who has not been read aloud to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition. No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment.

*Therefore…30 minutes daily = 900 hours

30 minutes weekly = 130 hours

Less than 30 minutes weekly = 60 hours

Guess you now understand why reading daily is so very important.  Why not have family night reading?  It is great to just shut off the television for 20-30 minutes and read… and share.

(Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, America Reads Challenge. (1999) “Start Early, Finish Strong: How to Help Every Child Become a Reader.” Washington, D.C.)

Our school has a reading program called Reading is Simply Essential, or R.I.S.E.  Students are allowed to choose any book and they have to read for a certain amount of time every night depending on grade level.  Then, they log what they read on the monthly R.I.S.E. log sheet:

RISE Log Sheet

Students log the title, minutes read, and genre.  Parents then initial to add accountability.  At the end of every quarter, students who have logged at least forty-five reading periods with initials get to go to the R.I.S.E. celebration.  This could be a movie, water play day, or a school dance.

While I haven’t quite taken a solid stance on the homework debate, I do completely agree with daily reading.  Based on the teacher survey a couple posts ago, I heard some interesting thoughts from current classroom teachers.

Heather said: “Our school requires that our kids read at least 20 minutes each night. I try not to give much more than that. As a parent, I really appreciate when my kids do not have an excessive amount.”

I think this is awesome!  Students still know they have responsibility every night.  Parents can still read with their child which helps in two ways: 1) They get to spend quality time together reading a book that they enjoy and 2) Parents are made aware of the level on which their child is reading and comprehending.  This is all accomplished in just twenty minutes which leaves plenty of time for other evening routines.

Lauren said: “My high school also does Accelerated Reader where students have to read books and take quizzes to get points. So I typically assign them to read their AR books for 30 minutes and write a summary about what they read. That let’s me know what’s “cool” and popular with the students too!”

I would be interested in finding out what types of programs are available for elementary school students.  I think this is a great idea in that students practice summarization as well.  Our school uses a program called KidBiz which the students love.  They get to chose articles, read them, and then answer comprehension questions.  The problem with this is that most of my students do not have internet access at home.

Regardless of what I determine regarding homework amounts, I definitely believe that students HAVE to read on a daily basis in order to succeed in their education!

School Wide Homework Policy

27 Mar

So, this whole idea came about one day during a faculty meeting when the vice principal announced a committee comprised of parents, teachers, students, and administration who would be collaborating to develop a school wide homework policy.  This spawned a debate over whether or not homework should exist and if so how much is necessary.  In our school, families have multiple children living in one household who are spread out among many different grades.  In addition to that, many of them have children who are in the same grade with different teachers.  Parents were complaining that one child would have a lot more homework that the others or the ones in the same grade would be learning totally different concepts.  This is the policy which was created by the committee:

Homework Policy

Now, some of this criteria was already being met by my typical homework assignments.  However, some were not.  This really got me thinking about whether or not I agree with all of it.  At the point when this was given to me, a typical day of homework looked like this:

1. Practice multiplication flashcards

2. Math Worksheet

3. R.I.S.E.

4. Langauge Arts Worksheet

5. Practice spelling and vocabulary words

For my average third grade student, this would have probably taken around an hour to complete (That’s if they decided to do their homework that day.)  The worksheets were usually very similar to something they had seen in class during the lesson.  Going off of the Homework Policy criteria, here’s how my assignments measured up: (Beside each criteria in parenthesis, I will write whether I agree or disagree and why)

Homework IS:

  • an assignment in any curriculum that is reviewed before being sent home, and limited to 1 page per subject area that should be completed within the suggested time below. (Agree – Sometimes it is easy to plan a homework assignment that goes with a lesson yet when the lesson changes, you may forget to change the homework assignment.  I write the homework on the board every morning, so if I don’t end up getting to something that I had planned and it’s on the homework, the student will be confused when he or she gets home.)
  • assigned daily except the last day of the week.  (Agree – I have always given homework every day of the week, even weekends.  I did this in imitation of my mentor teacher who will be the teacher of my current students next year.  I try to do things similar to the way she does so that the students can have consistency for next year.  Personally, I do think that homework over the weekend is unnecessary.  Students need time to relax and recuperate from the busy week.)

When I polled teachers to see how many of them give homework over the weekends, these were the results:


This data makes it appear half and half.

Candace said, “I teach third grade with an average of hw 2-3 nights a week averaging 30 mins to an hour. It’s hard enough to get the kids to complete he during the week, which is why I would never assign hw on the weekends. There is not much parent support in the community where I work.”

This is also true at the school where I teach.  I also like that she does give homework, but only a few nights per week.

Virma said, “I feel my kids still need time to relax and enjoy the weekends. I do advise parents to review the high frequency word flash cards daily with their child, so that is something they could do on weekends.”

Good point!  Students need time to be kids and enjoy themselves.

Lauren said, “I voted yes, but it actually just depends. If I need to, then I do. I don’t base my homework on the day of the week. It is based on what needs done and what they need more practice on” and Joseph said, “It depends also. On usual weeks, my Algbera II class has HW over the weekend because the curriculum is more intense than my Geometry class.”

I like that these teachers assign the homework only as it is necessary and not just to give it.

  • challenging, yet can be done independently.  (Totally agree!)
  • corrected on the same scale for all students, monitored for understanding, retaught, and returned.  (Disagree – Of course it makes sense that all of these criteria should be met.  However, it is unrealistic.  There is not enough time in the day to correct, record, reteach, and return every homework assignment.)
  • the same within the grade level classes.  (Disagree – Once again, this is unrealistic.  We would literally have to meet everyday to discuss homework assignments.)
  • a review for a test or quiz.  (Agree)

Homework is NOT:

  • work that hasn’t been completed in class
, graded
, or done by parents.  (Indifferent – While many of my couleagues feel that homework should not be unfinished classwork, I think that it is alright on occasion.  Since I do feel like it should not be finished during recess, this could be a motivation for students to complete assignments in a timely manner.
  • entirely different within the grade level classes
.  (Agree – As stated before, it would be impossible to meet as a grade level and align homework every single day, I do feel that it should be as consistent as possible.)
  • more than what the child can do within the suggested time below.  (Agree)

I polled teachers to see how long their students spend on homework each night.  These were the results:


This data shows that students are spending somewhere in the ballpark of thirty minutes to an hour each night.

Virma said, “I teach Kindergarten and give my students a packet every Monday to be turned in on Fridays. Some parents will have their child do 1 or 2 pages a night; others will finish it in one sitting.”

I really like this idea, because students still have to complete the homework, but they don’t have to do it on a certain night.  Some may do it all just to get it over with.  Some may space it out over the week.  Some may wait until the last possible minute.

Tiffany said, “On a typical Monday-Thursday night I would assign the following:
-30 minutes of reading (student choice, recorded on a reading log and initialed by parents daily)
-a spelling assignment- a preparation activity for the weekly spelling test
-math assignment – OPTIONAL (most nights the only math homework the students would have would be the classwork assignment they had if they were unable to complete the classwork in class).”

I like the way that Tiffany makes the assignments optional.  This constructivist approach makes students and / or parents responsible for their own learning.

  • more than 1 page per subject area
 or assigned if it has not been taught that day.  (Agree-ish)

After analyzing this, I started wondering just what is the purpose of homework?  Am I assigning too much?  Am I giving it just for the sake of giving it?  After speaking with the vice principal, it became clear to me that I was only doing it because that’s what I had seen every teacher before me do.  I really began to wonder if the daily hour of homework I was assigning to my students was even necessary.  I decided that I will explore different methods of homework assignments over the next few weeks and see what is most beneficial for my students.  Wish me luck!

Let’s Hear from the Teachers

25 Mar

Hello, my fellow educators!  As you can see in my earlier blogs, I am trying to determine the purpose of homework and the best practices for efficiently using it in my classroom.  One of my big struggles is that my students do not seem to benefit from homework and in some cases it seems to confuse them.  I personally feel that homework is beneficial in that it provides extra practice, it connects the parents directly to classroom, and it instills important study habits.  However, when you teach in a school and community where most people do not go past high school, students come in well below grade level, and most homework is completed in an afterschool program where only a couple adults are monitoring several students, homework can actually be more harm than help.  Perhaps it all depends on these factors of community, type of school, parental involvement, etc.  That’s why I’d love to hear from you and the experiences you have had in your classroom.  Any input is greatly appreciated!

(Some questions ask that you explain you answer in the comments section of this poll.  After you answer, click on View Results.  Then, click on Comments.  Here, you can add your comments.  Also, if necessary, you may select more than one answer.)

Calling All Parents

23 Mar

As a first year teacher, I have to say that I am a little disappointed by the lack of communication that I get to have with parents.  With everyone’s busy schedules on top of having children in all different grade levels, homework is not something I get to talk about on the rare chance that I am able to snag a few valuable mintes with parents.  Your input in this survey is very important to me in helping me determine an appropriate amount of homework.  Thank you for taking the time to help!

After you have completed the survey, please write in the larger comments box at the bottom what a typical day of homework looks like for you child.  Also, indicate his / her grade level.

(Some questions ask that you explain you answer in the comments section of this poll.  After you answer, click on View Results.  Then, click on Comments.  Here, you can add your comments.  Also, if necessary, you may select more than one answer.)


21 Mar

If you find yourself reading this blog, you probably fit into one of the following categories: you are a parent who spends countless confusing hours trying to assist your child in concepts you haven’t seen in twenty years; you are a fellow educator who wonders just what really happens to all that stuff you send home and how that astonishing penmanship somehow doesn’t show up on class work; you work somewhere in the field of education and I have begged you to help me with my thesis project; or, you are my professor who will also have the delighted pleasure of reading my thesis which will one day accompany this blog.  Regardless, I appreciate you being here and helping me as I venture to determine the purpose of homework and how it can best be utilized to benefit all parties involved.

Due to the fact that our school has so many families who have children spread out among grades, a school wide homework policy review board was created.  Up until this point in the whole two months of my career, I had never really thought too much about homework or why it exists.  Somehow it slipped pretty down near the very bottom of my list of first year teaching things to sit around and ponder.  I just knew that I had to do it in school; therefore, my students should have to do it too.  Right?  So, after my revelation in the middle of the faculty meeting, I decided to put that action research course into action.

Over the past and next few months, I have been / will be using various methods of homework assignments to establish my final conclusion on the great homework debate.  Is homework beneficial?  Does it just make things more confusing?  Does it offer extra practice that gets cut short in the classroom?  If it was cut out, would students ever develop effective study habits?  Does it cut too much into extracurricular activities and family time?  To be frank, I have no clue.  My goal is at the end of this project to have all the answers to the millions of homework mysteries that I, as a first year teacher, wonder every morning for point five seconds as last night’s homework slides across my desk and lands in the ever growing black hole of old homework assignments.  I assure you that any feedback will be considered and appreciated!

Mahalo for your kokua.