Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rethinking Homework Ch. 1 and 2

   These chapters have caused a lot of internal conflict for me.  I think homework is important to a child's education.  It is necessary for many reasons (I'll address that later.) but it is also a source of pressure and conflict for students.  How do we, as educators, find the right balance for our students?

   When I taught in South Korea, I assigned A LOT of homework for my first/second graders.  This was the expectation from the school and the parents.  Each night they had spelling, reading comprehension, journal writing, math, and 20 minutes of free reading.  Every morning we checked the homework.  Most of the time (I'd say 95%) the students completed all of their homework.  If they didn't, they had to bring it out during recess to finish.  My homework was in addition to the after school activities they went to schools for any of number of the following:  Ballet, Tae-Kwon-Do, Piano, Korean Language, Chinese, Science, Math, Art, etc.

   Most American parents would think that it is too much for such a small child.  I thought so too, for a while.  I ended up having VERY high expectations of my students.  Failure and zeros were NOT an option.  If they did a crappy job on an assignment, we talked about it, and they redid it.  After having to do that a few times, their quality of work improved greatly.  I don't want people to think that I was a militant teacher.  I LOVED my students, and they loved me.  We had a lot of fun in class.  We did a lot of hands-on learning.  We celebrated their accomplishments, and were very supportive of each other.

   I feel this was very beneficial to their education.  The students learned and retained what we studied.  This was evident in continual assessment and annual testing.  Our students, as a whole, scored in the 75th percentile or greater.  Many of them tested grade levels above in both math and reading.  This was even with English being their second (or third) language.

   Because I had not taught in the US before, I didn’t really know how my students compared with their peers in US schools.  In my last year of teaching I had the principal and third grade teacher’s son in my class.  They were slightly apprehensive about the amount of homework in my class.  Their views changed very quickly.  Mrs. Mom would constantly come and talk to me about G’s progress in my class.  She couldn’t believe what he was able to do.  Most notably, she couldn’t get over the writing accomplished in my class.  By the end of first grade, they were able to use the 6+1 Traits of Writing to create three paragraph stories.  They were normally spelled correctly and grammatically correct.

   It was shocking to move to the high school level in the US and observe the difference.  I make my art students write in class every day.  I ask that they write a paragraph (and I has to specify that that means 5 sentences, minimum.)  I was shocked when I read responses such as “IDK” and had numerous one sentence responses that include basic spelling mistakes.  What has happened to our expectations of students in the US?  I have flashbacks to my “Reading in the Content Areas” class in college.  A group of us would complain about being there.  We didn’t understand why we would need to include literacy in art, PE, music, etc.  Now I know that it cannot fall solely to the language arts teachers.  They cannot teach literacy on their own.  It needs to be reinforced throughout all classes.  We need to EXPECT students to use proper spelling and grammar, even in art class.

OOOOOO, I’m veering off topic.  Sorry guys, I’ll get back on track.

   I think it is important for students to practice skills outside of school.  There is not enough time in the school day to fit everything in.  Some of the studying needs to be done at home.  I know that a lot of students have commitments outside of school.  Some work, help on the farm, watch siblings, or just plain have drama to deal with.  I guess that’s why I’m glad we have SRB.  It gives them an opportunity to do it at school.

   At the beginning of the year I was pretty relaxed with my SRB.  People could talk, read, study, get up and walk around the room, whatever.  Many students did try to study.  This was, however, short lived.  Because of the lack of structure in my SRB, students got up to mischief.  One specific incident prompted a strict change in my SRB rules.  Here are the new rules:

1.      You must be in your assigned seat when the tardy bell rings.
2.      You must have work to do.  Remember to bring it with you.
4.      No Talking
5.      If you need to get out of your seat, raise your hand to get permission.
6.      No cell phones, iPods, or other electronic devices

   Many of the students were very upset with the new rules.  Funny thing is, when you look around my room now, they are using that time to get homework done.  For the students who have always done homework during SRB, it has created a more conducive environment.  It’s more work for me.  I can’t tinker on my computer or work on my own projects.  I walk the room, help students with questions, and refer them to other resources.  I don’t feel upset about this because as a teacher, it’s what I should be doing.

   If we are concerned about the students being able to do homework at home, perhaps we should extend the school day by 30-60 minutes for studying in SRB.  (That’s right, I said it!  The school day may need to be longer.  I can see the eye rolling now.  LOL)  This will only work if all the teachers enforce the studying part though.

   Switching gears again, I also think there needs to be more communication on the teacher side of homework.  I had a student last night that told me they had 3 tests today and a paper to work on.  Because of their afterschool activity, they didn’t leave school until after 7:30 pm.  When you are in elementary school, there is one teacher for many classes.  When you plan, you make sure not to have a lot of tests and major assignments all at once.  I still think it would be a good idea for there to be a master calendar for the high school.  That way, we know when other teachers are having tests and major due dates so we don’t overload the students.

   Well, I could keep going on and on.  I know that I’m rambling.  Guess I need to stop somewhere.  Plus, I need to save some of this for the other chapters.  LOL.  I'll leave you with some pictures of my ADORABLE students from Korea.

 Sports Day

 Pirate Day - AARRRGGGG!!

Fun in the classroom (The high schooler was my TA.)

 Random cuddles.  They are such hams for the camera!


  1. Thanks for providing the international perspective. We certainly have two very distinct cultures. In Korea, education is very rigid and I hope we don't to that side of the continuum. I think we allow our children to be late bloomers and we don't write them off right away like many Asian countries. Our students may not get it right away, but they have opportunities to at a later time.

  2. I have to agree with you. We should WANT our students to use the information they learn in our class and use it in another. I have my 8th grade student’s journal every day at the beginning of class. They look at an agriculture related picture and they have to write 8 sentences about it. We then discuss it as a class. I do this because I only see my 8th grade students for 9 weeks (like you do) and this allows me to bring in subjects that we don’t get a chance to learn. Yes, they only learn about these items at face value but it is my hope that they start to find a passion in agriculture or at least appreciate it. I’m not strict on spelling in the journal and maybe I should be? Great blog! Love the pictures.

  3. I also struggle with what to do about spelling and grammar issues when I grade my music papers. If I ask for a complete sentence and don't get one, but still get the correct answer to the question, do I mark it wrong because I asked for complete sentences?