Saturday, November 14, 2009

Homework to Meet Their Needs

Homework...or as the kids say, "hoooooooooooomework".

Each year I've tried to find the best way to give my students homework. I've tried many things - picking something at the end of the day that I think they need more work on, trying to adhere to a homework schedule (Mondays are always Spelling, Tuesday are always Math, and so on.), and just giving homework in one subject (for me it was math). I just wasn't happy with what I was doing.

Now with the push to try to meet individual needs, I felt even more pressure to find a better way to give my kids the additional practice. I sat down and thought about the things I really wanted my students to become better at - generating ideas and practicing writing, responding and thinking about reading, using vocabulary words, and reviewing math skills - all at their individual levels. I also thought about the value of student choice and all the paperwork that come with collecting and grading.

This year, I have started using a weekly homework packet. In each packet, my students have the choice to have a Writer's Workshop or Reader's Workshop at home, a Vocabulary Review, a Math review, and a bonus or extension activity. My hopes with this packet was to give my students a variety of activities while allowing them to work at their own levels. I give out their homework on Monday and it is due on Friday along with their spelling list for their spelling group. Here is a little more information on each section...

1. Writer's Workshop/Reader's Workshop at Home
  • My students have the choice to either compose a piece of writing at home or write a reading response letter using skills that we have talked about as a class or in their individual reading/writing conferences. At the beginning of the year, the assignments were seperate in the packet because I wanted them to practice both, but now they have the choice. I sometimes give guidelines of things I'm looking for - if we're working on voice, the writing goal might be focused on using voice or writing in their letters about how their author used voice in the book they are reading. Other times, they have free choice. What I like most about this is that the students are reading books at their levels, responding at their level, and working on the skills that we've been working on individually during conferences. I also like to discuss their homework in their conferences to point out new things to work on or to talk about effort. An extra bonus to this is that the parents actually get to see their kids write and can see what they need to work on. I think this is eye-opening to many of them.

2. Vocabulary Review

  • On weeks that we have a vocabulary test, they are to use their words in sentences. On the off weeks, they are reviewing past vocabulary words or other vocabulary acitivities. I see this as an extension or writing. My students that are working on using quotation mark correctly are trying to write sentences with dialogue where my students that may be struggling are focused on starting setences with capital letters and correct punctuation. Of course, everyone has to use the word correctly, but the connections and sentences vary so much!

3. Math Review

  • I'm in the process of changing this, but I had originally started off giving the students 4 questions of different difficulties from which they would choose 2 to complete and explain their thinking. I've actually adopted this as part of our math class, so I've been having the students review math skills that they may be having problems with in class. I am going to go back to the "choice activity" once I find another resource that can give me the variety in problems I'm looking for.

4. Bonus/Extension

  • This is probably the favorite of my kids. The bonus is optional each week. I've used brain teasers, critical thinking activities, little projects that go along with Science, Social Studies, or special events, and some computer research. Pretty much, it's some of the little stuff we may not have time for in school, but still fun to try.

I have received a lot of positive feedback from my parents about the homework packet. The kids were a little unsure of it when we first started, but I think just about everyone is on board. Parents have told me they like having everything on Monday so they can plan to do homework throughout the week. Everyone has busy schedules and emergencies - if they can plan ahead, great! As a teacher, it is SO much easier to manage than trying to assign something EACH DAY, take time to write it down EACH DAY, and collect it EACH DAY. I do everything once a week. I also enjoy checking this homework SO much more than having the answer key next to me and going back and forth with an assignment. It give me a chance to comment and talk with my kids.

As with anything, this works well for me, my kids, and my parents. You may have different needs and situations, but if you often wonder about homework and how you can make it better for you and your students, maybe give one of these ideas a try! I have some documents below for you to download if you want to see what is part of our packet.

Homework Guidelines - I sent this home to parents to explain how things work.

Reading and Writing Choice - Example of the reading or writing choice

Reading Response - Example of just a reading response assignment

Writing Assignment - Example of just a writing assignment

Explain Your Thinking - This was part of the math assignment. I would copy the questions on the back.


  1. I love this post! I am only in my 2nd year of teaching, but have really struggled with the homework aspect. I know my kids need to practice and reinforce certain skills, but I hate just giving them busy work. And then of course the grading.. Thank you so much for sharing your homework plans! I am definitely going to try this after the break!

  2. Hi there.
    I have been working on a homework overhaul myself..

    I was wondering if you had a list of the "bonus" questions/research stuff that you've used - or maybe a site to search for some?


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