My principal told us: "Stop correcting homework!" I wrote about what I imagined the pros and cons to checking homework would be, but of course I did what I was told; I started checking homework instead of calling one group at a time to hand it in so I could schlep it home. The new home routine for my fourth graders goes like this:
- First thing in the morning, kids put their homework on their desk. They keep a bookmark (Post It) on the page in their workbook so I could flip to it as they did their morning work.
- I glance over the work and draw a smiley face at the top to signify it's been looked at. If I notice errors related to following the directions I mention it then and there and ask, "Do you think you can fix it?" Or if I'm noticing several kids with the same error I'll get together a small group to reteach.
- I walk around with a clipboard to keep track of who is absent, does not have their homework, or did the wrong page.
- One thing that has stayed the same in my 8 years, before and after this switch, is I collect assignment books of any student who doesn't have their homework. I write a quick note to the parent such as "Johnny told me he left his homework on the kitchen table and he will bring it tomorrow."
- I still give kids a "pass" if they forget once in a week's time (they still get the note in the agenda). However if they miss 2 they have the naturally occurring consequence of missing Morning Meeting and/or recess to complete it. They can rejoin the activity if they put in effort and complete it in time.
It has freed me up to focus more on how to be a better teacher!
- I have been creating checklists and curriculum maps to stay on track with the Common Core.
- I've been reading more professional resources (for example, persuasive writing is more of a focus in fourth grade so I've been brushing up on how to teach it).
- I've created more engaging activities for my students to use in class (I have lots of math games and task cards for topics covered by the Math in Focus program that we adopted 2 years ago).
- I feel more free to "recharge my batteries" one day per weekend to go do something fun with my husband instead of playing catch up on piles of papers.
As for how it's impacting the kids, I feel that there have been a lot of positives in addition to those above.
- By having homework on their desks instead of handed in, those who have their homework are more...visible. What I mean is, it's more of a norm for students to see others with their homework on their desk and talking to me about how they did, what was challenging, and how to fix it. More kids are apt to be part of this norm, especially those in grades 4 and 5 who are at the stage in their social development when they are starting to notice and care about social norms.
- It's not just a routine to either bring up papers or not; it's part of the teaching and learning process between student and teacher. Because let's face it; not too many 10 year olds get their homework back and read over the problems they get wrong in order to work out what they need help with! Instead, if I notice glaring errors, I will stop to point it out and in some cases I can say, "Do you know how to fix it" and they can!
- If a group of kids get something wrong, I might need to change my lesson for the day to reteach before I can build on the concept they missed. Back when I'd stick the pile in my bag to look at that night (or the next day, longer) I wouldn't have known; I'd have plowed ahead and the kids fall farther and farther behind.
- Kids can go home more empowered. For parents who have homework concerns, they can either hear from their child about the immediate feedback they've got or they'll see your corrections. If you need more help with communicating your homework expectations to parents I have homework policies available.
The only real drawback which has lessened over time is the amount of time it takes to check each student. My "shortcut" to the system is to check one student per group and have them "look over" each other's assignments and share strategies they used to get their answers. Obviously there are pros and cons to that system too, and the success varies greatly depending on how well your students work together. Let's just say I used it very sparingly this year! For classes like mine this year it's a good opportunity to practice cooperative work, although it's not a substitute for reteaching.
So overall, I think this homework system has worked BETTER than the old system. It's not perfect, but if there was a perfect system everyone would be using it. If you haven't tried it before, I recommend you STOP CORRECTING HOMEWORK!