Achieving More by Assigning Less Homework: the story continues

There can be a lot of pressure out there to maximize every minute of every day in the classroom. And rightly so. What does that mean, though? I ask because one of the best parts of my day is first thing in the morning when many students are vying for my attention.

Mornings in the classroom reminds me of coming home from work when my girls were young. They came running to me, with open arms and smiles, yelling “Daddy” as soon as I came in the front door. It was the best part of my day! I wonder if they felt the same way?

Some students can’t wait to tell me about a book they read at home. Some can’t wait to show me the picture they drew or story they wrote last night. Some are eager to trade one self-paced math packet for the next. And some just want to tell me about a part of their life they find exciting.

It’s a little loud. It’s a little hectic. It may even look as if we aren’t maximizing our time to unbelieving eyes. My guess, however, is it’s the best part of the day for many kids, especially the kids so excitedly waiting to talk to me. And I’m not their parent. I’m their teacher.

Back to homework. Back to my story.

What if more of my students were just as motivated to learn as the zealous mathematicians I told you about in my last post? What if, tragically, more of my students were as bored as they were, but never said anything? These questions lead me to wonder the following.

I wondered what would happen if I offered the same opportunity for acceleration to all of my students? What if I stopped directing the learning of my students when they go home, but instead encouraged them to follow their learning passions?

I also started to wonder, what if I was wrongly interpreting my disdain for homework this whole time? It’s not right to be lazy. I’d been told I was lazy most of my childhood. I was. Unless, of course, I was doing something I enjoyed. Something about which I had passion. Something I WANTED to learn. Hmm.

That day I stopped assigning homework. Instead, I started promoting opportunities. You would have thought math packets were free cheese pizzas the first day I told the kids they could go ahead of my lessons. I told them that if they finished one grade level I would let them go onto the next. I told them they could go as far as they wanted. So many cheers! They were so motivated!

The motivation quickly died for many. But not for my zealous mathematicians. Another third grader joined, as well as two second graders. Those five kids completed at least two years of math work that year. Many others surpassed what they would have normally done too. It was an amazing year in math for those five students, and many more.

I wonder what you think. Did I do the right thing letting those five kids freely do as much math as they wanted? Would it have been more ethical to keep them with the rest of the class, one lesson at a time?

As I look back on that year I realize the many mistakes I made. But more so, I think I made more progress than ever before in my 20 years of teaching. That year was a new beginning for me. I loved teaching again. And I loved students more than ever before too!

One final thought:

Assigning homework is boring. Collecting and grading homework is boring. Passing back homework is boring. But watching my students follow their passions isn’t boring. I’m NEVER bored when a student tells me about a book s/he is reading. I’m NEVER bored when a student enthusiastically reads her/his writing to me. And I’m NEVER bored when students are fired up to learn as much math as they can.

Are you bored? Are your students bored? It doesn’t have to be that way. If you haven’t yet tried assigning less homework … there’s a possibility just that one change could be the beginning of making the difference you’ve been longing to make!

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