While we have "grade level homework" (all teachers give the same homework) in Kindergarten and First Grade to try to keep down the competition of parents comparing teachers, we have tried to differentiate by giving children choices and offering "challenge" activities. To take family life into consideration we give the week's homework on Monday and take it up on Friday with no homework on the weekends. We think we stay within the county's guidelines of no more than 30 minutes a night for homework. However, no matter what we do, it seems to me that the students that don't really need the practice actually turn in the homework every Friday and those that might really benefit from it, never turn it in!
Recently I have been reading Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth and Cathy Vatterott's Rethinking Homework. It seems to me that we have bought into the idea that homework means rigor, that more homework means more learning, and that homework teaches discipline. The research simply does not support these ideas. In reading the research, it looks to me like to make it effective, homework needs to be differentiated for each student. It needs to be checked and discussed and used as an assessment of how well students understand, and we need to take into consideration the children and families in our classrooms.
As I think about all this, I have tried to decide what our children are doing that really makes a difference. To me, it's reading every day. I know that the more our children read, the better readers they will become. I know that their vocabularies will improve and I know that the more they do it, the easier it is. In thinking about and discussing all of this our new grade level of first grade teachers is considering only having students read as their homework. We believe that there will be some push back from parents who really believe that their children NEED homework so we are thinking about offering homework options on-line that a student might complete for extra credit.
We don't want the reading to get boring so we know we will need to provide interesting ways for the children to respond to what they read or different ways for them to record their reading. We know we will have to make completing homework rewarding and exciting, like talking about it in class. We might even try a "Homework King and Queen" each week, like the Mall-ards or let those that remember to turn in their homework choose their spot during Readers' Workshop, like Haley Alvarado recently did.
We are just in the "thinking" stage, so... what do you think?