Hacking Homework: Hack #2

Saturday, November 26, 2016

     "The sole purpose of homework in 2nd grade is to teach responsibility."
      -L. O'Donnell, 1999

     That is a direct quote from me, during my first year teaching 2nd grade.  I used to say that to parents a lot, because I wanted my students to do their homework, and turn it in by themselves.  Part of me still believes in the value for 2nd graders to learn how to do work independently, and turn it in the next day. I always tried to keep the homework to 5-10 minutes, and it was always something they could do in independent review (or at least I told myself that...).  I never graded homework, and it never affected a child's grade on their report card (except for the box that asked if they did homework).  So, I felt like it was ok to use homework as an exercise in responsibility.  I don't think I harmed anyone in the process, but I wasn't sitting at their kitchen table every night either...

When we know better, we do better.

     The last few years I taught in a classroom, my perspective started to shift a bit.  There were a few students who almost never did their homework, and when they did they would never turn it in independently.  It's like they were begging me to re-evaluate my purpose for homework, and they did.  For those children, I began to realize on a daily basis that they did not have the supports in place at home that would make it possible for them to be successful.  They also didn't have the behavioral supports in class to be organized.  I started to realize that the kids who were "independently" doing their homework had parents who built time and routines in at home, and who sometimes even contributed to their homework.  Yes, I can tell the difference between an adult's writing, and a kid's writing.  I had seen it happen for years, but I guess I never really thought about how that impacted my statement that "the sole purpose of homework in 2nd grade is to teach responsibility."  Who's responsibility was I testing?

     Things have come full circle now.  I am the parent of a 1st and a 2nd grader.  One of my children comes home and gets started right away, because she is "responsible," but if I don't sit with her her homework is sometimes too challenging.  My other doesn't do it until we tell him too, and he can do it independently for the most part, but would never actually put the finished work in his folder without the reminders.  He is not "organized" or "responsible" by most definitions.  I don't think his homework alone is going to teach him to be both of those things, either, but the homework certainly has gotten easier the more he embraces those traits.

    In Hacking Homework, Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton talk about how simply giving homework does not magically make students responsible and organized.  They are skills that need to be taught and reinforced over time.  Homework could be a positive factor in that, or a negative factor in that.  But, the bottom line is, assigning homework does not directly result in organization and responsibility.  Those habits need to be taught, modeled, and reinforced constantly.

     Flash forward to today.  We are putting up our Christmas tree, and we need to clean up some toys before that can happen.  I found myself cleaning.  Yep, not my kids, but me.  Then I read Hack #2.   Every night I model responsibility with homework because we sit down and do it, but cleaning up our toys does not happen every night due to time.  Homework.  Dinner.  Bath.  Bed. Repeat.  But what is more important?  The life lesson of putting a worksheet in a folder, or cleaning up our messes?  In the day to day world, we don't always have time for both.  That is a parent fail, and I own that.

    Today, we sorted LEGOs.   I might not be #HackingHomework, but I certainly can reinforce learning traits and transfer them to things we do at home.  Let's hope this helps my kids keep their desks cleaner at school, too.  My hope is that some day, it becomes the norm at home too.  But, there is no magical wand (homework) that we can wave to teach responsibility.  I wish someone had told me that in 1999 when I got the keys to my first classroom...

     If you are interested in learning more about #HackingHomework, please join our Voxer group!  Colleen Noffsinger and I would love you to join us.  Here is a schedule for our upcoming conversations.

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