Inside: Why I ditched homework in Spanish class.
Disclaimer: I am a #deptof1 at a tiny school and have pretty much 100% control of what happens in my classroom. I understand that every situation is different, and I am just sharing what I have found works best for my students and I in our particular situation (very rural, small school in a blue collar community, with over 40% free & reduced lunch).
One of the questions I get over and over is, “what do you do for homework?”
My answer? – I do not give any homework (now).
Besides the occasional finish this small task we were doing in class for the few who did not complete it, I do not assign outside of class work anymore. My first five years, yes I did, ranging from the obligatory workbook, to moving to choice homework stamp sheets and then choose your own adventure choice homework.
Why no homework now?
My students are too busy for homework
In my particular school the involved student, the working student and the “parent” do not have time for our homework. (And I do not buy the “getting students ready for the real world”, because some of the only adults I know that bring home work are TEACHERS grading homework. My husband leaves his job as an auto technician and does Nothing related to work at home).
The involved student
I understand that most high school students seem to be busy, but if you know small towns (graduating class of about 35 at my school), it seems to be even worse. The involved kids have to be in everything to be able to actually have a band, choir, speech team, school play and athletics. They have a jammed packed schedule that really does not even allow time to breathe. In a tiny school the super involved students’s school day is like this:
-6:30 – Speech practice (or show choir, jazz band, musical etc)
-7:30 – NHS meeting ( or Prom, student council etc)
-8-3:30 – full school schedule (no study halls allowed)
-3:30-5:30 – Basketball Practice (or another sport)
-6:00-9:00 – Club Volleyball (or another activity like the play)
-9:00pm – get home, shower, eat, relax, see family, do chores & try to do some homework
(if all 7 class gave just 15-20 minutes of homework each, this student would have 2 full hours worth)
The working student
No not every kid is super involved, but at my school many are working to literally pay for a roof over their heads. Many of my high schoolers are eligible for free and reduced lunch, meaning their family can barely make ends meat. I had students last year working 30-40 hours per week on top of going to school full time! They leave school to go work at a fast food restaurant or gas station from around 4-10pm, as well as work double shifts on the weekend. Some are bouncing around without a steady place to live and are paying for everything alone. Once again, expecting them to then function to do hours of homework after school all day and working all night is just cruel.
Even worse than a student working all night after school, are those who are in charge of younger siblings, but not earning any money. These caretakers usually have single parents who work 2nd or 3rd shift. This means as young as middle school students are taking younger siblings home, cooking them dinner, helping them with their homework, doing the dishes, laundry, cleaning the house, putting kids to bed and basically acting as the parent. They also might have to do the same thing in the morning, getting many kids ready and to school for parent that is not around. Our additional homework on top of these real world responsibilities seems trivial.
Homework does not fit Standards Based Grading
I wrote before how my school is moving to Standards Based Grading and how I am using it. One big thing to point out is that all of my grades now come from assessments. This means there are NO points for homework. Formative work is great practice and helps students prepare, but it does not go in my grade book. So while I could give optional enrichment, any homework I would assign does not get a grade, just feedback. I would personally rather use my class time for this practice, where I can give immediate feedback.
Homework is a waste of my time to grade
There I said it. While I agree that feedback, especially timely and in person, is great, graded homework is a waste. I have written before how I do not take work home. A big part of this is not grading every little thing. When I used a textbook students had the obligatory coinciding workbook pages to do each night. Then we wasted 10 minutes of the start of class, me walking around scanning what was probably junk and then correcting more meaningless stuff as a class. This was all time I could have been providing rich input, but was instead focusing on homework, that most students did not really do anyway.
We do not need to waste our precious time. Busy work does not need a “great job” stamp. Now when we do in class activities, students just keep it, unless I want to scan it over to see where we are at. Is this an adjustment for students? Absolutely. The eager beaver is going to ask if they can turn it in. Well I have trays that I let them turn it in if they insist, and then later they probably just get tossed since it was just practice.
I would much rather put my effort into giving meaningful feedback during class and on assessments that show students how they can grow and stretch. My class is all about being there to experience the input and there is not a lot that my baby parrot novices can do alone without a lot of support to help make sure they are successful and not just frustrated.
If you must give homework…
Instead of busy work, make it very choice driven.
Get students to WANT to use Spanish in their every day life.
If I was required to give homework, I would use the choice homework I blogged about 3.5 years ago. Except I would just have students get a certain number of points over the quarter instead of every week, since that was a pain to grade. I would focus on letting them experience Music, TV Shows and Apps in Spanish that they enjoy outside of class. I let go if this when it came to the point that I was putting in more effort grading, than they were putting in.
Once I stopped assigning choice homework, those who were actually experiencing Spanish outside of school, kept doing so, and the others did not have to waste their time pretending they did. I love hearing that students have watched the entire series of El Internado or Chicas de Cable, that the basketball warm up mix has songs from Spanish class, or that students are adding music in Spanish to their Spotify playlists.
I even had a student come in and ask for help with a document that she had translated to Spanish for her work. She noticed that many people coming to rent the mall scooter animals only spoke Spanish and they did not understand the rules. She took the initiative to work with me to get them translated and now they are laminated at her work for all employees to use. Now that is way better than any busy work homework I could assign.
If you are on the fence and want to read more, check out Ditch That Homework from Alice Keeler and Matt Miller. What are your thoughts? I would love to continue the conversation with you!