by Michael Moore
Teachers are generally of two schools when it comes to homework -- those who hate it and do not assign it and those who hate it, but assign it. When I first began teaching 10 years ago, I was of neither school. The Faculty of Education never addressed the topic of homework and I naively began teaching without any thought of homework.
Soon into my first year teaching a split grade 1 and 2 class, parents began asking me about homework: "Why doesn't Susie get homework?" "Where is Tong's homework? They get homework in the other classes". Of course, my naive response was: "Your child is in school all day long and needs a break at night. Therefore I don't assign homework." That wasn't what most parents wanted to hear. As they questioned me more and more, I began to hate homework, even though I had never assigned any.
Fortunately, along came the Borrow-a-Book movement in my Board of Education. I attended a workshop on Borrow-a-Book and fell in love with it. I could send books and a tracking sheet home every night and that would be MY HOMEWORK. Parents would be happy; children would be reading; and my homework worries would be gone! I bought books for my class collection with Borrow-a-Book money (given to each teacher from a special budget). I put pockets in the backs of books, taught my students how to sign books out and PRESTO I had a homework program. The kids loved it and so did I. Even the parents seemed pleased.
Of course, it wasn't long until parents started commenting that Borrow-a-Book was fun but not homework: "My child reads at home with or without Borrow-a-Book." and "Reading isn't homework!". To appease the disgruntled "pro-homework parents", I eventually began doing what my other colleagues did - SENDING HOME WORKSHEETS. Daily, I photocopied math worksheets, language worksheets, science worksheets, social studies worksheets and so on and so on. Not surprisingly, parents loved my new homework program. I now heard comments like "Susie just loves doing homework." And "My child learns so much doing all those worksheets at night."
However, I HATED all of the preparation and photocopying of these "drill and kill" type worksheets that I ordinarily didn't use during the day in my classroom. My photocopying expenses skyrocketed that year and I barely had enough money left in my classroom budget to purchase pencils, markers, kleenex and paper. I also spent hours each week collecting, marking and returning the worksheets. Needless to say, it seemed that all of my efforts went into homework. I barely had time to teach. My mind was always on "Which worksheet can I send home tonight?". Homework now became something I hated but did.
The following year I had a homework epiphany. An Orff teacher was coming into my room once a week during the first term to do Orff with my class. While she taught songs and actions and had students perform on musical instruments, I observed and listened. I wasn't used to sitting idle in my classroom and soon found myself writing her songs on chart paper. I posted the charts in the classroom and we sang the songs in between weekly Orff classes.
One day after a parent asked me what Orff was, it occurred to me that I could send some of the charts home with students so they could share the songs with their parents. So, I neatly folded the charts up, put them in ziplock baggies and handed them out to a few students each night. They shared their charts with their parents and other family members and then brought them back the next day. Others could then take them home, too, and share them with their parents. I began hearing from parents how they liked hearing the songs we were learning in Orff. Soon I added suggestions to the charts (e.g. Sing this song. Shout this song. Whisper this song. Read this song backwards) and alas, CHOOSE-A-CHART was born!
Inspired by the excitement of students when singing, I began teaching them new songs and poems during calendar time each morning. I wrote them on chart paper and sent them home. To track who had taken a chart home, I attached a class list to each chart. Students put a check mark next to their name after they had borrowed it. Gradually, Choose-a-Chart grew and grew and grew. I stopped photocopying worksheets and instead, wrote math and language question/activities on charts. I had more than enough charts for every student to choose one every night for homework. Each student did their written work on a loose-leaf piece of paper which was returned with the chart the next morning. I put the papers in a homework file for each student. Finally, my "drill and kill" worksheet homework program was gone! I had graduated to a new school of teachers -- those who love homework and do it.
Very little time was needed to prepare homework. I made charts whenever I got an idea or taught a new concept or skill in Math or Language. Tracking became minimal and eventually the loose-leaf papers were replaced by homework notebooks. I revised the record sheets on the front of the charts to include a space for each student to write a comment. I also colour-coded the record sheets so that math charts were green and language charts were pink.
Now in my tenth year of teaching, I find Choose-a-Chart is one of the most effective things I have done in my career. It's a fun way of doing homework that, once established, requires minimal preparation and tracking. Students find it motivating and challenging, yet it gives them practice on skills and concepts we have already learned in class. Parents like it because their children get homework every night, they know what it looks like and approximately how much time will be needed to complete it. It also is a form of communication with parents which helps build and strengthen the home-school connection.
To some people, I'm now known as Mr. Choose-a-Chart. It's a nice alternative to Mr. Worksheet.
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