Homework For 3rd Grade


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Homework. The perennial point of contention sparks anxiety in kids who have to do it, parents who have to make sure they do it (or, in some households, do it for the kids), and teachers who have to assign it and grade it. Meanwhile, researchers on the subject say that there are limits to what homework can accomplish, and in elementary school, the only homework that helps students  make academic progress is reading.  Here’s a post by a third-grade teacher who stopped assigning homework — as well as reading logs kids are often asked to fill out at home.

She is Lisa Nassar of Camp Lejeune, N.C., who a 15-year educator who has used her experience as a military spouse to work with children of active duty U.S. service members.  She has taught third and fifth grades, with two years serving as her school’s educational technologist.  Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland and a masters of education degree in educational technology from Northern Arizona University, Nassar taught overseas in Okinawa, Japan, before moving back to North Carolina.  A native Texan, she is a second-generation educator, who considers herself fortunate to spend her days working with students whose parents serve our country.  As a military spouse, who raised a daughter in the military lifestyle, she takes those experiences to support the emotional and learning needs of each student.

This first appeared on Ethical ELA, a website that hosts conversations about the ethics of teaching English.

By Lisa Nassar

My decision to throw out reading logs is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my third-grade students. I also threw out homework, with the exception of 20 minutes of reading each night. By throwing out homework, reading logs went with it. As a teacher, I have found several factors impeded homework from being beneficial to elementary students.

To begin with, there are several reputable studies showing homework has no direct correlation to higher classroom or assessment scores in elementary students. As I was researching this, I realized that current and past students were either not completing their homework, due to lack of parent support/extra-curricular activities/laziness, etc., or parents were completing the homework for their student. I tested this by re-administering the same exact homework piece and the student failed it, but scored 100 percent on the piece he turned in. This also led me to look at reading logs students were completing at home.

Reading Logs

During individual meetings with students, I questioned them on what they had read the night before, based on their entries. Simple questions, such as, “What happened in that part of the story/page?” or “Tell me what you read about.” The students were not able to tell me or some even admitted they did not read and had their parents sign off that they did.

After this, I started inquiring how the parents and students felt about homework and reading logs. The majority of the parents felt homework was important, but not always necessary or feasible with their schedules. They did, however, feel that the reading logs were not beneficial and made reading more of a chore, rather than pleasure. The same applied to reading in the classroom. My students love to grab a book and crawl into a bean bag or lay on the floor to read, but when asked to pull out their reading textbook, they grumble! Reading for enjoyment is quickly disappearing from school. It saddens me, especially when reading is one of my favorite things to do.

[Homework: An unnecessary evil? Surprising results from new research]

Homework

Where has this all led? Well, it took some time to persuade my colleagues and parents that neither one was necessary. For the parents, there were many dropped jaws, along with celebratory arms in the air, but they have finally come around to loving it. I do send home monthly ideas of ways to work with their child on the concepts we are learning, but nothing is required. I want the parents to spend time learning with their child by taking a walk, reading a book together, going on a virtual field trip, etc. Make it fun, which will carry over into the classroom.

For my colleagues, well, that is another story. They have added homework back into their classrooms, but frequently mention/complain that it was not completed or completed accurately. They have not, however, put reading logs back into their homework plans. I am proud of them for this. They compromised and it seems that all third grade students are learning to read for enjoyment, again, rather than as a chore.

As a teacher, removing homework and reading logs did not make my life easier, because our school system purchased a curriculum that had an online component, so my students were completing all math and reading homework online. The program scored it and provided immediate feedback to the student and parent. All I had to do was assign the items I wanted completed and the program did the rest. So, the decision to remove homework and reading logs was never about me (i.e. grading papers all weekend long, running copies, etc.).

My homework assigning days were already easy. The decision was made based on research and my personal experience as a teacher. It does not help a student to learn if the parent is completing the homework for the child or giving them all the answers. It does not help a student when they falsify a reading log. It does not help a student when homework and reading becomes a family struggle and everyone becomes upset. It does not help a student when they have to look me in the eye and admit they did not return the work, do the work, or spent 3 hours struggling through 10 problems.

It helps a student when they can go home, after a long, fun day of learning, and tell their parents what they learned that day. It helps a student when they have the time to unwind and reflect on their learning. It helps a student when they realize questions they had and can simply jump on the internet to further research that topic or have a conversation with the parents regarding that topic. It helps a student to spend quality time with their family, creating rich learning memories that will last a lifetime.

Joy in the Absence of Reading Logs and Homework

I have learned so much, this year, from my students and their experiences with no homework and reading logs. They are telling me exciting parts of stories they are reading. They are sharing their books with other students in the class and providing rich details as to why that student should read that particular book. Do I think my students will score higher on classroom activities or assessments? No, I do not. I think that they will score the same, whether they had homework and reading logs or not. The difference is that I am no longer making it a tedious struggle each night. My students are enjoying school and enjoying their time each evening. To me, that is all that matters!

I am not sure how you like homework, but I was starting to despise it more and more as the years went on.

When I first began teaching, I assigned it dutifully every night, graded it all day and into the evening, only to have to do it all over again the next day. No Homework Days were more of a relief for me than for the kids, I think!

After getting settled into third grade, I have found myself assigning homework less and less. I feel that if it isn't purposeful, then why burden the parents and my students with it? The majority of my kids have massive amounts of after-school activities and to be honest, I have way less on my plate and all I want to do after a busy day at school is come home and relax. Shouldn't my 8 and 9 year olds be afforded that opportunity as well?

Ok, so that being my opinion, I still wanted a way to have kids and parents come together and work on "school stuff" in the evening. Parents are strong teachers and I wanted them to play an important and purposeful role in their child's learning.

Of course, I referred back to my favorite Whole Brain Teaching and came across their solution to my exact problem {sigh, I love them!} and it is called The Universal Homework Model, or as I have named it in my class, Star Homework.

I was inspired by Allison from A Whole Brain Teacher (and former WBT intern) and her version of UHM Homework:

If you have about 45 minutes, this professional development video from Chris Biffle, the founder of WBT, goes into great depth about the entire Universal Homework Model:


I have adjusted UHM to fit my needs and I am happy to say that both the kids and I are all much happier for it compared to our old system!

What is Star Homework?
Star Homework is a weekly bookmark that gets sent home with three activities for the kids to practice each night. Each activity earns them one star.
Click to enlarge
What does a student do to earn a star?
Simple, meaningful things that will benefit them in the long run and not cause any undue stress in the short run.
  1. Read for 20+ minutes= 1 Star
  2. Practice Xtra Math for 1+ round= 1 Star
  3. Practice Spelling Words & Independent Words= 1 Star
See? Simple and easy, and items that parents can help out with that won't make them or their kids want to tear their hair out :)

What happens the next day? Do they turn anything in?
At the very end of our Morning Meeting routine, I will have the students grab their bookmarks and tell me how many stars they earned, from 0-3. Any student who has 2 or 3 stars gets a short cheer from us :)

I tally all of these stars up on our Weekly Star Homework Graph and then the kids put their bookmarks back in their backpacks to complete that night.
Class rewards for a job well-done!
On Friday, we count up all of the stars we have earned for the week and, if they all did 2 or more stars for most of the days, then there is a high likelihood that there will be extra Free Choice minutes tacked on to Friday Choice Time!

We also will look to see if we met or beat the previous week's total. If we did, it's Sticker Time! My kids this year LOVE stickers, so this is a super fun, very easy, and inexpensive treat.

Class motivation during the week?
On Wednesday-ish, I will remind my class where we need to be by Friday to meet/exceed our goal and/or get extra choice time and I will ask if there are any volunteers who would be willing to be 3-Star Kids for the rest of the week to help us out. If they raise their hand, I will put their name on the board and we all cheer them and thank them for leading by example. It's a great motivator to get all of the kids willing to do more, which I'll take any day of the week!

What about Thursday's Response to Text homework?
Our spelling quizzes are on Thursday and kids don't get their new words until Friday, so on Thursday, I have included the option of writing a response to the book they have been reading all week. This can look like any of the following:
  • a summary of what they have read
  • questions, predictions, inferences, connections, etc.
  • a letter to me about the book
  • a letter to the author
  • comparing themselves to the character and writing about what they would have done in the story
  • writing a sequel/prequel
  • or anything else that suits the child's fancy! 
This Response to Text should be no longer than a page, but a bit longer than a few sentences. As long as there is substance, I am not too strict on length.It must be neatly written and turned in on Friday to receive a star. If it is messy, not substantive, or clearly not worth a star, then the child does not get one- Chris Biffle explains it so well in the video above- I am not doing that child any favors by accepting and rewarding messy, sloppy work with no effort put into it. It may feel crummy to tell them no, but it will motivate them to do better next week :)

So far this system is working out very well. Have any of you tried this type of homework plan?

**UPDATE** I have a new post with Star Homework downloads and personalized options. Check it out HERE!


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