Throughout all of my 15 years of teaching, there has been one word that has caused me, my students, and my students’ families to shudder. If you are in education, and even if you are not, I am guessing you can figure out the word. The word is homework. Didn’t take you long to shudder, did it?
The word homework causes many to shudder much like the word shot does for my six-year-old daughter when she has to go to the doctor. Not even the promise of the lollipop at the doctor’s office can get her to stop her fussing over going. She dreads going days before and, of course, tries to talk her way out of it all the way up until we get called back from the waiting room. She clams up immediately when the doctor comes in, and then the tears, crying, and wailing comes as soon as she sees the shot. What should take only seconds, ends up taking emotionally draining (for everyone) minutes and minutes to complete.
Obviously shots are different than homework, but some of the emotions our children (and we) go through dealing with homework are the same. Shots have a different purpose than homework. Shots are to prevent or treat illness, where as homework is to assess student learning. Or at least it should be.
Homework should not cause students, parents, and teachers to shudder. It should be relevant, meaningful, and meet students where they are. It should be quick and manageable. It should be reflective for the student and teacher. It should be a formative assessment that helps the teacher guide instruction. It should be more for the teacher, than the students. And it should not be used against students, be it grades, placement, or punishments.
Full disclosure, I am not a fan of homework. I hate worksheets. I hate 5 point completion assignments. I hate taking time out of a child’s busy night to do more work than the work they already did that day at school, and if you don’t think a child has a busy night, think about dance, football, basketball, and soccer practice, family obligations, play time, dinner time, and bath time just to name a few things. I hate how homework takes away from a child being well rounded. I hate making a child and the child’s family feel like they are taking the child to get a shot. I hate how homework can make a child dislike school and learning. I hate the term, homework and how it makes people feel.
Yet this year I am giving regular math homework to my 6th graders. I know, completely contradictory. So let me explain. I am re-branding homework and calling it “Survey Says,” not because I am trying to trick my students with a different name, but because that is how I view what I am asking my students to do, as a survey. I examine and then share the results of their surveys the next day in class. Everyone can see the questions and how the class responded. We discuss the thinking involved with the survey questions and correct any mistakes in their thinking.
To create the surveys, I am using Google Forms, with the newly added quiz feature this year, and Google Classroom as my LMS for my blended learning classroom, which is where my students access their surveys. My students are asked to answer only two questions that are about the day’s lesson. Using the quiz feature in Google Forms, I am quickly able to see how the class and individual students understood the lesson. The two questions always stem from the day’s lesson and how we discussed it in class. It is never a prefabricated worksheet without any personal connection to the students.
A great feature about quizzes in Google Forms is the opportunity to give feedback to incorrect and correct answers. It allows instant feedback to the students to help them learn, unlearn, and relearn the lesson. And with just about all of my students having their own devices, they are able to complete their homework anytime, anywhere, and they never have to worry about losing their homework. Not only can they complete it anytime, anywhere, but I can view their results anytime, anywhere before the next day. Think about how powerful of an idea that is.
The most their surveys take are two or three minutes, and I let them know I am okay if life gets in the way and they can’t complete it that night. It doesn’t count against them. Each individual survey is not counted as a separate grade, rather they are part of a student’s overall grade. Because I want the focus to be on learning, not only from me but from each other. I do not penalize students for trying or getting wrong answers. The students’ efforts go into a class participation grade at the end of the marking period, because I want them to know their efforts and insights are important as they directly impact their classmates.
All 29 of my students have been completing their homework, or rather surveys, on a regular basis, and it is greatly helping me adjust my teaching to better meet the needs of my students. Survey says, shuddering is a thing of the past.