Sunday, August 3, 2014


It's the age old battle.  Does homework have an added benefit to student learning and performance?  In the many years that I have been a teacher, I have always been a supporter of homework.  However, my perspective was that, it had to be with a purpose and should always be a review.  

Last year, I encountered an administrative style that believed that homework should be limited or not at all.  My initial reaction was, "No way.  It teaches responsibility."  So, I moved forward with the beginning part of the year limiting the amount of homework to just reading and writing.  This was my attempt at balancing both my philosophy and that of  my administration.  As I noticed that my students and their parents were growing weary of this monotonous assignment, I created a ritualistic schedule attaching a certain type of homework to a specific night.   That worked better, but I knew there was room for improvement.

Over the summer, I started reading some articles and realized my reaction to the idea of no or limited homework was all wrong.  My response was NOT, "They gain so much knowledge from their homework assignments!"  NO, my gut instinct and concern was responsibility.  I had an "ah ha" moment because I knew homework was not the only place to master that character trait.

At this point, I had to think about who my students and families were.  In this day and age, the family unit consists of so many different components.  Families who are two working parent households with their children in childcare.  They are divorced families who juggle visitation schedules.  Children with a heavy after school activity load, shuttling from dance, to soccer, to piano and home just in time to get a bath and go to bed.  The point is that our families are diverse and have changed.  Therefore, our own expectations and requirements for homework must morph too.

Homework must be short and sweet and foster practice.  In my pursuit of that answer to my homework needs, I found one of Chris Biffle's video broadcasts called "Universal Homework".

This webinar made me think, "How can this apply to Kindergarten?"  There are certain times in the video where Coach B references Kindergarten, but their learning changes and grows so quickly.  So, I adapted this plan for the beginning of the year.

1 STAR:    Read for 10 minutes
                 Super Speed Letters
                 Super Speed Counting to 25
2 STARS:  Trace your letters on the dotted line.
3 STARS:  Neatly write your letters without tracing.

I imagine this plan should only last for a month.  Once I have taught some of those basic sight words, then the Speed Letters will change to Super Speed Reading and I will use the suggestion from the video and take those first ten words and repeat them three times for a total of 30 words.  Also, my 2 STAR level will eventually become neatly written sentence or drawing about the story.  With a 3 STAR level expectation is to neatly draw AND write.  As the students grow in their writing skills, it is my intention to add onto the 3 STAR level and encourage students to use more sentences providing evidence using the word "because".  I also intend to increase the counting in increments of 25 through to 100.  Once there, it would make sense to use addition fast facts to five.  In Kindergarten, they learn so fast and achieve so much in such a short period of time, that they STAR levels must be adapted to new learning expectations.

The next layer of this plan is genius!  As the students complete their homework each day, they collect points for the class.  The amount of points they earn rewards them on Friday with minutes to play a fun review game called "Mind Soccer".  This is a quick content review game that the kids love.  The key is to keep them begging for more.  If you over-saturate them with too much game play, the intrigue wheres thin.  Keep the minutes at a minimum, making sure you set a timer, and watch them beg for more!  In Coach B's video above, he gives an example of a point spread for a class of thirty students.  I usually do not have more than twenty, so here is my point spread:

240-192 points = 3 minutes of game play
191-168 points = 2 minutes of game play
167-144 points = 1 minute  of game play

Here is the kicker.  On Wednesday, as the interest and stamina begin to decline.  Make them aware of how many more points they need to earn three minutes.  Ask the class for volunteers to do 3 STAR homework.  Chris Biffle advises us to write those names on the board and have the class cheer for them.  The idea is to generate an excitement and support system in your classroom surrounding homework.  Not only are the assignments quick but they are truly practice.

I love this idea and I cannot wait to try it out this year. Not only is this homework easily done in the car on the way home from a baseball game, it is rote practice.  This increase in fluency is exactly what we need in the classroom in order to layer our teaching with inference and higher level thinking.

Look out Kinders...Mind Soccer is coming your way!!!!

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