Friday, January 16, 2015

HW? Test Prep? Are They Necessary?

The following is an excerpt from a recent newsletter I shared with our #Cantiague staff on two topics that are close to my heart...

As some of you may know, two of my favorite topics to discuss and reflect on are test prep and homework... well, throw the two of them together and it goes to a whole other level! Being that this time of year always seems to bring up questions about test prep, homework and the perfect storm of the two, I just wanted to share my position on both. First off, I have spent hours over the last couple of weeks pouring over articles about the impact/importance/role of homework at the elementary level and the bottom line is this... at best, homework's positive impact on children's academic achievement and performance is questionable. Check out this article or this one to read about the fact that homework at the elementary level cannot be linked to any meaningfully positive outcomes. In fact, in one study I read, the children who are struggling academically in school, for those kids, homework actually has a negative impact. If we think about it... that makes sense! If a child can barely do the work while they are at school where they may have access to extensive scaffolding and support, how can we expect that they will meet with success when doing it at home where the level of support varies tremendously? So, when thinking about homework, please be thoughtful and keep it to a meaningful minimum - less is more in this instance. Make the homework matter; place value on the homework by checking it and giving the children feedback; and finally, try giving the children voice or choice in the development of homework assignments... I think the outcomes may surprise us. 

In regards to test prep, I have three things I must share because I think consistency in practice here is imperative to our collective success. First off I really believe that good instruction rooted in rich texts and resources that teaches children the skills they need to be good readers, writers and mathematicians is the bulk of the test prep that is needed. Let's consider embed test "preppy" questions within writing or reading workshop; or maybe embed reading responses that mirror the writing expected on the test. This limits the test prep but presents it in a contextualized way. For example, I recently was in teacher's room where she explained that once a week, the actual day of the week was up to the kids, the children had to write a reading response that they would share with her so she could get a sense of their thinking as readers. What an awesome idea... and AWESOME way to embed test prep because the teacher could pose specific questions each week that mirror the language on the test and BOOM... there is embedded test prep. Worksheets with pages of passages and multiple choice questions will not accomplish the same goal because I think they access lower level thinking. In fact, in this article on test prep, especially on page two, teaching to the test actually dumbs down teaching and learning! So, secondly, I am not saying that test prep should not occur (our kids need exposure to test taking skills, certain language, etc.) but make it as meaningful as possible and keep it at a minimum. Finally, the one thing I am not comfortable with and will have difficulty supporting is sending any test prep packets or worksheets or workbooks home for children to complete for homework. This type of work, if it is occurring at all, should be happening in school under the supervision of educators - not at home for a child or family to complete for homework. From my vantage point, test prep, if it is to have any positive impact on our children, needs to be happening in school - not at home. So, please do not send any test prep home for homework because I do believe this is in the best interest of the children.

Thank you for taking the time to read my rantings from atop my little soap box and please know that my only goal and intent is to promote practices and approaches that are in the best interest of all children. On that note, I would like to share an announcement from #Cantiague and I welcome the rest of the education world to join us... 

Our second annual NO WORKSHEET WEEK CHALLENGE will take place during the week of January 26th! That's right... we did it last year at our school and we want to spread the joy with our PLN and the rest of the world this year! A week without any worksheets... no worksheets in class... no worksheets for homework... NO WORKSHEETS!! Now, let's take a deep breath... I am not saying NO PAPER... just NO POINTLESS, THOUGHTLESS or MEANINGLESS WORKSHEETS! You know the ones! 

So join us on our annual NO WORKSHEET WEEK CHALLENGE during the week of January 26th in an effort to better reflect on the following question... are homework and test prep necessary?     


  1. YES! Shall I shout out an AMEN, Tony? Test Prep with its packets is OLD School and not the appropriate path to create thinkers and meaning makers. What is important for us to address is process and how we make the most of our students' time. Vigorous, passion-filled teaching and learning helps students find their voice, notice, wonder, discover, and explore new learning. Thank you for always being a strong supporter of process not product.

  2. Tony, thanks for your worksheet challenge! You inspired this post of mine. Can't wait to see who's in!