Thursday, February 4, 2016

5 Steps To Rebranding HW

My Take On HW...

At this point I think most friends, colleagues and members of my PLN know how I feel about HW and in case someone missed it, I am not a fan. I have written extensively about HW on my blog (this post is the third post in a 3-part series - part one and part two were shared over the last couple of weeks). I have also shared dozens of comments on social media about my own HW experiences as a graduate student, about my son's HW as a middle schooler and other general opinions about this decades old practice that doesn't seem to have a positive impact on students and their learning... yet we keep assigning it. 

HW: It May Be Here To Stay... 

With that being said, it doesn't seem that HW is going away anytime time soon. In order to see HW eliminated there has to be a thoughtful process that is respectful of everyone's preconceived notions about HW. For most of society, HW is just the norm... the way it has always been done. Most of us had HW as students growing up and so we expect our children or students to have the same experience. In fact, some parents might argue that a lack of HW is indicative of a lack of learning. So, HW is probably not going away without a fight (in spite of all the research) so I think the time has come to REBRAND HW and make it something that children will be excited to engage in and parents will no longer dread.

Rebranding HW in 5 Steps... 

Here are my 5 steps to rebranding HW:

1) Eliminate it! The over abundance of research that shows no positive correlation between HW and academic performance in school should be reason enough to eliminate HW; but if that does not seem like a good enough reason, then listen to the students because my guess is they would express a strong dislike for HW, which should speak to it being irrelevant and meaningless to the people it is supposed to be impacting the most!

2) Call it something else... anything else because the mere mention of HW generally garners a negative reaction from most learners. For example, in Kindergarten at Cantiague our children are expected to read at least 2 nights a week but, instead of calling it "Reading Homework," the teachers call it Book in A Bag and the kids get super excited when they realize it is a Book In A Bag night! Someone else shared that at their school students get math homework 2 - 3 nights a week but instead of calling it "Math Homework," the children become Number Explorers one night or Magical Mathematicians the other night. The assignment may not necessarily be any different but because the word homework is nowhere to be found, the children respond differently. So, get creative and start by eliminating the word homework and see how that impacts your students!

3) Give learners choices with what they can experience at home to extend their learning (see what I did there? Didn't use HW). For example, create a menu of activities that gives students a voice in how they want to deepen and broaden their understandings in a specific content area. For example, at Cantiague, our kindergarten students practice their words using a “word study menu.” The teachers have provided the children with different activities to choose from that tap in to different modalities and interests.  These are as simple as writing their words in the steam in the shower, tracing words on a family member’s back, cheering the words like a cheer leader or building the words out of legos or different materials. After speaking with the children about their choices as part of the word study menu, it is clear that they look forward to these activities and the teachers are seeing a new level excitement surrounding learning their sight words. Basically, what the children see as a fun project, game, or activity is helping to build their foundational skills. Although this example is specific to kindergarten at Cantiague, it is super easy to change it up for older students and across all content areas because the basic idea is giving children choices so they are empowered learners beyond the school day. For example, instead of having fifth graders read about the Civil War in a textbook and answer the questions at the end of the chapter, give them the pertinent information and then give them a choice about how they could communicate their knowledge... maybe they could create a video about what could have happened if the South won the war or they could start a blog and write a diary as a soldier from the north or create a historical fiction picture book based on the war... the possibilities are endless!  

4) Take experiences such as Genius Hour or MakerSpace and have the children engage in activities of that nature at home where they can try something new, create something from scratch or pursue a new passion! Whatever it looks like, it builds on step 3 where students have choices for what they learn outside of school but gives them more independence over the actual process and product. This is something we are going to start doing at Cantiague where we have dubbed Tuesday nights... Try It Tuesday! This idea was suggested by one of our amazing fourth grade teachers at Cantiague who was already trying it in her classroom. This is how she framed Try It Tuesday... Every Tuesday night instead of traditional homework, the children have to try something new. It’s kind of like Genius Hour at home with no limits! I have found that the kids are motivated and engaged to experiment, imagine, plan, create and improve their “designs,” whatever that may look like to them. I started this Try It Tuesday ritual and have found that it encourages appreciation and happiness in my classroom! Based on this suggestion about Try It Tuesday and the positive feedback it received from students and their families, we will be making this a school-wide experience starting in March. Every Tuesday night at Cantiague will be TRY IT TUESDAY and although the children will be able to do whatever they want, they will also have a menu of ideas to chose from in case they are stuck for inspiration at home. I am super excited about this shift in our HW practice!

5) Flip the classroom experience and try doing HW in school while letting the children do some of the learning at home. For example, instead of having children do a worksheet about fractions at home, have them watch a short video about fractions at home and then come to school the next day and engage in various fraction based activities. Although I never tried this as a teacher, I have observed several teachers who have used this approach and their feedback is that the students have a more positive attitude about the homework and the teachers feel like they have a better understanding of their students' readiness levels because they are seeing what the children can actually produce in class. This is one of the problems with HW - we never know how much support a learner might be getting at home and how much they actually understand. So get out there and try flipping your classroom!

These are just 5 steps to rebranding homework but I am sure there are dozens more so please share some in the comments below! Although I would love to eliminate homework completely, I don't think we are there yet so I am hopeful that rebranding the experience will make it a more positive one for students, their families and educators!   


  1. For math, I've found flipping to be an incredible toll for increasing g problem solving time in the vlassroom. That also allows,for differentiation as you circulate and help. Use Desmos acivities, too. Also, some kids won't do it, but they'll still be able to learn from a quick summary at the start of class and more time for problem solving. Fewer behavior issues during direct instruction time, too.

  2. This is great! Thanks for putting this together...I am going to share it!

  3. Love all of these great ideas! We are making "choice boards" in lieu of homework. It has only 1-2 traditional homework options given each week (which we will phase out as parents and students get used to this new concept) - more STEM, maker, creative-play/drama, and building activities, and a write-about-it option to share with peers.

    We're building in a daily quick share session at the beginning of the day where they can share for 1 minute in their group about how they chose to spend their time the night before.

    I am so excited to launch this - and a bit nervous, but I truly believe it's a win-win!

  4. I love your ideas about re-branding homework, flipping homework, and creating wonderful and inspiring choices for kids. Fabulous. Here's my question and concern. Maybe you can help me. I have one child who struggles to stay focused in class. He is intellectually curious, smart, and creative (yes, I realize that all mothers think this)... but teachers often report that he is easily distracted by noise, activity, and other kids. Homework was always an opportunity to give him one-on-one support in a quiet environment. Sometimes I just sat at the table with him to keep him on task for 30 minutes. It was never a problem. When his school stopped assigning homework in the 6th grade, all of his learning had to happen in class. The at-home involvement he benefitted from dropped out from under him. He did ok ... but I don't think that cutting parents out of the daily learning process was beneficial for him. I'm sure it works well for other families. How do I reconcile the reality of my child's needs with the generalization that homework is now considered a burden or a problem. For us, it was always an opportunity and a resource.