My district has been sharing school policy updates with us this year and recently the homework policy was revised. I quickly opened up the revised document, excited to read it. I was hoping it met the needs of today’s student and was thrilled to see the focus on family time, explaining students and parents have the right to decide their time after school. I then flipped to the guidelines and immediately realized students and parents needed to see what the expectations were for them.
Emailing the links to the parents was the initial step I took. Then I copied the guidelines for individual students and posted the policy on our SMARTboard. We read through the policy together and broke into small working groups to go over the guidelines. Students were tasked with highlighting things they felt were interesting, items they agreed with, and ideas they disagreed with as they read. These notes would be used during a class discussion and an email we decided to send to our school committee.
Students were empowered to share their thinking with our local officials, who volunteer their time to serve our schools. They examined the middle and elementary school guidelines and had a lot to say about them! During a shared writing experience we crafted the email, making sure all voices were heard (including the parent volunteer in the room).
Dear School Committee,
Today we read the homework policy. Then we looked at the requirements for the homework for middle and elementary school. We got highlighters and highlighted things we found interesting. We read it in small groups. We also compared it to our own experiences.
Middle School Feedback
Assuming summer work is given, students thought it was unfair that you must finish it because some people go on very busy trips and don’t have time to. Another student felt there should be a little school work, but she would rather be able to enjoy the time off. Another student said summer reading should be suggested. If summer reading is given it should be one book you have to read that you answer questions about (no essay). Different people should get different types of books though. A child chimed in that it was unfair that kids should be told what to read because they should be reading for pleasure and not something that is forced. A parent suggested asking kids to read a certain amount of pages. She also suggested students be given the assignment to create anything that shows the theme of the story. You could paint, draw, compose music, write an essay, blog post, etc. Sky's the limit. She said it would be more difficult to grade but then asked what the purpose of summer reading is- is it to make sure the child is reading or to get a grade? A child suggested picking a genre and getting the book approved before leaving for the summer.
It was mentioned that it is fair that students have two days for every day missed to make up work.
A student liked how it was limited to 1.5 hours of homework for all the courses. This gives you enough time to get work done and get to other things.
Another felt it was good that the summer work would have instructions with who to ask for help.
A student did not think it was fair to have 1.5 hours to do homework. He inquired as to what if students needed more time. Ms. Freedman explained that this time was a guideline and that students certainly do not need to finish all their work but try their best within that time frame.
A parent asked a question at this juncture (she was volunteering). She noted homework is up to 15% of a grade. If a child works 1.5 hours and does not finish how will this impact the grade as it is not clear. What is the provision for that in the guidelines?
It is fair that teachers are not required to give homework over family vacation.
Elementary School Feedback
From the parent: As a parent in the introduction it says there is no study that shows there is a benefit to homework in the elementary grade yet she found that in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade that her kids had more homework than in later grades especially with those packets. (They are now talking about rainbow words and ABC order) In addition to that they were also signed 15-20 min of IXL a night.
They liked how homework was not assigned on weekends and vacations and encourage that never to be changed. However they wanted you to know that there are teachers who do that (I am not one of them).
They said the 30 minutes seemed fair for upper elementary.
The parent suggested covering yourself for all grades that you might want to include an exception to the amount of time for special projects as she does not count that as part of the 30 minutes because of the time it takes. It also takes working on weekends. Are teachers no longer going to be giving special projects or do they understand it is part of the time allotted?
Students would like more choice to their work. This is not something for a policy but something maybe teachers should be discussing.
Ms. Freedman and her secret agents
The letter received a response from a member of the committee that sparked students to act! They wanted to reach out to more people. I asked students what they wanted to do. They discussed as a group and came to the decision to email their thoughts to the principals at the two elementary schools and middle school. They also wanted to share their thinking with our student council, so our class representative wrote a letter to our principal inviting him in for a conversation with her and our other class reps. Lastly, a student suggested doing a Flipgrid to share our thinking globally. They had some strong thoughts on homework and summer reading.
Students need experiences that inspire, enagage, and empower them to share their voices and make change. They benefit from authentic learning opportunities that teach ways to accomplish this. I highly suggest looking at your school policies and sharing ones with students that impact them. I am thrilled my students know to read policies and guidelines. They are aware no one can take their recess away (Health and Wellness policy), how to use technology responsible (Responsible Use Policy), and that they do not need to work more than 30 minutes a night, excluding reading, doing homework per the new guidelines set forth. I decided to blog about it, contributing to their movement!