Homework. The perennial point of contention sparks anxiety in kids who have to do it, parents who have to make sure they do it (or, in some households, do it for the kids), and teachers who have to assign it and grade it. Meanwhile, researchers on the subject say that there are limits to what homework can accomplish, and in elementary school, the only homework that helps students make academic progress is reading. Here’s a post by a third-grade teacher who stopped assigning homework — as well as reading logs kids are often asked to fill out at home.
She is Lisa Nassar of Camp Lejeune, N.C., who a 15-year educator who has used her experience as a military spouse to work with children of active duty U.S. service members. She has taught third and fifth grades, with two years serving as her school’s educational technologist. Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland and a masters of education degree in educational technology from Northern Arizona University, Nassar taught overseas in Okinawa, Japan, before moving back to North Carolina. A native Texan, she is a second-generation educator, who considers herself fortunate to spend her days working with students whose parents serve our country. As a military spouse, who raised a daughter in the military lifestyle, she takes those experiences to support the emotional and learning needs of each student.
This first appeared on Ethical ELA, a website that hosts conversations about the ethics of teaching English.
By Lisa Nassar
My decision to throw out reading logs is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my third-grade students. I also threw out homework, with the exception of 20 minutes of reading each night. By throwing out homework, reading logs went with it. As a teacher, I have found several factors impeded homework from being beneficial to elementary students.
To begin with, there are several reputable studies showing homework has no direct correlation to higher classroom or assessment scores in elementary students. As I was researching this, I realized that current and past students were either not completing their homework, due to lack of parent support/extra-curricular activities/laziness, etc., or parents were completing the homework for their student. I tested this by re-administering the same exact homework piece and the student failed it, but scored 100 percent on the piece he turned in. This also led me to look at reading logs students were completing at home.
During individual meetings with students, I questioned them on what they had read the night before, based on their entries. Simple questions, such as, “What happened in that part of the story/page?” or “Tell me what you read about.” The students were not able to tell me or some even admitted they did not read and had their parents sign off that they did.
After this, I started inquiring how the parents and students felt about homework and reading logs. The majority of the parents felt homework was important, but not always necessary or feasible with their schedules. They did, however, feel that the reading logs were not beneficial and made reading more of a chore, rather than pleasure. The same applied to reading in the classroom. My students love to grab a book and crawl into a bean bag or lay on the floor to read, but when asked to pull out their reading textbook, they grumble! Reading for enjoyment is quickly disappearing from school. It saddens me, especially when reading is one of my favorite things to do.
Where has this all led? Well, it took some time to persuade my colleagues and parents that neither one was necessary. For the parents, there were many dropped jaws, along with celebratory arms in the air, but they have finally come around to loving it. I do send home monthly ideas of ways to work with their child on the concepts we are learning, but nothing is required. I want the parents to spend time learning with their child by taking a walk, reading a book together, going on a virtual field trip, etc. Make it fun, which will carry over into the classroom.
For my colleagues, well, that is another story. They have added homework back into their classrooms, but frequently mention/complain that it was not completed or completed accurately. They have not, however, put reading logs back into their homework plans. I am proud of them for this. They compromised and it seems that all third grade students are learning to read for enjoyment, again, rather than as a chore.
As a teacher, removing homework and reading logs did not make my life easier, because our school system purchased a curriculum that had an online component, so my students were completing all math and reading homework online. The program scored it and provided immediate feedback to the student and parent. All I had to do was assign the items I wanted completed and the program did the rest. So, the decision to remove homework and reading logs was never about me (i.e. grading papers all weekend long, running copies, etc.).
My homework assigning days were already easy. The decision was made based on research and my personal experience as a teacher. It does not help a student to learn if the parent is completing the homework for the child or giving them all the answers. It does not help a student when they falsify a reading log. It does not help a student when homework and reading becomes a family struggle and everyone becomes upset. It does not help a student when they have to look me in the eye and admit they did not return the work, do the work, or spent 3 hours struggling through 10 problems.
It helps a student when they can go home, after a long, fun day of learning, and tell their parents what they learned that day. It helps a student when they have the time to unwind and reflect on their learning. It helps a student when they realize questions they had and can simply jump on the internet to further research that topic or have a conversation with the parents regarding that topic. It helps a student to spend quality time with their family, creating rich learning memories that will last a lifetime.
Joy in the Absence of Reading Logs and Homework
I have learned so much, this year, from my students and their experiences with no homework and reading logs. They are telling me exciting parts of stories they are reading. They are sharing their books with other students in the class and providing rich details as to why that student should read that particular book. Do I think my students will score higher on classroom activities or assessments? No, I do not. I think that they will score the same, whether they had homework and reading logs or not. The difference is that I am no longer making it a tedious struggle each night. My students are enjoying school and enjoying their time each evening. To me, that is all that matters!