Engaging Families With … Homework?

by | 09.27.17

Jessica Solano is a math teacher in Florida. Follow her on Twitter @2017FLTOY.

“It’s so boring!”

“I don’t even understand what my third grader is doing in math!”

“That’s not how Mrs. Solano does it!”

“It takes us three hours to do it, and we end up just giving up and going to bed angry.”

For the past eight years, I have heard comments like these from my students and their families alike, voicing feelings of frustration and resignation about homework. And how can I blame them? I used to feel it was my obligation as a teacher to assign nightly worksheets that reinforced the skill I taught in class. Families, administrators, teachers and students all expect to have homework, regardless of their affection toward it.

But I started to ask myself why we have to assign homework the way we do. Why do students have to continue to feel defeated at home? Why was I perpetuating the idea that math belongs in a classroom and on a worksheet rather than in the real world?

As I asked myself these questions last year, I pushed myself to identify and stay close to my WHY:

 What I’m willing to do to reach my students

– The Heart I have for helping them grow

– The pursuit of Yet that empowers them to defy any constraining limits we may inadvertently put on them

I learned that this kind of thinking can’t stay confined within the walls of our classrooms. In order for us to have the largest impact on our students, we need to engage families – especially around homework.

My #OneSmallThing this year is not to get rid of homework entirely, but to approach it in a way that shows my students what we learn in class applies to the real world. In fact, research points to the benefits of making homework more relevant and meaningful. And I’m bringing my students’ families into the conversation rather than positioning them as enforcers of a mandate they may not believe in themselves.

I call these real-world assignments “Homework Tasks” – activities that students complete at home throughout the week that align with a skill they learned in class in a way that is practical and fun. This year, the first task I assigned my students was to go grocery shopping with their families and use their rounding skills to estimate the cost of groceries. I gave them an imaginary $50 to spend and challenged them to see how many meals they could make with that money. I also wanted to make sure families had options. Not going grocery shopping this week? No problem! I provided grocery store ads so they could complete the activity from home. Prefer traditional worksheets? I can easily provide those from the curriculum homework books. Voila: Family engagement meets real-world application and continued practice outside of the classroom!

The responses I’ve received so far from students and their families have been beyond encouraging. Because of this new approach to homework, families feel they have common ground to talk with their students about math. They are giving their children practical advice and interacting with them in a way that makes math less scary. Most importantly, it’s becoming clear to families what students’ strengths and weaknesses are. The value is placed in the conversation. The family time that may have previously been overrun by worksheets is being restored to a powerful force that will, I think, push students to make incredible strides in their academic performance.

The wheels in my head are turning as I work to develop a year’s worth of activities for students to do at home. So far, I’ve added family game nights, shopping with allowance money and Facebook Live sessions to the list. If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them! Comment below, or find me on Twitter @2017FLTOY. My hope is that this #OneSmallThing will provide more opportunities for families to authentically engage in academic conversations with their children, proving that the connection between home and school is growing stronger than ever.

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