Saturday, February 2, 2013

Homework Menus

I've been trialling a new way of running homework for my three English classes. I can't remember where I first saw the idea (online somewhere, duh!), so if you are or know of the original source then please send me the link and I will be excited to revisit the genius and credit him or her here...

As with many ideas found online, I liked it, and immediately started to think of ways to integrate it into my particular context. Since I have also been following Ken's thoughts on homework, the idea of a homework menu gave me a concrete "hook" for thinking about how to give kids (and their parents) more control over their own homework situation.

What I particularly liked about the Homework Menu idea:

  • Allows the student to choose (to some extent) which items he or she would like to do, and which stink.
  • Teaches time management (as the tasks need to be spread logically according to the individual's needs)
  • Allows for differing extra-mural and personal schedules
  • I only have to check/mark homework once a week!
What I didn't like about it:
  • In Maths I can't imagine not giving immediate review work on each day's concept and expecting it to be done before I cover the next concept
  • Requires a lot of forward planning
  • I can't necessarily control every itty-bitty bit of homework - what if I really need this done, now?
Based on all of these concerns, I decided not to bring the Homework Menu into my two Maths classes. Too much change at once and I know that I won't maintain it. Plus I still haven't solved the problem of how to adapt it properly to a Maths environment. Maybe it just isn't appropriate there and I need a different model? Watch this space - I'm still working on it!

But I took the plunge with my three English classes, and so far (nearly three weeks in) I am cautiously optimistic.

These are the bare bones of how I'm running the system:
  • I give out the Homework Menu (A5/6 sheet of paper) on a Monday (or Tuesday if I don't see them). It immediately gets stuck into their homework diaries, and I spend five or so minutes talking through the different options and taking questions.
  • The kids have to complete the main course plus three others (starters, appetisers, soup, desert etc...)
  • There is always at least one that they can leave out.
  • The following week Monday, I have an exercise prepared for them to work on quietly and individually in class while I call them up one at a time. I spend two or three minutes with each child admiring what they've done, discussing what they had trouble with and talking about strategies to make sure that they are more successful in completing the work next week if they didn't do it.
  • Currently, they all simply sign next to the task when it is complete, and bring some form of evidence to their "personal homework trainer" session with me. If a child is repeatedly struggling to get the work done, then I will call parents, explain the system to them, and get them to assist the child with his or her time-management and accountability. Then for that child, a parent signature will be required as well.
  • Once I've checked everyone's work, we mark any exercises that needed direct marking. I take essays home to read through (not mark), and sometimes read exceptional ones out loud to the class a few days later. And sticker them of course. A gold star makes everything better. 
  • I keep a record of completion. If a child has a perfect record over a number of weeks, regardless of quality, I reward them with a sticker in their books. Again, a gold star makes everything better.
What I like so far:
  • Homework admin focused on a single day rather than a little bit every day.
  • Personal attention to each child at least once a week
  • Choice for child, but control for me (I choose what the compulsory main course is!)
  • I get a sense of the types of task a child enjoys/consistently leaves out.
  • Lots of recognition for the child, but also lots of support. 
What I'm finding difficult:
  • Choosing valuable but more or less equally weighted tasks relevant to the current work we're covering.
  • Pacing lessons so that all the tasks are possible by the end of the week.
  • Seeing the long weekly admin session as an investment, not a waste.
  • Not giving "extra" homework during the week when I "just want them to finish this one little thing..."
So as always there are lots of positives, lots of things to work on. Overall, I like it. So far so good. We shall have to see how it progresses further...


  1. Seems like a great system. I am wondering if it can have an application in tertiary level theological teaching? will give it some thought. THe inverted classroom works quite well for honours level missiology and for 2nd year homiletics. But I suspect that this might have a good application for my first year theology of Mission class.

    1. I can see it working very well for you - particularly because you see your students so seldom!

  2. Hi Joanna,

    Sounds like you are putting a lot of thought into helping the children. I appreciate you referencing my writing as a source of inspiration. As you know, I'm a psychologist, not a teacher, so some of the details go beyond what I directly understand in the sense of how it plays out in day to day teaching practice. My one thought is that you mention the concept "time management," but I did not get a sense of how much time you wanted the kids to manage, when they did their homework. As you say, there will always be kids who, regardless of the system, struggle, and your system involves the parents to help them learn to manage their time. But if the parents don't know when to tell the child to "stop" doing homework, they won't really be managing time. I would strongly suggest that, when you talk with these parents, you assure them that the child will not be punished or fail for not getting the work done, and that working to the clock, not to the assignment, is the most you expect.