Daily Archives: August 31, 2009

In the Classroom: Reading Homework

“The only homework I assign is to read for at least 30 minutes a night.” (said I in yesterday’s post)

Had an interesting discussion w/ a friend on why I despise using the word homework for reading time. That fosters a hate in my opinion.”   (says @mawbooks)

No, no, no.  It doesn’t foster hate.  I mean, why should it?  It should foster joy.  Kids should go, “I’m reading the best book; I’m so lucky that my only homework tonight is to finish it! ”  In fact, I’ve had kids come to me and say, “I’m sorry, but I read more than 30 minutes last night. I just got to a great point where I couldn’t stop!”  (And then I make clear that the requirement is to read at least 30 minutes.)

I  feel very, very strongly about the importance of kids considering their nightly reading — homework.  To my mind it is the MOST important homework they do.  Fourth graders are just developing fluency, becoming independent readers,  learning what their tastes as readers are, etc.  They need to do it a lot more than in school. They need to do it on their own, away from the controlled classroom.  They need to figure out just where they read best (in bed, on the couch, cuddling a pet, under a tree, next to a parent?), whether they need silence, music, or something else.  They need to figure out just what sort of material they enjoy reading. What is their identity as a reader? And do they read in short bursts with little rests?  Or do they read in long gulps?  They need to do this in the classroom (where I can support them) and at home (where they will learn to do it alone, hopefully). I call it “independent reading” because they are learning to do just that.  Without teachers, parents, tutors, caregivers, grandmothers, friends, or anyone.  I want them to learn to be totally happy independent readers — anywhere.

While my nightly homework is that 30 minutes of reading, I should say that my students also get 30 minutes of math from their math teachers, weekly spelling from the associate teacher, and occasionally something else (like interviewing someone for our immigration oral history project).  While each of my fourth grade colleagues may tweak her homework policy a bit differently, we are all in basic agreement on what is done at home and what is done at school.

I often read that research indicates that homework doesn’t help elementary aged kids.  Not sure what sort of homework that would be, but I would pretty much agree for anything other than reading and a bit of math (mostly memorizing those math facts).  Our kids do a lot in school and need to do other things at home — stuff they enjoy (yes, television, computer games, shooting baskets, whatever is fun for them).  Of course that is the situation for the kids I teach; a different population might need a different homework policy.

Main thing is that homework does not have to be synonymous with drudgery.  It can be something kids look forward to doing or, at least, don’t dread.

Edited to add — thanks to @lbraun2000 I just saw  this timely piece in yesterday’s NYT’s about summer homework.  I don’t give it — our fourth graders have NO assigned book to read before they come in over the summer. Excellent points here about all sorts of homework.



Filed under In the Classroom, Reading