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

9 responses to “In the Classroom: Reading Homework

  1. Parents can really help with the perception of reading as drudgery by setting an example by reading themselves, and making it clear that reading is very enjoyable.


  2. Eric Carpenter

    I do something very similar with in my 2nd grade classroom. The only difference being that my students have to read OR be read to, by family or friends (in any language as my school has a >90% Hispanic population) for the required time (15 minutes a night until December then 25 minutes a night). This allows my students to see someone other than their teachers reading. It also gives my lower readers a chance to experience books they REALLY want to read but aren’t quite able to yet.


  3. As a first year teacher many years ago I walked into my 6th grade language arts class and announced reading from books of the student’s choice would be the only homework in my class, 30 minutes a night. The next morning the principal (who was 79, no joke, had me in his office saying I didn’t “get it.” I found ways to get around the kids having to do paper and pencil homework and we had a grand year but always undercover. The next year I was in a new district, principal supportive and it was truly a grand year. I have former students who still contact me to visit and the reading of a book of your choice as homework is still a fond memory with lots of good side effects….way to go!


  4. fairrosa

    I agree with Monica here. I also think it is not a bad thing for students and parents to think of reading as something for which one has to build up their skills. Not just whether they understand the plot or know who is the main character — but the more nuanced aspects of the books they read.

    If your child loves soccer and is on a soccer team, you wouldn’t make him/her feel that practicing the moves to perfect them as Drudgery, would you? If when they might be tired and want to just stay put, you’d make sure that they get THAT work done. It is to enhance their future enjoyment of playing the game.

    Same thing with reading — the more practices they get (and to make it clear that these ARE skills that need strengthening: their brain and reading muscles) the more likely they will enjoy and view reading as something that is easy to accomplish.


  5. I went to a funky public school that mixed grades and had us move around to all our classes (and had silent, individual reading time every day; your homeroom teacher reading to you every day; and the Best Class Ever, Oral Lit twice a week, in which you would go listen to another teacher or librarian read a book–I think 4-5 a year, and you got to hear summaries of them and choose what you were most interested in).

    Anyway, I was reading all of this and thinking, “we never had homework,” but now that I think harder, I find I’m wrong. We were expected to practice math at home (and sometimes do specific assignments), to study spelling, and to write, in grades 4-6, a short story or a weekend log every week. I just never really thought of it as particularly arduous–writing stories was fun!–and thus I never remember it as homework.


  6. Echoing what Laura’s experience was, I think the key is that the kids get to choose what to read. As soon as we started getting assigned reading in school, I stopped reading for fun pretty much.

    Kind of like the whole “unschooling” thing where kids drive what they’re learning about?

    Great discussion!


  7. Thanks for a great post! We’ve linked to you in our most recent installment.


  8. Pingback: Fusenews: "Spoilers Will Occur Without Warning" « A Fuse #8 Production

  9. Pingback: School’s Back. So’s Homework « educating alice

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