Please welcome Erica Hildebrand! Today she shares with us how to run a really cool and functional Homework Club in your classroom. She also included a freebie! Thanks Erica!
I have taught a range of grades and ages. There are some thing that have worked well across the range, and some that do not translate up or down very well. One of the few things that I have carried with me in my teaching journey is a Monthly Homework Club. Like any other system you integrate into your classrooms it has its ups and downs. It is all related directly to how you run it and how you tailor it to each year’s new batch of students.
The basics of my homework club include:
• A number system that is simple to use, understand and utilize
• Anchor poster
• A monthly menu that tells the students how they will celebrate being successful
• A homework hand in system that supports personal responsibility
• A Personal Contract
• A Reward System
In my class I have a board that I created to hold my monthly homework club. It includes the anchor chart, the monthly menu and my numbering system. Each student has a number with velcro on the back. If homework is handed in on time then they keep it on the cookie sheet, if not they put it at the bottom of the number assignment envelope and they are out of that months homework club. Practice work is available on the desk and in the folder that will help them work on whatever skills we are working on in class right now. Often this is where I put problem solving practice sheets or reviews of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. These are basic skills all students need to master. This work being made available as bell ringers, study hall work, or Homework Morning work underscores the idea that homework club is not just about doing homework to get a reward, but that the club is about our students challenging themselves to grow as learners.
My homework handing in system involves me not accepting homework from a student. I have heard one too many “But I gave it to you last class,” to think that having one large hand in pile is an effective way to store work that needs to be marked. I teach two Grade 7 classes so each class gets a colored zipper envelope labeled with each class’s number that hangs beneath my white board. They hand the work into the labelled envelope and initial and date beside their name on the check list on the back of the envelope. The check list would have an assignment name and due date on it so they can find it easily and if their work should go missing there would be a record of it. I still do daily homework checks to make sure that students are not just signing and dating beside their names.
I use this homework club to not only track homework but also to motivate students to complete and hand in homework on time. As part of the homework club I always attach two dates to homework – the date the homework is due as a class, and then the date that I want the homework back if there are corrections or edits that need to be done, which is of course handed out individually. I always give students a chance to get a better grade and complete things to the best of their ability. I never want to leave a student with the impression that mediocre is okay. Later in life that will translate to a “c’s get degrees attitude.” I want to teach them to expect exceptional things themselves if they are willing to set goals and work towards them. We all get to choose between what is easy and what is right.
I also like to offer a day a week called “Homework Morning” when the students can come 30 to 40 minutes before school and ask me any questions they need to about the homework due that week. We understand as educators that our students won’t get it all, and that their parents may not be able to help. This extra 30 or 40 minutes can be grade changing for some students. They go home, do what they can and know that there is no pressure to finish what they do not know before asking questions. Some of my better students have come early to help their peers, and this tells me that I am on the right track. Support and encouragement from peers is important the successful running of the club. This is also important because we know that a student’s zone of proximal development expands during group work. Sometimes a student can explain something differently than I would think to and that is what creates a breakthrough in learning for a peer. I let all the students know ahead of time that anyone not working effectively will be asked to leave homework morning because it is important that we create a community that supports each other’s efforts to succeed.
This morning time is also important for those students who need time to get organized or struggle with time management. Messy binders, sloppy notes, pages that need to be recopied before being handed in can be tackled, or a little extra studying time before a quiz for the busy kids can lower the level of anxiety of those students who do not cope well with many tasks. I make clear at the beginning of the year that I am here to help them in any way I can. Homework Club is not for a teacher who is not dedicated to being available. It may be an open door time during a prep, a lunch hour, or a half hour after school – whatever works best for you will work best for them.
With this club comes a lot of in class teaching that focuses on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation – doing well in order to feel good about ourselves rather than simply for a reward. Being part of the homework club means encouraging each other to do our best and understanding that homework is not a competition. Faster does not mean better. Getting things in on time and done correctly is important and that means asking for help when we need it. We need to know when we need help, when we have come to a concept that we do not get, an idea we cannot compute, or a task that we don’t understand. It happens to us all! Homework Club is a community. A community cannot exist without a group of people working together towards a common goal. I have each student sign a contract at the beginning of the year that holds each one of them responsible for their role as a support and encouragement in the classroom community.
My role as a teacher in the above mentioned area, in my eyes, is to make sure dates are communicated clearly, written down, and accessible to parents as well as students. On my blog I have a tab that says “In class”. For each group I teach I have those students update the homework they have due daily and a summary of what we are learning. It would look like this:
7A- September 16th 2013
• We did a base ten review of place value. In bible we talked about paradigms and how we see others.
• Math Review Due Tomorrow.
• ELA – work on your Heart Map, it is due Monday September 21
On top of these reminders I would write them on the board so they can record them in their agendas. Students who master organizing their time and their work are much better students.
A few things I have learned the hard way when trying to implement this program; do not only offer rewards that can be eaten. We do not want to equate success and rewarding for hard work with eating – this can lead to problems with eating habits later in life. Second, be strict. Do not give an inch when it comes to the work being handed in on time AND the way you want it handed in. You are not doing yourself a favor – if you give an inch they will try to take a mile. In trying to instill self-responsibility into our students we do not want to undermine our own teaching or look like you are playing favorites. Third, kids love lights, sounds, and excitement. If you want the kids to care about homework club – you have to care about homework club. You are the defining element in whether the homework club is attractive and motivating or just one more thing you are asking your students to get through. Hype it up!
To get started with your own homework club download this freebie or check out the full product.
Erica Hildebrand is currently a grade 7 teacher at Springs Christian Academy in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She has previous experience in Grades 1 through 5. She is also a teacher author on Teachers Pay Teachers and creates purposeful and hands on resources for grade 1 through 8! She has 5 kids – four girls and a boy – and has been happily married for almost 15 years.