Saturday, July 12, 2014

You Oughta Know About Differentiating Homework

Welcome to July's "You Oughta Know" blog hop! I'm joining a group of super talented teacher bloggers who have linked up to share tips and ideas for educators. We're all hosted by Buzzing with Mrs. McClain.  Once you've read my post, be sure to hop to another blog that I've linked to!  Have fun!

Over the years I've had many conversations with parents and colleagues about homework in first grade. Boy, it's a hot topic!  My personal belief is that young children need to have time to be kids and have some social, emotional and physical needs met before spending time on homework.

Before Homework....
  1. Our kids need time with family and friends to develop key social and language skills.
  2. Our kids need time to exercise and play outdoors.
  3. Our kids need to develop a love of learning that exists outside of school.
We all know that my list is "in a perfect world."  Our world isn't perfect. Some families are stretched for time, and homework creates additional stress for them. Other parents want their children to have homework because they want their children to get ahead. Finally, there are those families that don't want the homework, but their children really need it because they are so far behind.

To reconcile the gap between my beliefs, what parents want, and what children need, I've come up with differentiated homework options for my students. They're not necessarily differentiated in terms of student ability, but more in terms of what families need, want, and can manage.  At the beginning of the year, I review these options with parents and let them tell me what works best for them.

Homework Options
Option 1: Reading Log
It goes without saying that children need to read and be read to every night.  Many of us have students use reading logs to track their reading. As a parent, I didn't do too well with reading logs when my boys were young. We read a lot, but we couldn't seem to maintain the reading logs that sat by their beds. As a result, we'd have a mad scramble to fill them out the morning they were due. 

Even though they didn't work for us, reading logs are great option for many families.  Over the years, I've encountered families who use the reading log as a tool.  For those families, the reading log is invaluable because it helps them keep on track with fulfilling recommended reading times.

For those families, I provide a reading log. Here's a free copy for you!

Option 2: Monthly Homework Calendars
Another homework option is monthly homework calendars.  I like homework calendars because busy families can choose what works for them.  I ask families to select 3-4 activities a week, but they can chose which activities to do. They don't have to do an activity on the corresponding day.  In other words, if it's April 6, but they'd rather do the April 7 activity, that's fine with me.  

At the beginning of each month, I send home a packet with the month's homework calendar and lined paper so my students have appropriate paper at home to do the writing activities.  As students do a writing activity, they simply date the journal page, and do the writing activity under the date. They do the next activity under the previous one. They return the completed packet to me at the end of the month. 

My Monthly Homework Calendar is now editable, and available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store for $5.

Option 3: Take-Home Thematic Bags

These are by far my favorite homework option! I can't take credit for them. Several of my parent volunteers have worked over the years to make these amazing kits.  Each bag is filled with a variety of thematic educational activities, related props (such as toys), books, student and parent journals, and additional supplies such as crayons and glue.  Parents and kids LOVE them!
I gathered the majority of the contents from my own resources, but the ideas and print-outs came from Literacy Bags by Kathy Howell.

Option 4: Individualized Homework
As the school year progresses, and I get to know my students' needs, I individualize homework, as needed. I make recommendations about what families can do at home with their kids to build specific skills, and provide resources accordingly.  For example, I might send home practice activities for building sight word knowledge. Invariably, everyone gets extra practice sheets for word problems at some point.

Overall, I'm pretty flexible with families about homework as the year progresses.  I find that most of my families appreciate the freedom and flexibility and are committed to working on homework with their children. The result is happy kids, happy parents, and a happy me!

I'd love to hear what you do for homework with your students!


  1. What a fun idea for homework bags. I will pass this idea on to our new librarian. We have some made, but no one seems to use them.

    Renee at The Science School Yard

    1. I love, love, LOVE my homework bags! They work so well for us!

  2. Homework is a hot topic with my class as well! I am a dual language teacher so I teach in both English and Spanish and my students need reinforcement in both languages. I make a weekly packet that contains their spelling list/sight word list (individualized for each reading group), a reading log, and 8 activities to do with their spelling words and sight words. They have to do at least 4 of the activities along with the reading log and the entire packet is due back on Friday. I do it this way because I know that some families have sports or dance or other events during the week and they can either do the assignments all in one day or spread them out according to their schedule. There are also activities to help each learning style such as writing, coloring, cutting/pasting, movement, etc. I also translate each thing so that the families are aware of what they need to do for each activity. I have been doing it this way for about 3 years and it has been working well so far. Thanks for sharing! I love the thematic bag idea! I tried something similar about 5 years ago but it didn't work too well =(

    1. How awesome that you individualize your homework in both languages!! I bet that's a lot of work for you, but what a rich experience for your kids!

  3. Wow! I am so impressed with what you are doing! Keep up the awesome work! Teaching Science With Lynda

  4. Homework is indeed a hot button topic! I love that you have lots of different options, and they're really, really good! The thematic bags are awesome!!! Thanks for sharing!

    Theresa @ True Life I'm a Teacher!

  5. This is a great idea!! I never thought to differentiate homework based on what was best for the families! LOVE IT!

    Mrs. Cain's Creations

  6. Homework is a huge issue at my school. I'm on the side of the fence that doesn't believe in homework. I'd prefer my kiddos had fun after school. That being said I have a home reading program, and I do send homework home because the parents want it. I'm thinking of using the calendar idea next year. Since my other problem with homework is that I always forget to send it home. I love the homework bags!

    Emmy Mac's Class

    1. Boy, I sure am with you on the "no homework" side of the fence, though I do understand and respect my parents' wishes. I love the homework bags and calendar because I also forget to send stuff home. I'm very fortunate that I usually have a parent volunteer step up to manage the bags for me.

  7. Wow! Everything you need to know about homework, all in one post. These are really great ideas.
    Crockett's Classroom . . . Forever in Third Grade

  8. I really like the flexibility in your homework program. I'm horrible at homework. I always have students whose parents wanted it and then some parents who would try their best to help their kiddos, but really couldn't. These are really great ideas.

    Smarticle Particles

  9. I LOVE the flexibility of the reading log! Student choice is a powerful tool. Thanks for sharing! :)

  10. Thank you for presenting different ways to manage homework, and you are correct in that it is a hot debate. Every teacher in my school handles homework differently. I guess it comes down to what you think will work best for your students while meeting their needs.

    Buzzing With Mrs. McClain

  11. I just found your cute blog! I love the "You Outta Know" linky! I'll have to join in tomorrow:-). I'm your newest follower.