“Race to Nowhere” Revisited: Two Innovative Approaches to Homework

So glad that the film, “Race to Nowhere”, is still in wide circulation and that it was shown three times in the last week, twice at our high school and once at a local church.  The documentary, which I’ve written about before, touches on all kinds of things that are very relevant to today’s parents– over-stressed kids; restrictive teach-to-the-test teaching methods that don’t teach kids to be problem-solvers; an unrealistic approach in America toward “college readiness”; in-school cheating; and teen suicide, among other topics.  Love the film or hate it, it definitely gets discussion going about things that definitely need to be discussed.  When I saw the film again last week, many parents stayed for a panel discussion that followed and probably wished that part of the program could have lasted longer. I know I wished the “experts” present would have touched on the subject of homework a bit more– the studies mentioned in the movie, that show that grades can increase with less homework, are compelling.  But in the five days since, the discussion has continued, and I’ve heard about a couple of innovative approaches to homework going on right here in my district that I wanted to share with readers.

The first I heard about as I was walking out of the high school auditorium where the film was shown.  A friend who is a mom and first grade teacher told me that, rather than assign homework every night in several subjects, she gives students (and parents) a list of choices at the beginning of the week– four subject categories, like reading and math, and several types of assignments in each category.  The assignments vary to include the traditional, like worksheets, as well as more hands-on project-based assignments, to account for kids’ different learning styles.  Students choose one assignment in each category, and the assignments are due at the end of the week.  My teacher friend told me that kids love it, because it gives them choices, and parents love it, as it helps them help their child better fit homework with their extracurricular and family activities.  In other words, the kids have the freedom to do homework on a “less-busy” night rather than be forced to do homework every night.  HOORAY FOR THIS! I swear, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard schools taking into consideration that these kids have lives outside of school.  (The line in the film that always “gets” to me goes something like this: “When did it start to be okay that school gets to dictate what happens in our lives and in our families after the dismissal bell rings?”)

Then a couple days later, another mom told me about a math homework approach being tried at the jr. high and high school levels.  A teacher introduces a concept to the class.  The kids’ homework is to further learn that math concept online, via video that the teacher has downloaded to a website, and then they work on the assigned problems in class.  The teacher can go around the room and use that 50 minutes of classtime to work with students one-on-one if they need help, and spend more time with students who don’t understand the concepts. So, the usual way of doing things is “flipped”– learn the concepts at home (if you didn’t understand them when the teacher showed them first in class), do the “busy work” in school. Sounds a whole lot smarter to me, and avoids kids trying to get help from math-challenged parents in solving a math problem, or copying homework from friends (some are pressured to do this since they will get detention in jr. high if they don’t turn something in), or worse, the parents doing the homework for them! And a stressed-out kid would probably rather watch an online video to refresh a math concept than hunkering down over 20 problems at 10 o’clock at night…

I know that some would say “no homework at all” is the best policy, but based on comments I’ve heard around me, I don’t think it would be easily accepted, by parents or teachers.  But I think creative approaches to homework would be.  I applaud any teacher/school for re-thinking their approach to homework like those mentioned above and I hope more and more of this starts happening.  Do you know of other creative homework ideas? Please comment below!

7 thoughts on ““Race to Nowhere” Revisited: Two Innovative Approaches to Homework”

  1. My two school aged kids are in 2nd and 3rd grade. The state of Texas starts standardized testing in 3rd grade, and puts ALL of their emphasis on that. All of our homework is teaching for the test. However, I have appreciated our districts’ approach to homework so far. We get all assignments on Monday, and they are due either on Thursday or Friday. This allows us the freedom to space it out over the course of the week, and also to skip a night if we have something extracurricular or maybe just need a break!!

  2. I LOVE that my older daughter has homework every night (1st grade). It usually takes less than 15 minutes to complete, which I think is brilliant. Because it’s every night, we know exactly what to expect. Because it’s so short, we don’t have to dread it. It’s building a very good habit (I think). But, that said, I’m completely against mountains of homework for any age. Some great creative ideas in your post!

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