The awesomeness of letting students set their homework

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My class’s morning time routine often has a session called ‘stuff.’ That stuff is usually a collection of chores, odd jobs and a chance for kids to catch up on ongoing tasks.

The students get to volunteer what they want to do during ‘stuff.’ I often decide who is working on what to get the students mixing beyond their friendship group.

It is really interesting see how engaged the students are and the session is one of my most productive of the day.  It is also my busiest as I’m there guiding and giving input to the students working on different tasks around the room.

Today the choices on offer were:

Say what?

Yep that’s right. A group of my learners were tasked with coming up with ten homework tasks for their classmates.  I must admit that my initial reasoning behind putting this up as an option for ‘stuff’ was that being week 3 the class really needed some home learning tasks. I wanted something that would be interesting and engaging for the students so I simply asked the kids to come with up with some ideas that would support our school-wide topic of sustainability.

My students are year 7/8 and having been in the school for nearly a year or two they understood the general thrust of home learning tasks at my school. What was amazing is that this task was hands-down the most popular choice this morning. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was a chance for the students to make a difference to classroom learning.

The students in the group quickly got a couple of laptops, and set up a google doc which the shared with me. They debated, they typed, they corrected each others spelling.

The students came up with a great list of topics such as making food with an ingredient from their country (sustaining culture),  researching an animal that is extinct (sustaining life), visiting a  local park and making notes about the different plants (ecosystems) and making up a family tree at least 4 generations back.

It was a joy to behold.

At the end of the task one my students remarked that the task was a lot harder than they thought it would be. It was then that I had an epiphany.

Homework is another thing at school that is ‘done’ to kids.  By teachers setting homework tasks and then photocopying them off for the class, we are denying our students the opportunity to think about what activities they can do at home to support their learning at school.

However letting the students decide doesn’t me I’m abdicating my responsibilities to the kids. Over the course of the session I would check in with the group, reminding them to be explicit in their instructions so that their classmates would understand what to do and asked the students about the purpose behind their tasks. To their credit, when the students realized there wasn’t a purpose to the activity they would cut or modify the idea.

It will be interesting to see if more kids will complete tasks designed by their peers rather than the teacher.

Nevertheless the activity in an of itself was worth spending time on if only to answer the question.

What can I do outside of school to support my learning?

4 thoughts on “The awesomeness of letting students set their homework

Add yours

  1. I’m also a big fan of letting students choose their homework. For math, they can review the math lesson (most do) or extend the lesson in a number of ways. Some of those extensions are on the backs of review sheets, others are online, others continue math projects. They just need to work for 30 minutes.

    Each student has a reading or writing project going. I ask that they work on the reading project for 60 minutes per week and the writing project for 60 minutes per week. Some students are writing “how-to”s, others graphic novels, stories, poetry anthologies, and more. For reading, some students have a list of books they want to get through by a certain time. Others are studying an author or a genre.

    Many students need extra guidance in planning their projects. Others want to abandon projects midway and we have to discuss reasons to abandon and reasons to push through. The key to keeping students going is to have regular meetins with them to find out their progress.


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