Homework is one of my least favorite parts of teaching. I am either getting calls that I've given too much or I am getting calls that I've given too little. Sometimes it is the same child's parents calling on opposite sides of the fence. At my campus, homework is not optional, and even if it were, the majority of parents want to see something coming home for their child to work on after school.
My least favorite thing about homework? That moment happens on Thursday afternoon about 10 minutes before dismissal when someone raises their hand to tell me they can't find their assignment and need another. This is typically followed up by agreement from 2-3 other friends who have also lost, torn, or mangled their once pristine homework sheet.
Homework Trial & Error
“But there are other ways,” you might say.
Yep, I know. I've tried so many of them I cannot tell you. I've tried the homework logs with just reading and math minutes. They were great until somewhere around November when the forged signatures and missing papers began to occur.
I've tried online homework and only giving printed homework to parents who requested it. That didn't work either. I've done review sheets that cover the topics we are learning or just finished.
I've tried the Whole Brain Teaching method (which I will give it credit, worked great for a whole year at my old school…but it didn't make the transition to the new school quite so well. There's more, but I think you get the point.
This year I have decided to try something different. I think…well, hope…this is going to be just the solution I have been looking for. What is it? Here's a peek…(or skip to the bottom and cut to the chase to see how it worked!)
How I finally conquered homework headaches
After trying so many things, I worried that homework would always just be one of those pieces of teaching elementary grades that annoyed me.
Then I created a homework BINGO board using the campus requirements for reading and math homework. The kids went nuts! They LOVED it! My homework completion rate went through the roof, and I had students trying to see who could get blackouts on their bingo board.
The best part was the parents loved it, too! No longer was I getting last-minute emails for extra copies of a math sheet. The calls complaining I gave too much or too little homework stopped within the first week. I also stopped getting notes about busy schedules and the inability to finish homework.
Homework BINGO had successfully handed control over to the parents to decide how much homework their child needed to complete that week.
How did I create Homework BINGO?
Since I wanted to make sure that my students had choice in their assignment, I created a board with 25 spaces. The requirement was that 10 are completed across the week. The tasks in each box were designed to take between 5-20 minutes, allowing parents and students to decide what tasks fit into their schedule and when.
Organizing the differentiated homework system
It was important that I had a plan to prevent lost homework. In years past, I had picked up poly folders with prongs. They were great and hold up all year, but at 50 cents on sale during back-to-school, they added up quickly.
That is why I decided to go with a notebook system. I've always had students keep one notebook in their folder for scrap paper or writing, so it wasn't a huge change. The students glued their board right into their notebook along with their spelling words. This kept everything in one place.
Since I was able to get a class set of notebooks for under $2.50, this was a huge money saver for me. Even if my students each used two notebooks during the year, I was making half the investment of prior years. Definitely a win-win.
Incorporating technology into homework
My students loved technology and most of them had access to a tablet or computer at home. I offered students some digital options by adding a few squares that allowed students to use the educational software and programs my campus subscribed to.
This offered them a chance to use these resources as a part of their homework without punishing those students who did not have access to a computer or the internet at home.
Even with these squares, I had more than enough spots to offer students without technology the ability to complete their homework easily. However, this option let me engage my tech-minded learners, too.
Adding an incentive plan.
When I introduced the process to my students, I told them that any student who gets BINGO would be entered into a drawing to be our line leader the following week. Not sure what it is about line leader, but even my student who doesn't seem to like anything will try to run over everyone in his or her path to get to the front of the line.
I also added a group incentive. Any week where all my students turned in their board with any 10 squares complete, they could earn lunch in the classroom on Friday.
What does differentiated homework look like?
Here's a board I created. As you can see, I tried to include a little something for all my learners, including my below-level and advanced students. I also tried to create a system that encouraged students to try new things.
You'll notice lots of reading spots on the example below. Some are offered as a free choice in fiction or nonfiction, but others have a specific topic or genre to encourage those readers who tend to just read the same series or book over and over again to branch out a bit.
I did the same thing for writing, and each week the topics are slightly different to keep the homework fresh and engaging.
How does this address students with incomplete or failed assignments?
The first question my husband asked was, “What about a free space?”
It's there, but with a little twist. Do you see that spot in the middle? For my friends who don't have work to fix, that is the free space.
Typically, I have a handful of students who rush, skip problems, or don't read directions and end up with a failing grade on an assignment. This happens despite the fact we go over the directions together, try 2-3 problems as guided practice, and talk about the importance of checking our work using our class checklist together. Our district policy is to allow students to redo these assignments to get up to 70% credit.
I use the free space on the homework board to give students who need to redo or correct assignments a chance to get credit for doing this as homework. It also speeds up the process for me because they tend to bring them back the next week.
In my old system, these assignments would trickle in as the final days of the quarter approached, which meant I got to spend the weekend before report cards were due grading a big stack of assignments that covered the past nine weeks of school. It drove me bonkers, and it did the child no good because the learning moment has passed so long ago.
Was differentiated homework effective?
I've used Homework BINGO for two years now, and I have to say I LOVE IT!!!
As I mentioned before, I no longer get calls from parents about the homework and how it is way too much for their child or way too little because they get to pick how much or how little their child does.
Each year I have some kids who bring back a completed (yes, all 25 spots) board each week. Others do the minimum. Either way, they are learning study habits, meeting school homework expectations, and they are not spending hours doing homework (unless their family decides they should be).
I don't think I would ever want to go back to regular homework assignments after using this system.
How to use a Homework Bingo system in your classroom
If you're thinking this might be a good fit for your classroom, I highly recommend you try it out to see. You can easily create your own boards using Microsoft Powerpoint and inserting a table onto your slides, but if you're short on time, you can purchase an editable version of what I use in my classroom by clicking the button below.
I've created an editable version of this resource so you can adjust the assignments for your campus' homework requirements and technology resources.
All 25 boxes on the templates are editable so you can adjust them to fit your needs. However, you can also use them just the way they are for a print & go solution to homework.
Note: To use the editable version, which is in PowerPoint, you'll need to download one font. You can grab the font for free here: KG Second Chances