Why I stopped giving homework passes & my students loved it!

For years (literally, like 7 of them), homework passes were my go-to reward. Had a birthday, I gave you a Birthday Pass. Did something above and beyond? I rewarded you with a pass. Get the picture? It was pretty bad…or good, depending on your viewpoint. About a year ago, I had an epiphany.

Why you should rethink homework passes and what you should consider trying instead

As I am sure you know, there is a plethora of research on homework.

There are those in the Alfie Kohn camp, who argue homework has no educational purpose. Then there are those who suggest that without it, there just isn’t enough time in the day to build all the necessary academic skills.

However, neither of these camps actually swayed my decision. Keep reading to find out why I no longer give homework passes & what I do instead.

Why I stopped giving homework passes

So why did I give up on passes?

While they weren’t causing any major issues, they also weren’t serving any purpose. In fact, they were working against my goals.

I stopped giving these passes because it gave the impression that I didn’t see the homework as purposeful or valuable.

Why am I giving it if I am willing to let you skip it?

A homework pass tells students that homework doesn’t matter. They can skip it on a whim just by trading in a ticket. Some students used these appropriately – when they forgot an assignment or had a busy night and couldn’t quite finish. However, most did not.

Homework passes tell students that the assignment itself is a punishment.

Instead, I want my students to be getting value from their assignments…perhaps even (GASP!!) enjoying it.

Student completing homework homework passes
Why I stopped giving homework passes & my students loved it! 10

How do I handle things now that I quit giving homework passes?

At my campus, homework is required for all students starting in first grade so eliminating homework wasn’t an option. While I may have wanted to, it just wasn’t a choice for me. Instead, I decided to take a different route.

I decided to incorporate choice. I believe that choice is one of the biggest transformational factors we can incorporate into our classrooms. So the first thing I did was change the assignments to give students options.

For me, this came in the form of homework choice boards, which we called Homework BINGO.

Homework Choice Boards

Homework choice boards offer me the opportunity to differentiate while being sure students were practicing the essential skills required by my school – like math facts and consistently reading at home.

When I introduced the new homework format, the students LOVED it! It was the first time they felt like they had any control over their school assignments.

How do Homework Choice Boards work?

I knew homework should focus on practicing skills that students have already learned. Many students don’t have a parent to help them with homework, and they don’t need to be trying to master new skills without support.

I also don’t want to set families up for added stress because they aren’t available to help as much as they would like. It just isn’t great for building home-school relationships, you know?

Homework BINGO boards
Why I stopped giving homework passes & my students loved it! 11

That’s why I set up the assignments in each square of the choice board to be something they should already know how to do independently.

Reading, writing, math – the basics. I knew if my students continued to build on the basics at home they could do the more challenging tasks at school more easily.

I created the options on the Homework BINGO boards to be familiar but to push students slightly out of their comfort zone. For example, about half of the squares on the board were reading and writing activities, but each square is different.

The option in one square might be 15 minutes of reading about a famous person.

Another square is reading a book of your own choice. They are both reading, but now the students have options and parents can be in control of differentiating based on what works for their lifestyle.

Differentiated Homework

I did the same thing for writing, math, and spelling (all our required homework components).

So what are the rules of Homework BINGO?

I urge the students to make a variety of choices in order to earn BINGO each week. However, I do not make this a requirement. Instead, each student must finish 10 of the 25 squares.

I offer an incentive for those earning BINGO – a chance to earn line leader the following week. Since this is a pretty hot commodity in my classroom, I get many students trying to enter the competition.

Flexible homework options

Regardless of whether they get BINGO, students have their choice board signed by an adult and return it on Friday. That’s it! I pass out a new board on Monday, and students glue it into their take-home journal and we start the process again.

And what do your students and parents think about it?

You wouldn’t believe how many students describe their homework as fun!

And the parents?

Let’s just say I get a LOT less parent communication about homework now.

Over the years, I’ve heard it all.

“You give too much homework.”

“Can you give us some extra assignments? We need more homework.”

With the Homework BINGO boards, parents can differentiate for their children. The ball is in their court with how much homework to give beyond the minimum expectations.

I even get comments during parent conferences about how much they like the homework and how they see their children challenging themselves to try something new.

Definitely not something I ever imagined happening.

My replacement for homework passes – Choice Boards

Of course, I still have rewards in my room. I’ve adjusted them so they don’t undermine the joy of learning as the passes did.

Homework Passes homework passes

Popular choices these days include:

  • Shoes off math – a carry-over from my own 2nd-grade teacher, Mr. Hammer, who was WAY ahead of his time
  • Use markers or crayons instead of pencils on an assignment
  • Flashlight reading

Basically, I have decided to give other choices that are exciting to the students. The funny thing is, I don’t miss homework passes…and neither do my students. My homework process is smoother, and my students are interested in participating.

Homework choice boards

Want to try the BINGO choice boards in your classroom?

Want to give this differentiated homework option a try? It is currently available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

You can get Homework BINGO here.

It contains weekly homework sheets aligned with a September to May school year. Each week has a slightly different set of options that go with monthly themes and holidays.

Homework BINGO is also editable to allow you to align tasks to your unit plans and practice your students need to be successful. This means you can provide differentiated homework menus to fit your classroom each year.

Homework choice boards

I’d love to hear more about homework in your classroom. Do you still use homework passes?

Check out the links below:

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