My views on homework are complicated.
To put it shortly: I think it’s overly assigned, and usually unnecessary. This is, of course, dependent on the subject, objectives, and level of the class you teach, but in general…I’m not a fan of giving homework for homework’s sake.
That being said, there are always some units or situations in which I will always assign homework for my English/Language Arts students: whenever a unit or text allows them to engage their parents or family in meaningful dialogue.
Simply stated: I love making my students talk to their parents when possible.
What I aim to do with these assignments is to bridge that seemingly impenetrable gap between school and home. I also hope that students get the opportunity to engage in conversation about school that goes beyond, “hey…can you help me with my homework?”
So how do I do this in my ELA class?
I look for texts, that revolve around parental perspectives, for example, Carol Anne Duffy’s poem, “Before You Were Mine.”
Here’s the poem (I explain it below if you don’t want to read it):
Homework that Involves Parents:
The poem is about a speaker looking at pictures of their mom and wondering about their mom’s identity before they were a parent. After we do the usual jazz with poetry analysis and discuss the surface, and deeper level of the poem, I give the students one week to complete a homework assignment…
1. Go home and find a parent
2. Tell that parent your English teacher is making them do this
3. Explain the poem in as much detail as you can
4. Ask your parent for a picture that they feel embodies who they were BEFORE they were a parent; Ask your parent to explain why they chose that picture
5. Bring the picture to school
When it’s time to do the “show and tell” of pictures, I start off with sharing a picture of my own mother. Here was her picture:
After students have their picture, you can adapt the assignment to any level you see fit…
Students can construct a narrative around the visual, using it as a prompt. They can practice descriptive writing based on what they see.
You can use the visual as a first step in visual analysis by having students break-down the composition of the picture, and connecting aspects such as color, body language, and facial expressions to the mood, tone, and effect of the visual .
In a more advanced class, you can have students write a compare/contrast essay where they compare the visual to the poem (sample of this is below). If you teach IB: Literature and Language, this is a great introduction to Paper 1 for HL classes.
Or you can simply have them orally share and discuss the pictures of their parents.
Another poem I use is “Registers” by Michael Laskey
After analyzing the poem, which is about a dad dropping his kid off at school on the first day, I have the students read this prose piece featured on momastery.com which is a parent’s point of view of the same event: watching your kid walk into the world of education and “adult” life.
Homework That Involves the Parents:
I give the students a script of questions that they should ask their parents. The questions can be multiple choice or open answer.
1 . I had to read a poem and article in class about a kid starting school from a parent’s point of view. How did you feel on my first day of school?
2. What fears, expectations, or excitement did you experience?
3. Did you base those fears on your own experiences in school?
4. How did you feel about school growing up?
Once again, you can adapt the writing activities however you see fit…
Have students compare/contrast the interview with their parent/guardian with the poem or article. This is good for developing their ability to lift or quote text as well.
They can examine the figurative language in the article and poem, and create their own simile or metaphor that depicts their parent’s point of view.
And in more advanced classes, students can write a poem from THEIR own point of view about how it felt to leave their parents behind on the first day of school, or students can write a comparative essay between the similarities and differences of all three texts.
Depending on your subject and content area, whether it’s a novel study, poetry exploration, or media unit, it’s possible to find ways to get students to talk to their parents or families about what is going on in the classroom.
Reminder: Once again, these assignments completely depend on the culture and climate of your school and student body, and it is to be noted, that all of these assignments can be adjusted for students who do not have a relationship that enables them to complete these assignments as set.
So just give it a try.
Find ways to foster conversations about your class between your students and the people they consider family. You just may end up learning as much about your students as they end up learning about their parents!
It’s a win win. Or, you know, as many things in teaching go… it doesn’t work out at all. Still worth a try.