parents and guardians

There are numerous allies in education outside of our schools. Parents and guardians are always at the top of the list. To reframe a quote, “they are our partners in education”. In other, perhaps more ominous words, everything we do in the classroom is linked inextricably to them and their children – good, bad, or otherwise. No pressure there, eh?

When I started out as a teacher, I had to learn the delicate dance of dealing with parents. Coming from a media, sales, and entrepreneurial background, prior to education, provided me with a mix of no nonsense and conversational finesse. Perhaps, the number of kilometres on my life odometer have made interactions with parents and guardians different for me compared to my chronologically younger colleagues. I noticed that even though we started out at the same time, our experiences from our first parent conferences back in the day were quite different. This is still happening today, 12 years later as I try to mentor teachers new to their roles in schools. 

Was and is my age a factor ? What about my gender? What about my privilege of being a white-cis male too? Yup, yup, and double-yup.

At first I found it odd that families saw me as more experienced based only on their visual assumptions? I never hid my rookie status from families. Yet, I witnessed how some younger teachers seemed to be second guessed by some parents/guardians for no perceivable reason other than their youth even though they had the same experience as me. I can guarantee you that most of them could teach circles and other shapes around me.

Seeing this year after year proved that this was not an uncommon occurence in education. In subsequent years, I felt strongly about making sure teachers would rally together in support of our new team members on staff by ensuring that there is a supportive structure around them. I know it’s called NTIP, but I never recall meetings with parents and guardians as high on the learning priority list. For me, this focus is also extended to all faculty of education students. It is important that they get a chance to be present when possible for meetings too. 

the set-up

Looking back, it may have been the way I front loaded communication prior to those meetings? For my part, I have always believed that the student is the best agenda. I have always expected them to share their days and responsibilites with the adults at home in their lives. I have also learned that an agenda can be conveniently lost or recycled at the most interesting times.

When I was given my first homeroom, I made sure to let parents know what they could expect in terms of communication forms and frequency. As such, even though students had agendas they were expected to fill them as they saw fit throughout the day. This year I chose not to ask for agendas for my grade 4/5 class which left some parents a bit uncomfortable. A colleague solved that issue by cutting an 80 page writing book in half. Voilà, an agenda is born.

It is important to remember that it is your class and you need to manage it in terms that work best for you. Consider it as a differentiation of sorts. Gardner would be proud. 

I prefer to communicate with adults at home in a more corporate manner via email. This is mostly due to my atrocious penmanship skills. My hand moves too slowly for my brain. Typing has allowed me to find the goldilocks zone for my brain and body. Parents and guardians receive updates about classroom events such as what is being learnt and any assessments that might be coming home or upcoming.

I also use my emails to families as a method of letting parents know how hard their students are working and that I appreciate their support. This medium of communication has always been effective for me. 

If you are fan of agendas then the answer is built into your instructional day already as students copy down what is on the board to take home each night. I see the value of developing the fine motor skills of younger students by printing, but am also aware that this can be an incredible instructional time suck. With the rise of digital classroom spaces (G**gle et al) many of the daily notices can be shared online without daily delay which would give time for other fine motor skills practice anyway.

I also believe that students can come to loathe the activity if they struggle with printing/cursive writing like I do. Communication does not have to be daily. See my above where I mentioned how students can be the conversational conduits of their school days instead of a series of disconnected written prompts that require explanation anyway. This brings me to my next point about how frequently educators need to share with families, but that will have to wait until my next post because there might be some stories and opinions to share that would make this read a bit too much like a long note home in an agenda. 


Reading Response Journals

During parent-teacher interviews this year, there were a number of parents asking for homework. Now, if you know me, you know my thoughts on homework – it’s a waste of time! Ok…before getting upset with me, please hear me out. A child either understands a concept or they don’t. Without guidance and specific support, sending home that same concept that they struggled with all day, just brings the struggle into their home life and I don’t think that’s fair. If they get it, why are they having to do more practice? Students also have lives outside of the classroom where rich learning is happening. Through sports, clubs, or areas of interest that they are investigating on their own, valuable life lessons are being learned, some of which aren’t or can’t be taught in the classroom. I have a bunch of other reasons that I can add and perhaps that’s a whole other blog post! Back to my point. Parents were asking for additional practice at home, many holding a genuine fear that their child would be “behind” due to the effects of the pandemic on schooling, particularly at the end of the last school year. Wanting to honour their feeling, we started Reading Response Journals. 

I teach Grade 5 students and have asked them to read for at least 20 minutes a day.  I have noticed that many have been unsure of what they like reading and I was worried that attaching a task to the reading might take away from the enjoyment of reading for some. I also knew that for others, this “task” might encourage them to read and possibly explore different texts. That being said, I know that it is challenging for some to find texts at this time due to library closures. In class, we have had discussions about texts and students are aware of our virtual library where they can find texts online and I also shared the link to chapters of short stories that I like reading. I also gifted students 2 books this year so that we could ensure that they had something to read, particularly since the expectation is to respond to what they read. Equipped with something to read, we identified that this journal is a place where students can write about their reactions to what they are reading. A place for students to try to explain why a text made them laugh, or cry, or angry, or surprised, or made them think of something entirely unrelated. It is a place to write down their questions or predictions about what will happen next. Students were given a variety of prompts to help get them started. Some of which include:

  • This is different from …
  • I wish …
  • I wonder if …/  I wonder why…
  • This gives me an idea to …
  • It is hard to believe that…

I also wanted the journal to be a place to also have students reflect on themselves as a reader. As such, they were also given questions to consider. Some of which include:

  • Give your own opinions about issues that have arisen from your reading the book. In what ways has reading this text helped you to better understand some of the issues in the world?
  • Didn’t quite like a book? Why is that? Please share your difficulties and struggles as you read the book or your reason for abandoning it.
  • As you read, what difficulties did you find in understanding the text? What strategies did you use to help you overcome this challenge?
  • How do you know when you are not understanding during reading? What do you notice? What changes do you make?

The goal of the journal is to also help students further develop their writing fluency, confidence, and personal writing style. Students are asked to remember to re-read their work before handing it in; being sure to check for the writing conventions we have spoken about – punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc. 

Due on Friday mornings, the goal is to be able to have at least 3 entries to share with me every week. One of the first questions that I got was about length. “Ms. Lambert, how long does each entry have to be?” I told them that I was looking at quality over quantity and that I really wanted them to take the time to read, and then share with me what they felt about what they were reading. Every weekend, I’ve taken their response journals home and have truly enjoyed reading them.  Sure some have forgotten to hand in their work and others have written anthologies. It’s also really neat to see how excited they are to share them with each other. Many have asked to read them aloud or have me read them. All-in-all, the feedback on our reading response journals has been positive and while there is no grade attached to their response journals, students are taking the time to write and the feedback is leading to an improvement in their writing. I still stick by my feelings against homework but I must admit that I enjoy reading their thoughts on the books they are reading. Speaking of which, I have a stack that I need to get back to!

Stay Home Activities for Kids

Picture of my kids (at 9 & 11 years old) being “bored”

Upon hearing that my students could be at home for up to 3 weeks due to an “extended March Break”, I started putting a list together of “kid” things to do. Once my students discovered I was writing this list, they gave me many more activities to keep kids busy at home.

While putting this list together, it reminded me of when I was young and my own children were young when we had limited access to technology – as a single parent I could only afford a rabbit TV antenna … we got only 4 channels clearly.

I’d like to thank my students for all their suggestions, and together, we always make having fun learning better.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Stay Home Activities for Kids

Make (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1. Invent new things with household items – an invention convention

2. Design and sew clothes – using old clothes and material

3. Cook or bake something (like homemade pizza)

    • ask for adult supervision or help
    • read the recipe
    • make sure you have all the ingredients you need
    • make sure your parents are present when you use the stove or oven
    • ask someone to critique your food

4. Make an obstacle course – challenge yourself, friends and parents to get through it in record time

5. Make popsicles – using fruit and juice

6. Make Best Ever No-Cook Play Dough Recipe

    • 2 cups plain flour (all purpose)
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (baby oil and coconut oil work too)
    • 1/2 cup salt.
    • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar.
    • 1 to 1.5 cups boiling water (adding in increments until it feels just right)
    • gel food colouring or regular food colouring (optional) (I use no sugar Koolaid Mix)
    • Mix together and knead dough

7. Make homemade ice cream

With just a few basic ingredients and a bit of shaking, you will be enjoying individual bowls of ice cream. Making this will allow kids to explore scientific concepts that turn this creamy liquid into a yummy solid.

What You’ll Need:

        • 1 1/2 cups half and half
        • 1 tablespoon sugar
        • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
        • 1/2 cup rock salt
        • 3 cups ice
        • 1 gallon-size zip-top bag
        • 1 pint-size zip-top bag
        • Dish towel

What You Do:

      1. Start by filling the gallon-size zip-top bag with half the ice. Invite your child to sprinkle half the rock salt over the ice and then place the pint-size zip-top bag inside.
      2. Now carefully measure and pour the half and half into the small pint-size bag along with the vanilla and sugar. Make sure the top is tightly sealed!
      3. Pack the rest of the ice around the cream-filled baggie and then sprinkle with the rest of the rock salt. Zip the top, wrap in the dish towel, and get ready to shake.
      4. While your child is shaking away, take a moment to chat about what role the salt plays in the homemade ice cream making experiment. Without the salt, the ice wouldn’t dip below 32F, which isn’t cold enough for making the ice cream. The freezing point of salt water is lower than regular water, so adding all that salt is an essential part of making the cold treat!
      5. Enlist your youngster to keep track of the time and check the bag after one to two minutes of good shaking. Creamy ice cream should be awaiting inside!
      6. Remove the ice cream from the bag of salted ice and enjoy — straight from the bag.

Perform (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Make your own musical instruments with items found around the house – have a musical performance

2. Make puppets – perform a puppet show

3. Kid Karaoke – by playing music and singing along to it

4. Record a stuffed animal performance – using stuffed animals as the cast members

 5. Write and perform a play using a story you know or make up your own story – Don’t forget to write scripts and make props/costumes

6. Play “Pictionary” – by drawing something and having people guess what it is

Build (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Build Structures and analyse it

  • Analyse the forces in the structures – gravity, load, push, pull, forces
  • Take a picture to share

2. Build a fort in your house – take picture to show your friends

3. Build a cardboard box arcade – make up games you’ve played and some new ones

Explore New Things (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Play board games or card games – try a new game you have never played

2. Listen to music you have never heard – like Jazz and Classical

3. Go for Nature Walks – Take pictures of interesting things to present to others

4. Explore your family’s past

  • by asking your parents and grandparent to tell you stories about their lives – I loved hearing my grandparents’ stories and tell them to my adult children now
  • write down these stories so they will be remembered!

Create (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Create your own board game – using spinners (paper clip) and/or dice with play money

2. Create your own recipe – but remember if you make it you must eat it!

3. Create your own card games – remember to write out the rules

4. Create a Kids Art Museum – Draw, paint, make sculptures and put them on a display

Practice (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Calligraphy or practice cursive writing

2. Math Facts Competition

  • ​​​Adding and subtracting to 10, to 20, to 50 to 100,
  • ​​Practice multiplying and dividing by 10 and 100
  • ​​Multiplication tables

​3. French Practice

  • Have a French cafe where everyone must speak French and order food in French
  • Have a French Fashion Show where all clothing is described using French names for clothing and colours

 Media (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Movie Marathon – Watch all the movies from one series such Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Lego Movies, How to Train Your Dragon

2. Watch “old” TV series – The Flintstones, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch

3. Watch “old” kids series – Arthur, Sesame Street, Magic School Bus

4. Listen to audio books for kids – review/talk about the books

5. Listen to pod casts for kids – critique the pod cast

6. Write a journal on news items

  • Topics that interest kids like Covid19, Climate Change, Fashion, Sports
  • Include Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How in journal
  • Include appropriate pictures from the media.
  • This could be a daily journal on what was happening in the world during the pandemic.

7. Watch a movie and review it – Tips to Write Engaging Movie Reviews

  • Watch movies in which your parents approve
  • Take notes while watching the movie
  • Analyzing each part of the movie – plot/story, characters, setting, action scenes
  • Express your opinions and use supporting details of your criticism
  • Watch it again if you need more information
  • Considering audience kids, adults
  • No spoilers please

9. Review a book for a book talk

  1. First name, Where you live
  2. Name of Book, Author(s), Source (where you found it)
  3. Type of Book: (identify genre: fantasy, sci-fi, realistic fiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, historical fiction, journal, folk tale, fairy tale, mystery, legend, etc)
  4. Summary: Summarize the plot in a short paragraph. In your summary, identify the main plot, major conflicts/problems, and how the problems were solved.
  5. Characters: Summarize the main elements of each important character. Evaluate two or three decisions these character(s) made. Highlight three key events that provide insight into the main character(s)’s personality. Chose a minor character and show how he or she was important to the plot, main character, or themes.
  6. Connecting yourself to the book: List several things that you value or that are important to you from the book. List a character’s actions or values. Compare and contrast you list to the character’s list, pointing out similarities and differences. Are you similar or different to the character? Explain why.
  7. Paragraph pulled out: Pick an interesting paragraph from the book and read it to the class. Explain why you liked it.
  8. Recommendation: Do you recommend the book? Why or why not? For what age group or gender? Give reasons to back up your opinion.
  9. Maximum length: one handwritten or three-quarter typed page double spaced. Remember to proof read for conventions (spelling and grammar).

9. Start a Literature Circle (Activities listed below)

Literature Circle Roles for Grade 4 up

PS: I sneaked some real school work activities into this blog!

The Fundamentals of Teaching Balanced Math


Balanced math programs are not something new. Balanced math programs have always taught the fundamentals of math.

Many years ago, the board I teach for released an excellent poster outlining their approach to balanced math. The poster consisted of the importance of teaching: attitudes to math, approaches to instruction/assessment, teaching through problem solving, purposeful practice, basic facts and operational skills, and purposeful use of resources. When I saw the poster I was thrilled to see math pedagogy that aligned with my own teaching practice.

I have taught math from grade two to university level. Regardless of the grade or level of math, I believe there are four fundamental pillars in math instruction:

  1. Real world applications: Math instruction needs to connect to the real world – here students see the purpose of learning math such as measuring the diagonals of a door to ensure it is squarely/correctly installed or calculating how much paint you need to paint a room.
  2. Problem solving: Math should be taught with problem solving – problem solving adds complexity in applying math facts and operations skills within context and especially when connected to the real world.
  3. Practice to develop automaticity: Practicing addition and multiplication facts is not the most exciting part of math but without knowing them, students have to use more of their working memory to figure out the facts. This use of working memory/executive function leaves less space for working on the math that is in front of the student.
  4. Manipulatives/hands-on math: Manipulatives are not just for primary or junior grades, all students need them to make sense of abstract math concepts. I used math manipulatives to teach grade 8 students how to solve algebraic equations. Once the students did this with the manipulatives, they could work out the problems on paper. Even when I took university math courses, I always drew pictures of the math problem so I could understand my task better.

Other boards of education are also promoting balanced math programs. These boards of education may give their math programs a different name, but essentially the programs are similar.

In 2018, jobs that require math pay more than jobs than do not require math. This is a key reason to learn math!

These jobs include scientist, engineer, technologist, electronics specialist, robotics engineer, economist, game designer, roller coaster designer, animator, pilot, sports announcer, professional photographer, financial planner/analyst, cryptographer, research analyst, accountant, lawyer, marketing researcher, real estate agent, software designer/tester, global warming specialist, professional cook, and math teacher.

Math is important to students’ lives. It helps students make sense of the world as well as ways to figure out practical things like managing their money, doing home renovations, and making sense of their cell phone bills.

Do math, teach math, explore math.

If you know of anymore resources to share, please comment below so I can check them out!

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

More Information

Ford wants to get back to basics with math — but educators say balance is best

SEEING AS UNDERSTANDING: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning

York Region District School Board Comprehensive Math Program 

Peel District School Board Balance Math Instruction K-12 Program

Why is it important to study math?

Math Resources for Parents and Teachers

Queens University


Peel District School Board Parent Guide to Learning Math Today

Peel District School Board Engage Math for Parents

Parents Guide to the Fundamentals of Math

Does Homework Work?

The Purpose and Politics of Homework



After teaching for over 18 years, one topic which is frequently addressed in parent/teacher interviews is homework. Often parents see homework as being critical to academic success. It’s a topic often debated and never really resolved, even for me as a teacher and as a parent.

In my teaching practice, parents consistently ask me for homework. They believe that doing homework, such as math sheets, makes their children smarter and better students. Parents often feel that “busy” work, such as math and language sheets should be provided by teachers.

Alfie Kohn, an American author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting, and human behaviour has examined this topic on many fronts. According to Kohn, “no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school {i.e. grades 1 to 6).  In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement” (Kohn, n.d.). In other words, homework is not linked to academic achievement in the early grades. Kohn does mention that in middle and high school, homework does impact math and science achievement, especially in higher socio-economic communities.

As a teacher, for homework, I usually assign 30 minutes of reading every night. But parents often scoff at my suggestion that reading is homework, probably as it produces no visible work. In addition, when assigning journal writing, for homework, it usually does not get done. Parents find it hard to get their children to write a journal … parents state “it is a lot of work because my child resists writing”. Now they have a glimpse into my job as a teacher. I believe that parents want homework to keep their children busy and it reminds them of the days when they did their homework.

I find it frustrating that when I do assign homework like bringing in materials for class projects, it does not happen. Often collecting homework is more work for me, especially when I have to chase after students for it. Ironically, I do not use homework for assessing students because it is completed away from school and may not have been done by the student.

So what is the purpose of homework?

1. Practice: Is the purpose of homework to promote practice of concepts?

Yes, homework can be useful in practicing math concepts or writing in the form of journals. In this case, it is important for homework completion to be advocated by the student. Teachers or parents cannot force a student to do this work. When parents ask me how to make their child complete homework, I often cite the phrase “you can take the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”.

In my own parenting experience, with all my encouraging and some threats, I could not make my son complete his homework. I state this after spending hours working beside my son to get his homework done. In using this strategy, in the end, the responsibility of completing his homework was passed on from him to me … and it was not my homework! When my son entered high school, I gave up on the homework battle and he proceeded not to do his homework on his own. He completed high school and went on to post secondary school where he did not do his homework. My daughter was a different story. She had solid learning skills and a strong work ethic. I only got involved with her homework when she needed help. As a hard worker, she exceeded her brother in her academic success as university is about being smart and working hard.

When I assign homework, as a teacher, I wonder what level of stress I am putting on parents who try to help their children with homework I send home?

2. Completion of work not completed in class: “Work not done in class is homework!”

As a middle school teacher, I have observed two types of students – those who complete work in class and those who socialize in class. The middle school years are an exciting time for students as peers become very important in their lives. Hanging out with friends becomes the main reason for coming to school. Returning from holidays results in many hours of catching up with peers. Due to this very social time in students’ lives, individual and group work assigned in class is not always completed in the timeframe assigned by teachers. This means teachers need to allow more time for work.

As a teacher, it has been suggested by parents of not keeping middle school students on task or not giving enough time to complete assignments. The bottom line for me is that I give plenty of time for work to be completed and do my best to keep students on task. I challenge anyone to keep 30 grade 8 students, with varying academic abilities, on task while helping several other students in need. It’s like trying to herd 30 cats. When parents complain to me about their child’s incomplete work, I state that the student simply did not use class time wisely and needs to finish the work at home.

In my middle school experience, often students need to complete work at home because they did not complete it in class. Several times, students have returned essays and assignments to me that is completed at the “university level” and it is clear that the student did not complete the work on their own.

In the end, homework still remains a contentious topic. As a middle and high school student, I did homework to complete assignments and practice for math tests. I was not an A student at the time, but my homework routine allowed me to develop solid work habits for my future education.

After writing this blog, I still have no clear answers as to the effectiveness of assigning homework probably because each student is different. This school year, I will be assigning math homework as my grade 4/5 students are as keen to do it as their parents are to see it assigned. I’ll reflect on how this year progresses and see if it impacts my teaching and their learning. And I won’t make it too hard so the parents understand it too.

Below are some resources you can share with parents to help them support their child’s learning.


Doing Mathematics with Your Child

Reading and Writing with Your Child


Alfie Kohn Comments about Homework

The H word

Homework board-928381_1280Homework (shudder). It’s like two perfectly decent four letter words have conspired to become super villainous by joining forces. For most students, it’s part of a nightly ritual.

I get it. My parents used it as a polygraph test, of sorts when I was younger, by asking the same question after school each day.
“Did you do your homework?” 

We’ve all had to go through it, but now as teachers we must wrestle with the pros and cons of having to assign it to our learners…or not.

So as the year begins and questions of “To assign homework or not to assign homework?” bandy around staff meetings and grade teams. I want to share some personal thoughts on this 2 x 4 letter word and ask you to reflect on how you use it in your learning spaces?

Homework is not always where the heart is.

I love home, and I like work. For me, home is a place of relaxation, retreat, and support among family. Work is my home away from home. I have a family of caring colleagues and a classroom filled with students in possession of boundless potential. However, when it comes to homework I feel that things have changed since I was a student. My memories of homework hearken back to 1000s of pages of banal reading from largely outdated textbooks which I like to call knowledge coffins, redundant work sheets, and largely irrelevant content which seemed disconnected from my life.

Like all the good learning soldiers in my day. I did it, knowing of no alternatives. I wonder whether we gained any advantage from the discipline in completing assigned tasks, or lost a little of our desire to learn for never asking why we were doing it and where it would matter to me?

In my class when homework is assigned, it must be relevant to a larger idea that requires consideration beyond the classroom. That might mean asking students to lead a conversation at the dinner table or on the way to hockey practice with a captive audience. I remember assigning my Grade 5 Social Studies class the task of asking their parents, “What they would change about the government?” followed by, “Why do we need the government?” the next night. The conversations that resulted allowed students to lead, share, and gather ideas as they build on in class concepts/schema and then were able to take it back home to add on a broader family perspective. When they came back to school their responses were rich, often humourous, and engaging. Mission accomplished.

Some Irreducible Minimums

I do assign something for students every night, 30 minutes, or more, of reading. Don’t judge me! This is non-negotiable. Students do not have to show me proof, but are expected to develop their own positive habits around reading, its genres, and via any media of their choice.

Additionally, I’ve created and assigned flipped lessons using TED Ed as homework. Students view the lesson content, get to look at the guiding questions, and are able to browse additional resources to establish initial understandings on a topic. When we tackle the work the next day, my students are already familiar with the concept having prepared for it the previous night. I can track their progress via the TED Ed Lesson platform and provide feedback and next steps too.

On other occasions I have encouraged students to help out with the dishes or with other chores without being asked. The results have been so positive for everyone after the initial groans. But hey, they groan when you assign homework too. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the purpose of homework? Kids can thank changes in socio-economics, urbanization, and the Space Race.

It’s only since the early 20th century where homework became de rigueur in education. Even then the fervour in its favour continues to ebb and flow. We have to remember most kids were working at home before and after school to help their families. It’s what people did. There wasn’t time especially when there were chores to do.

Nowadays, more and more students enjoy a quality of life, and abundance of free time far removed from their homework deprived agrarian predecessors. Instead, students are filling their evenings with music lessons, participation on one or more sports teams, tutoring, and or second language classes. With all of the extra-curricular activities there is little time left at the end of the day when homework is added into the mix. I’ve had students say to me they couldn’t complete work citing one or all of the above reasons.

In a his post on homework from earlier this year, Mike Beetham shared a powerful experience in his piece Homework or No Homework. I love the consideration he puts into his practice. The final lines of this post serve as guidelines,  encouragement, and validation of the educator’s ability to use professional judgement when it comes to assigning homework.

“Homework for the sake of homework is not a productive component to any student’s learning. It must have a specific purpose that is helping meet the targeted academic outcomes of the classroom.”

How about you? Where does homework fit in with your pedagogy? Do you assign it to placate parents who insist their child have something to do at night? Do you vary the work from subject to subject each night? How do students who are chronically unable to complete homework get supported? Is the work you assign traditional in the sense of reading and responding to questions in writing? Do you post work via electronic classrooms or other apps?

If you’d like to discuss more about this post or learn more about TED Ed please take time to comment and I’d be glad to share more with you.  Reach out via Twitter or below. Thank you for reading this post.

Homework or No Homework?

This is a question that I have asked myself over and over. At different phases of my career I have given myself different answers ranging from they must have homework because that is what good teachers do, to homework is a vehicle that creates problems and turmoil for the families of my students and thus should not be a part of my program.

There is no answer that fits all classrooms or that fits all students. Like every other aspect of my program I have to differentiate according to the needs and circumstances of my students and their families. The following site pinpoints the top 5 reasons for assigning homework and top 5 reasons for not assigning homework (

I am going to share with you an event in my career where assigning homework created a very negative scenario and conflict for a student. This student was a very intelligent, friendly, polite young man who was a pleasure to work with in class. Over the first two months of school he excelled in class but habitually did not complete any home tasks. It got to the point where his lack of responsibility toward homework was seen as a behaviour concern. A few weeks later I became aware that his Mom was in a coma and that his family spent each night by her side in the hospital. My lack of awareness of my student and his home situation created undue and unneeded pressure on him and the family. As a result, homework was not a part of that student’s program.

On the other side of the coin, a student that I am working with this year spends time every night with his Mom reviewing the day’s work along with increased home reading. That has resulted in an accelerated growth in his area of academic deficits. In both cases, my decision to not assign homework to student A, and to assign extra homework to student B was the right thing to do. Homework for the sake of homework is not a productive component to any student’s learning. It must have a specific purpose that is helping meet the targeted academic outcomes of the classroom.

You Don’t Give Homework?!

I think I might be the queen of unpopular opinions when it comes to my teaching philosophy. If you were feeling scandalized by my refusal to acknowledge holidays in my classroom, this post might not be for you. If you think spelling tests and math practice sheets are awesome, this post is definitely not for you. That’s okay! You don’t have to agree with me. This post is all about what works for me and why I do it. It is in no way meant to imply that you should be doing the same.

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I don’t give homework to my students.

Every year, I make sure to tell my students’ families about my homework philosophy (in that there isn’t any) right at the beginning of the year so that they are prepared. My students, of course, are quite excited to learn that I don’t “do” homework. Their families’ reactions, on the other hand, range from “oh thank you, we were so glad to hear you don’t have homework in your class!” to “I don’t think you’re preparing them for the real world by not providing them with homework.”

People feel strongly about homework. Who knew?

Before I get into my reasons for not giving homework out, let me talk about what I consider to be homework in the first place. When I talk about “homework,” I’m talking about Math practice sheets, language work, spelling tests, finishing projects at home, etc. I do NOT consider reading to be homework and absolutely think that all students should be reading at home.

So, why don’t I give my students homework? Here are my top five reasons. I could go on for hours about homework and how I don’t give any, but I’ll save you all from that and limit myself to just these five.

1) You can’t assess anything done outside of school. Without the student completing the work at school, you can’t be certain that the work wasn’t in part done by someone else, meaning it isn’t an accurate reflection of what the child can do independently. Many boards have policies against using homework for assessment.

2) It’s a lot of busywork for the teacher. Preparing homework for students, checking for completion, and marking (if you mark it) all take a lot of time. It’s a lot of work for very little gain, in my opinion.

3) Families are busy. Some of my students have a different extra-curricular activity every night of the week. Many of them are gone on the weekends to sports tournaments, family get-togethers, religious services, etc. Some of my students just have very busy homes where finding time to sit down and work on homework is difficult. I don’t feel right asking all families to somehow make the time to sit down and work on homework when I can’t really do very much with that information anyway.

4) You aren’t there to help the child with the work. In the classroom, you can check in with a student regularly to make sure he or she is headed in the right direction. You can do a lot of course correcting as students work, meaning they don’t have the chance to do too much work the wrong way before you redirect them. At home, you don’t have that benefit; a student could think they understand the directions and spend hours working on something only to find out they did something wrong right from the beginning.

5) Not all families are able to help the child with the work. Language barriers, for one, are huge problems when it comes to some students getting help at home, and it’s unfair to assign work to all students when they don’t all have access to help. There are a lot of reasons why children don’t all have equal access to help at home – language is just one of the most prevalent.


In my opinion (which I keep writing because then I feel like I’m making myself painfully clear that it’s really, honestly, completely okay if you don’t feel the same way), there isn’t anything you can teach a student through homework that you can’t teach at school just as effectively. Many of my colleagues assign homework as a way to help their students develop good work habits or responsibility; that’s great, I’m not denying those are useful things to learn, I just think I can teach them other ways.

I could write about this topic all day, but I’m sitting in a villa in Costa Rica enjoying a much-needed vacation with my whole family (which is a little crazy) before going back to work in January. A glass of wine is calling to me.

Try not to hate me too much when you read that, okay?

I’m curious, though… how do you feel about homework? Do you assign daily practice for your students? How do you mitigate the problems I mentioned above?

Coping With Students on Vacation

At least once a year, I am asked by families to provide work for a student who will be missing several days while on vacation. When I first started teaching, I found myself spending hours preparing heaps of work to cover every single subject the child would miss, preparing packets of math work, French language work, social studies and science readings…

…none of which I could assess, as it wasn’t done at school, and most of which went untouched or unfinished.

It didn’t take me long to realize that doing that was a monumental waste of time. A few years ago, I changed the way I looked at providing work for absent students – primarily thanks to discussions with colleagues about what they do in their classrooms. It’s important to note that you are not required to give students make-up work in any way, even if a parent asks you to do so. Many teachers do, but it isn’t an obligation. Also note that when a child is missing school for a more sombre reason, like family illness or bereavement, I don’t ask them to do anything.

When students are away from school for a week or more in my classroom and their parents ask for work, I ask them to keep a journal of what they do and see. They don’t have to write every day, but they are asked to write in French (as I’m a French Immersion teacher). When they return to school, they have a few days to turn their journal entries into an oral presentation. The presentation provides the student with the opportunity to share their experiences with little stress (because they know the topic of their presentation very well, being something they experienced first-hand) and high interest.

The oral presentation provides me with the opportunity to get a bit of assessment in to make up for the child being away from school for a few days. I do look at the journal entries, but never assess them since they weren’t done at school; the journal entries are primarily a way for the child to remember more of what they did on the trip, serving as notes they can use when preparing their presentation.

It doesn’t sound like much. It isn’t, really, and that’s the key for me; I don’t want to ask my students to do anything which requires them to stop enjoying their family vacation and sit down to do schoolwork. Any work I ask them to do, in my opinion, should be something which doesn’t break them out of the reverie of vacation. It addresses only one strand of one subject area (unless their trip happens to complement another subject area like Social Studies or Science), but I find that Oral Communication, particularly in French, is one of the most difficult strands to make up for.

Everything else, I find, can be made up quickly and easily once the student is back from vacation. With respect to Mathematics, while I can understand the idea behind sending along practice sheets for skills being learned in class while the student is absent, I don’t like to do that. I will often give the student a diagnostic assessment for the lessons they will miss, using that assessment and other observations to inform me on which topics the student will need to review with me upon their return.

Not every parent likes this approach. Some were hoping for more busywork to keep their child busy during downtime. Others feel that their child is missing too much and will be behind upon returning to school. Others still think I’m just being lazy by not preparing more for their child. Quite honestly, I’m not being lazy; I’m just someone who believes that a child on vacation shouldn’t be taking time away from their family to do schoolwork that can be done when they get back to school.

What are your thoughts on providing work for students on vacation? Do you send busywork? Do you do journals? Do you send nothing? Tell me what you do!

Photo of Lisa Taylor

Homework – how much is too much?

Some teachers don’t give any homework, some give lots! There are lots of schools of thought on homework and if it is necessary, if it is valuable, if it serves a purpose, etc. I have had classes that had weekly homework for the whole year, and I have had classes that didn’t get homework once. It all depends on the group and what they need. I find homework is just as much for the parents as it is for the students, sometimes more for the parents! I follow a few important rules when I send homework home:

1. Never send home a new skill or concept that has not already been taught in class. Quickly explaining it in 2 minutes while you hand it out doesn’t count either – make sure the homework is a review of a skill that has already been taught and worked on in class – otherwise you are sending home an exercise in frustration!

2. Never send home something you want to use as an assessment. You can never truly know if it was done independently, nor can you be sure that it is a true reflection of the child’s ability.

3. Never penalize a child for not getting their homework completed – often it is not their fault. They have things going on after school that keep them busy (sports, clubs, etc.) or they are with a sibling or sitter for a while after school and when they do see their parents, that time is too precious to be used working on skills that they have already mastered.

4. When in doubt, send home reading!! This is universal – you know their ability, you have taught them to read the pictures, so even if the words are a struggle, there are other options.

5. Never send something home for the sake of sending something home. Have a purpose in mind. When you get something ready to send home, before you make copies or hand it out, ask yourself, what am I trying to accomplish with this? If it is not helping you to accomplish your goal, don’t send it home. Homework for the sake of homework is frustrating, especially as the parent at home struggling with your child to get it done!!


When  you establish a homework routine, make sure it is that – a routine. If you are going to have homework coming home regularly, be consistent with it. Don’t send things home randomly and expect parents will just know what to do. I often rely on my child to go through her backpack to find things for me, and if she doesn’t come across her homework (or more likely, ignores it), and we don’t see it until we are packing bags for the next day of school in the morning, as a parent, I feel so blindsided. If I know something is coming home, I can make time for it and be ready for it. If something is coming home randomly, make a big deal of it – make note of it in the newsletter, staple a reminder bracelet around my kid’s arm so I know to look for it, or send an email reminder to parents so they know something is coming.

If you differentiate in class, you need to do the same for homework. If you have a child working on an IEP in class and they need extra help with counting to 100 for example, you could be sending home lots of extra counting to 100 activities. You don’t need to send those home to the rest of the class if they have that skill mastered though. If the rest of the class is working on counting to 1000, don’t bother sending those activities home with your student that is on the IEP if they are not ready for that, as it is not part of their IEP goal, and it will again just be an exercise in frustration for that family.

I would often send home words of the week. No spelling test at the end of that week, just words to work on. We would have a word family to work on that week (primary). We would build our new word family on Friday afternoon for the following week and then each student would pick their words to work on and get their list approved by me from our words we created. So if we were doing -ig words, some of the lower kids might have pig, wig, dig, on their list, but some of the stronger kids might go for ignite, enigma, etc. on their list. At the beginning of the year I sent home a tic-tac-toe board that was laminated. In each of the 9 squares there was a different activity (i.e., make your words out of magazine letters, rainbow spell your words, have a family member make your words into a word search and then solve it, etc.). Each week they had to get 3 in a row. They would mark them with a marker and wipe it clean each Friday. This was great as many of them could be done in the car, while parents were making dinner, etc. They were quick easy tasks that were meaningful, and relevant, and the words the kids were choosing were at a level that was relevant to them. It is impossible to make a spelling list that serves all students in your class. This method helps to give your kids more ownership and responsibility over their words. It was always a successful system!


In the end, you need to make sure you are predictable and consistent, you are serving a purpose, and that you are giving them something meaningful that they need to work on. When in doubt, have a reading challenge!