An inquiry into homework


It comes as no surprise that the issue of homework in elementary classrooms is quite the hot topic these days. In thinking about starting my year back in the classroom I decided that I – like many other teachers around the world -was going to outlaw homework!

… then I began to reflect on my decision and wondered if choosing for everyone not to have homework, was any better than choosing for everyone to have homework. Either way you slice it, I as the teacher, was the owner of that decision and that was something I was no longer comfortable with in trying to achieve more democratic classroom.

So I decided to take a collaborative approach and invite students and parents in on the decision making. Here is how it went!

Tuning In

Before delving too deep I wanted to tune into what students already thought about homework. So I posted “agree”, “disagree”, “sometimes” and “I’m not sure” around our classroom and I projected the following quote:

“Homework is essential to learning”

There were a range of responses and as students shared the reasoning behind their opinions, many students shifted from one group to the next.


Then I invited students to watch this Alfie Kohn interview to provoke their thinking about homework. They backchannelled throughout the video to share their thoughts, questions and connections.

Finding Out

After that, I told them that they would be deciding if they had homework – together with their families – but in order to make an informed decision we had to explore all the perspectives surrounding homework. To help with this we used to Visible Thinking Routine – Circle of Viewpoints.


Then we divided into teams that would each inquire into a different perspective. Each team had a different approach to collecting data:

The “student” team posted a Twitter poll and collected tallies at recess.


The “parent” team sent a Google Form home to all the parents.


The “teacher” team walked around the school and collected quotes from teachers about homework.

The “administrator” team sent the principal, assistant principal and superintendent an email.

The “media” team explored articles and videos I shared with them.

The “other schools” team browsed this school’s blog about their homework inquiry.

The “our school” team looked at the homework policy in the school handbook.

Sorting Out

Once all the teams had their data they had to go through it and decide what was important, what was worth taking note of and how they were going to consolidate and display it.

Some wrote a summary:


Others used graphs:


Some used statistics:


Others used quotes:


Some used hyeperlinks:


Others used photos:


Making Conclusions

Then we put it all together and emailed this Google Slideshow home to our families. From there, families explored all the perspectives together and made a decision about whether or not they wanted homework in Grade 4.

Final results: 9 chose homework 14 chose no homework

Taking Action

I pulled together the 9 students that opted to have homework this year and together we used the Start With Why framework to make a plan.

First students focused on why they wanted homework, then how they wanted it to work, then finally what specifically they would do to accomplish those goals.


Some students made themselves choice boards:


Other students planned out each night of the week:

image image

Next, I provided feedback about their plan and then they brought it home to get feedback from their parents as well.

Now we are finally ready to put these differentiated, student-led, family supported homework plans into action!

My Reflections

  • there was so much math and literacy in this inquiry
  • it was a great way to explore the concept of perspective
  • the format allowed for students to express their discovers using new literacies and multimodalities
  • the parents were amazing partners in this inquiry

Now that it is all over, I can rest assured that the students and families who want homework have it and the students and families who don’t want homework don’t have it. Everyone is happy and the ownership and control rests with the learners themselves… as it always should.

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SPT Conferences: Lost & Found

Originally published in my blog Ser y Estar:


Conferences have always represented a moment to emphasize the importance of the relationship that must exist between learners, teachers, and parents. Most importantly, I have always regarded these occasions as an opportunity to, collaboratively, move away from practices that destroy the learning spirit of a child; from ideas that cause us to lose a learner; from generalized agreements / assumptions of what cause false expectations, and cause us to ignore that children and all of us, for that matter, are not the same people we were in the last conference. Reflection is transformational and visualizing its impact should be the goal of all conferences.

Clearly, I love talking about learning and achievements, and about learning targets. Nonetheless, my favorite part of conferences is the human, socio-emotional aspect, because…

It’s important to remind parents that:

  • their children are kind.
  • their children arrive at school with a smile on their faces
  • words such as thank youplease, and would you mind, among others, are part of their everyday language.
  • their children can be the best kind of communicators as they exercise active listening.
  • their children see their peers as equal and support they wholeheartedly.
  • their children are brave when they take chances to explore learning opportunities that some find indomitable.
  • their children have a voice that makes others turn around and hear them.
  • their children constantly look for different ways of doing things.
  • learning with their children give us moments to reflect on what it means to learn for life.
  • all processes are learning opportunities for us teachers and that, conversely, it implies a learning curve for them.

Most importantly, I feel, these occasions are important because parents need to be given a stimulus to go extend the dialogue at home, to deepen the inquiry, and to make home feel like an extension of the school: a safe space where the way one perceives the world matters; and where there is room for different perspectives.

In this past conferences at my school, not only was I impressed by how eloquently my grade 7 students spoke about their learning process, and explained to their parents how they perceive their growth. Needless to say, seeing the stories that were born in parents’ eyes as their witnessed how their children talk about learning was my biggest take away.

Las week, as I spoke to parents and students, I was happy to see how my advisees, their children, helped me sent their parents home knowing they had found a side of their children they may or may not have thought they’d lost or didn’t know existed.

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Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores With My First Grader?

This post was originally published here. I’d like to also add that since I wrote it, I have come across the video below, “Animal School” by Raising Small Souls. As a parent and teacher, it makes me further consider whether our good intentions to help our children grow can bring unintended negative effects as we push and push–and what can unfold when we instead patiently pull.

“What I’m saying is, when we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards as the purpose of childhood, all in furtherance of some hoped-for admission to a tiny number of colleges or entrance to a small number of careers, that that’s too narrow a definition of success for our kids.” (Julie Lythcott-Haims‘ TED Talk)

This quote comes to mind as I review my 6 year-old’s first academic report from the first month of school. I look at the paper and wonder what I should with it (besides discussing it with my daughter, as per the instructions at the bottom).

Should I high-five her or take her out for a treat because she has high scores in literacy? If we did that, what exactly would we be celebrating? The scores or the literacy? And if we celebrated scores when she has only ever read or written because she loves reading and writing, would she start loving the scores more than the reading and writing?

Should I have her stop writing so many stories after school to make way for more math practice because her scores aren’t quite as high there? If we did that, what exactly would we achieve? Raised math scores? Lowered writing scores? A sense of pressure associated with mathematics?

All these thoughts swirled as I obediently reviewed the report with her, when suddenly, she stopped me and asked, “Why are you telling me all these numbers?”

It made me stop and wonder, why was I? Was I conveying the idea portrayed in educator Edna Sackson’s comic below?


So far, scores don’t mean anything at all to her. She simply sees herself as a reader, writer, mathematician, scientist, thinker, and artist. Why should I should I get in the way of that by pushing her, when there is already such a strong intrinsic pull toward learning? As Edna also so eloquently shared years ago,

“School is often about push. Push to succeed. Push to get high grades. Push to achieve. Push to fit in. Push to participate. Push to comply. Push to work harder.

But the above might not be the most motivating ways to engage students and promote learning…

Learning is about pull. A strong provocation that awakens curiosity. A powerful central idea that excites interest. Essential questions that draw students into meaningful learning. Learning experiences that encourage wondering, exploring, creating and collaborating. Opportunities to construct meaning and transfer learning to other contexts.”

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the report and I deeply appreciate all her teacher’s efforts in conveying her progress. The comments regarding her behavior were especially valuable in our discussion.  And had her numbers conveyed concerning trends (ie, consistently low scores and signs of significant struggling), I would be anxious to be aware in order to work with the teacher for interventions and support.

But for now, she learns because of her intrinsic love of learning. And I’m happy to continue to provide opportunities at home (and hear about those that occur at school) that continue to help pull that interest and enthusiasm.  

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Stop, Pause, Inquire

Just recently, I’ve had to stop and pause in our mad rush to get everything done: the rush to bring the students up to speed in their conceptual math understanding; to read with passion, to engage in our calming, writers’ workshop flow and to kick off our new unit.

But stop and pause…There’s some authentic inquiry and action happening and I’m not listening…

My teaching partner told me in passing that the students had been complaining about the cafeteria food. In their mother tongue, Bengali, they had been thinking about how the food isn’t good and how there’s so much food thrown away. They thought maybe the cafeteria was loud because students weren’t busy eating the food.  They even thought they might write a letter to see if they could take some action about it.

When I heard about it, I was in a rush. We were on our way to a meeting, coming from another meeting. We were completing planners, doing paperwork. I casually said that maybe they could work on some of their Bengali writing skills by writing a letter to the principal.

And then, I stopped and paused. Wait.

Our students were just coming up with their own authentic inquiry: their own passion and call to action, and it almost slipped by. My teaching partner had told me that the students were upset and engaged. They were trying to make connections and already thinking forward to action. They actually were practicing their process of analysis, which we had just learned and practiced in our last unit.

And I almost missed it.

So now…to incorporate their passion. We need to make time for their inquiry. We need to help guide them in their research into the issue–surveys, observations, interviews, talks with the administration and board. We need to show them how to slow down to analyze this issue their concerned about. And then we need to let them evaluate different ways to take action.

I remember when my 5th graders in Yokohama took their-own initiated action in a water bottle protest. It took us over the course of months, incorporating math, language, tying in with units, and everyone remembered it as being one of the best learning experiences.

This inquiry could be similar…and I almost missed it.

Stop, pause, inquire…It’s what authentic learning is all about.

Originally published on Solid Ground.

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Inquiry is the answer, what are the questions?

Inquiry is the answer, what are the questions?

This quick task was assigned to a group of teachers at a recent workshop on inclusion, highlighting how a simple, open-ended provocation can provoke curiosity, allow access for learners with diverse learning needs and simultaneously assess knowledge and understanding.

Many of the questions, based on a view of inquiry as a stance, were evidence of our strong beliefs about inquiry learning…

  • How can we make learning successful for all?
  • What is it called when we learn by questioning and investigating?
  • How might we ensure child centred learning?
  • How can we encourage students to take responsibility for their learning?
  • How do children learn best?
  • What approach to learning is most inclusive?
  • How can we make learning engaging?
  • What approach to learning fosters learner agency?
  • How do we open doors to collaboration, construction of new knowledge and development of skills?
  • What type of school learning emulates real life learning?
  • What helps us to learn about the world around us?
  • What encourages us to become life long learners?
  • What helps us to construct meaning?
  • How can I move forward in my learning?
  • What can help me discover my interests and passions?
  • How do children become knowledgable, contributing citizens of the world?

and my favourite, addressed to adults who all learned in a more traditional, direct way:

  • What was missing in your education?

What would your questions be?

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Modelling being explorers on an expedition…

This post is cross posted from my personal blog.

Graham Baines (aka @PYPChef) shares a great blog post that questions whether the PYP Exhibition should be viewed as an exhibition or an expedition. It raises a great question – one that makes us carefully consider the way in which we name processes. We chat about it informally in a year level meeting in the morning and then we all head off in different directions.

I feel fortunate that I get to spend my days with lots of children and lots of teachers, in different classes. The first class  I  go into today is discussing the five essential elements of the PYP for their personal inquiries. They spend a great deal of the time thinking about what action means. They decide that it is when something changes …

So, when I go into another Year 6 class later in the day, the action I see, taken by the teacher to start, is like a ray of sunshine in the day. She has taken the discussion from earlier in the day (exhibition vs expedition) and she has asked the children to discuss what they think their learning is about.

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I have to say … there is no doubt in m y mind that the Year 6 teachers are taking action! They are modelling what it means to be inquirers and they are true example of what explorers on an expedition do, before they share in their exhibition!

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Student led conference preparation

This post was cross-posted from my personal blog.

I started writing this post a year ago and for some reason, I never published it. I guess it’s good to go back and reflect – and add to what was …

There’s been much hype about these conferences (or are they three way interviews? I forget!) We have had our Teacher Coach  (@jocpyp) share her thoughts in preparing our staff and she kindly shared her Power Point with some really helpful questions for parents to ask their children during the conference.

Parent questions

I’ve read blog posts, among them some by Sam Sherratt and Hailey Joubert  and one shared by Jocelyn; and I’ve done these with kids before. Successfully. And where students have spoken confidently, using their examples of their learning as evidence.

Today, my class and I discussed the process. No one mentioned having done them before. I brought up our learning principles and we threw ideas around about how our learning connects to these.This isn’t new to the children and links were readily made.Children spoke about using the PYP attitudes and they dived into their thinking.

So many of them focussed on the product. They wanted to create a presentation for their parents. No matter what questions I asked, the were determined to create the presentation. So, I stood back and “allowed them to play the game”.

I am really thankful that I began this preparation with them well in advance.I am hoping that they will get to understand that a presentation has a purpose. Is this meeting with their parents the time for that or is it the time for conversation, using pieces of learning as evidence, when required, to share the insights about themselves as learners, their progress at school and their thoughts about how they shall be moving forward?

I guess that we are all about to find out …

The night was great! I loved listening to the children. Very few needed me to ask questions to help guide the conversation.

Two fathers (coincidentally both university professors) quizzed me after their child’s session. “How did you get my son to think like that?” one probed.

The other said, “I have been trying all year to get uni students to reflect. My ten-year old son has just done everything I am trying to achieve with those adults. HOW ?”

I guess the conversations in class paid off!

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