Teacher Valerie Grimes of Phoenix, Arizona, discovered a unique way to add interest to homework assignments and get parents involved. Whether it is cooking, shopping, or going on a trip, once per month students design their own assignments and report to the group about their activities. The kids say that this technique allows them to be creative and teaches them responsibility. Will it work in your classroom? Included: Learn more about the types of assignments Grimes's students have selected!
When Valerie Grimes saw that her fourth- and fifth-grade students were becoming disenchanted with the day-to-day homework assignments they were receiving in her classroom, she found a solution -- have the students design their own homework!
"I started by sending home a letter to parents at the beginning of school explaining that once a month, in lieu of an assignment that I made, the students could instead bring in their own homework project," Grimes told Education World.
Grimes instructed her students at Creighton School in Phoenix, Arizona, to create assignments that "required some thought." The students also had to be prepared to share what they had learned through their self-designed activities. When they submitted their projects, the students received credit for a regular homework assignment of their choice.
"My primary goal was to help my students begin to think of school and home life as interwoven, and to view learning as a lifelong activity," said Grimes.
Most students loved these self-generated assignments more than the everyday homework, said Grimes. "I think they felt these were more meaningful. Generally speaking, the more creative and bright the youngster, the more he or she embraced the project."
In order to make the student-made projects as successful as possible, Grimes established a few guidelines:
To share their projects, most students read the written compositions aloud to the class and answered any questions classmates or the teacher asked. To Grimes, this sharing was very important because it provided a constant flow of new ideas.
Grimes was impressed with the variety of ideas her students dreamed up. "We would sometimes have long periods of repetition, and then suddenly something new and inspirational would be introduced," she explained. "The kids never failed to astonish me with the original ideas! I began putting a code in my grade book next to the first to introduce the idea."
Grimes has many favorites among the design-your-own homework assignments students completed. One of those was the family tree one student designed. He had been reading a book about the topic and spent a great deal of time in developing his own. He used the class's large whiteboard to illustrate it.
"That whiteboard wasn't my own again for nearly a month as half the class scrambled to make their own family trees, and of course they all wanted the use of the whiteboard too! Somehow it became a tradition that the tree remained up all day. It was a lot of work to merely erase it a few minutes later!"
Wondering what some of the other student-created assignments were? See more of the projects in the endbar at the bottom of this story.
Grimes, now a reading specialist in her school, misses the opportunity to give more assignments that students create themselves. A few of her former students told Education World about their projects and what made them enjoyable.
"What made the work different was that it was a choice, not an obligation," said Alice B. "Choice can mean a lot to a kid, since it often feels like we don't have any say. What I learned was to be responsible for what I do and that consequence always follows a choice you make."
Through her self-designed homework, Alice discovered a passion for creative writing. Now she plans to be an author when she grows up!
Other students plunged into science experiments. "My favorite assignment was when I dissected an Easter egg that had been left outside for three days," recalled Tana G. "It had experienced both rainy and sunny weather. I learned that the egg did not change much. Except for the color. The sun had bleached the yellow color out of the top. It tasted almost exactly like the eggs that come out of your refrigerator. The only difference was that it was warm, and it didn't have salt on it!"
Desiree K. appreciated the trust Grimes displayed by having the students implement their original activities. The opportunity provided freedom and responsibility at the same time. "My favorite assignment was when I wrote about playing video games with my brothers, and I had to always beat the total score," said Desiree. "I would add up the scores in my head before the computer on the screen. I got really good at mental math that year!
"I would recommend this assignment because it helped me learn math addition skills in a fun way," added Desiree. "But it also helps in other ways. Teachers can learn something. They learn how the students' minds work."
While student-designed homework can give new life to class assignments, Grimes warns that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
"One year when I attempted to do this more often, it kind of fell flat," she said. "The assignments became very uninspired and the kids themselves wanted to return to teacher-assigned homework. I went back to the once-a-month requirement."
Grimes encourages teachers to give this type of assignment a chance on a monthly basis. She added, "I learned a great deal about my students from doing this, and it was an excellent home-school link to encourage parental participation."