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Rich Henderson's Diary
The First 180 Days


Rich Henderson, a lawyer, always dreamed of being a teacher. Last year, he gave up his law career and returned to the classroom to earn his teaching certification. This year, his dream finally comes true in a fifth-grade classroom in suburban Woodbury, Connecticut. Each week during this school year -- Rich's first year in the classroom -- he will share with Education World readers his thoughts and feelings about his first 180 days!

Rich's Diary: Homework!

Week 7

The paper never stops coming. Notes from home, forms, notices, flyers, and book orders are just a few of the many types of paper that are always heading in my direction. I can handle these. Yet, there is one kind of paper that requires special consideration. It multiplies at an incredible rate and requires prompt review for it to be of any value to my students or me. That paper is homework. Even though I am a now a teacher, I can honestly say I still don't like it.

Homework is like a boomerang -- as quickly as you give it out, it comes right back to you. Obviously, I consider homework when I plan lessons. But what is not so obvious is the need to plan for the time to correct and review each piece of homework before moving on to the next lesson. In the first few days of school, I was really good at giving out the homework assignments, but quickly realized that I needed to develop a better management system to review and return the homework as soon as possible.

What I learned over the past several weeks is that I don't need to grade every homework piece with a numerical grade (which I was doing). Some homework may require such a grade, but most does not. As an alternate to the numerical grading system, I have been assessing the effort put into the homework with the check system (check plus, check, or check minus). This allows me to review, critique, and assess my students' homework with an emphasis on their effort.

When students just don't understand a concept on the homework, they should not be penalized by a poor grade if they tried. When they are confused, my students must write on their homework the issues they don't understand and what they did to try to resolve the problem. With this information, we can have a more productive dialogue when we review the homework. By implementing this type of homework grading policy, I have been able to assess students' work, account for their effort, and provide constructive criticism. And I can do all that in a timely fashion.

I always thought I was good at organizing and managing papers, but over the past seven weeks, I have been honing those skills in an effort to make sure that every homework paper that is submitted to me quickly finds its way back to my students. I can honestly say that when it comes to homework, it is better to give than to receive.

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Rich Henderson
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