Thursday, August 20, 2009

Old Homework Papers

What do you do with old homework papers? During the school year my boys pile up their old homework papers in a cabinet. By the end of the school year these piles are usually around 12 inches high. Then they take one day during the summer to sort through these papers. But, they always moan and complain when I ask them to do this.

I ask them to save anything that was meaningful to them as they sort through the huge stack. They usually end up with some small assortment of writing samples, artwork, tests/assignments that got high grades, cards from friends and teachers, etc. Their piles of papers reduce down to about 2-3 inches high, small enough to put into a 3-ring binder. They now have a collection of 3-ring binders, one from each school year, sitting on the shelves in our family room.

Every once in a while they look through these binders. I ask them what they think. Are they proud of any of their work? Did they enjoy any of these assignments? Did they learn a lot from all this work?Their answers are usually negative. “I hated doing this assignment.” “Look at this big packet and I don’t even remember any of it.” “I want to burn this!” “What a waste.” “I worked so hard and she only gave me a C on this.” Etc… Occasionally they are proud of their work (like projects, or artwork, or an assignment they got a high grade on) and remember it fondly.

Why do I ask them to make these homework binders? I am a huge fan of portfolios and the schools my boys have attended don’t really use them. So, this is my version of their school portfolio for each year – a binder with self-selected works in it that shows effort, participation, improvement and, hopefully, some learning.

The other reason I have them do this is that it helps my youngest if he struggles with certain subjects. He can go to his older brother’s binder, and look up his work, tests, or papers and get ideas to help him get through the subject when he takes it. Often, if they have had the same teacher, the tests will be identical and he’ll be able to study from them. I don’t consider this cheating. I consider it making the best of a bad situation. If a teacher gives the same test year after year, in my opinion, she isn't putting forth her best effort and is most likely uninspired. That is a shame.

In my ideal world, students would not bring home piles of homework papers they want to throw away, but instead would bring home, at the end of the school year, their own student-made textbooks and/or portfolios, ready-made to display proudly on the family room bookshelf. And these books would have been made during class time, NOT during family time after school or on weekends.


  1. How eloquently written. We do the very same thing and I have one son who wants to save everything every year, and one son who just says, throw it all out (at least in the last few years). Why do I feel quilt when I throw out their papers, tests and assignments? Is it because I know how much effort it was, how much time they took at home to put their heart and soul into it to have the teacher look it over to make sure it's complete. Where is the feedback (positive and/or negative) at the very least so my kids know the teacher read what they spent so much time on? Kerry, keep on bloging, I find your writing thought provoking and interesting.

  2. I love your ideas. I keep everything in a memory box and we occasionally look back on their work. It seems the kids really love this!

  3. I love this idea. I actually found my husband's preschool portfolio of artwork. His Mother has saved it all these years. She didn't make it, the teacher organized it as a classroom project. How wonderful for our family to have this so neatly saved. It really is the best way.

  4. Having your child "study" by reviewing the tests that your older child took from the same teacher is cheating. Rationalizing it and blaming it on the teacher does not change that fact. If you do not agree, then discuss the practice with the teacher in question and see what they think. If your first reaction was, "oh, no, I can't tell the teacher", then you knew this was inappropriate without me having to suggest it.

  5. I actually DID tell the teacher, and his resource teacher and the principal at his IEP meeting. I wanted them to know! Any homework or test prep that can be cheated on isn't a good assignment, in my opinion. If kids were assigned more individualized work that really met their own needs then the assignments would be more in line with their specific learning goals.

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