Ways to Involve Caregivers: Homework and the Writing Workshop

Homework Mini Series

This week, four of the TWT co-authors are taking on homework. As a team, we’ve done a lot of thinking about the idea of homework in both elementary and middle school classrooms. These blog posts represent our latest thinking about homework.

As a parent, I’m coming to the end of my homework years. My fourth daughter is a sophomore in high school, and she does most of her homework at her desk in her room. Occasionally she shares a project or asks me to read her writing, but nightly reading is more like monthly, and the days of checking homework folders are a distant memory. It’s funny–all of my girls share their writing with me now as college students. One is a writing minor, so there’s a LOT of it. But–I don’t remember sharing writing experiences at home when they were in elementary school. Maybe we did, and I don’t remember, but it reassures me that they don’t remember either.

I wish we had.

As my co-authors have suggested in their preceding posts, homework can take many different forms. This post stretches the concept of writing homework to more family connectedness.

Back in May, I wrote a post about how parents and caregivers can help with children’s writing, and all of these ideas apply to ways of rethinking homework. At the risk of repeating myself, I am sharing many of these ideas again, but from the viewpoint of how teachers could transpose them to become a homework assignment that involves caregivers.

Some possible homework assignments that involve caregivers:

  1. Tell someone at home your story. Make sure you include a beginning, a middle, and an end. Work really hard to include the details that interest your listener. You might even try out different voices when different characters are talking.
  2. Ask a caregiver to tell you one of their favorite stories from growing up. You can suggest the same sorts of prompts we’ve learned in class–times they had strong emotions such as fear or anger, first times, times they were really proud, times they bled– Ask them questions about their stories and challenge them to add some elaboration strategies we’ve learned–maybe some talking, description, action, or inner thinking–in order to really bring that story to life.
  3. Go on a household hunt for all the different forms of writing that people in your house create. It could be lists, emails, texts, letters–write down what you find, and be ready to talk about why people in your household write.
  4. Tell someone in your household all about something you know. Work really hard to keep your teaching organized so your listener learns some of what you know.
  5. Try to talk your caregiver into allowing you to do or get something they’ve been saying no to. Work hard to use words such as one reason, another, for example, this is important because– Come back and let us know your response.
  6. As you are reading, find something the author did that you admire, and explain the craft move to a caregiver.

When I started slicing several years ago, I ceremoniously bought all my family members writer’s notebooks, and we made slicing part of our dinner ritual. I had initial resistance, but once the girls realized I wouldn’t back down, we had wonderful nights writing and sharing posts. Even my father who was still with us at the time participated, and I still have his notebook. His Alzheimer’s prevented a lot of interaction, and writing was a way he could connect with us. My assignment to the family was five minutes of writing, but the sharing, questions, and laughter that followed kept us around the table for longer, and we all valued that time! My girls know that a slice of life is something that happened over the course of a day that stayed with you. Here’s an easy way to explain it:

  • What is a slice? a story about a small snippet of the day, a poem, a description of a setting, a memory
  • What is not a slice? a book review, an informational text, a list that doesn’t tell a story, a text that doesn’t tell a story.

If you can inspire any of your families to initiate the ritual of writing together in much the same way we read together, it’s a wonderful homework assignment–even if it’s once a week–and I know you will see the benefits in your classroom writing culture and learning environment.

Any of these homework assignments will flourish even more if caregivers understand some of the concepts of writing workshop. While many schools host literacy nights, the emphasis is usually on reading. Dana Murphy, a former TWT co-author,  inspired me to create a Family Write Night after her presentation at NCTE in 2014. She provides practical tools and tips about her Write Night here. Catherine Flynn, another TWT Slicer, writes about her Family Write Night here. I have also hosted Family Write Nights in schools, and these are wonderful ways to introduce caregivers to the concepts of writing workshop. The emphasis of these events are to educate caregivers about what they can do to support their children as writers, and whenever we partner with parents and families, children benefit.