Teachers pilot homework passes

Chloe Fishman, Author

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Students must explain on the pass why they could not complete the homework assignment. Some students cite lack of sleep or extracurricular responsibilities. Eric Bloom, teacher on special assignment for school culture, offered the passes in his class after attending the Stanford event. A large portion of students welcome the chance to use the homework pass in trade for a teacher-student conversation, according to Bloom. Photo by Chloe Fishman.

Students must explain on the pass why they could not complete the homework assignment. Some students cite lack of sleep or extracurricular responsibilities. Eric Bloom, teacher on special assignment for school culture, offered the passes in his class after attending the Stanford event. A large portion of students welcome the chance to use the homework pass in trade for a teacher-student conversation, according to Bloom. Photo by Chloe Fishman.

Certain teachers at Palo Alto High School began offering Homework Passes for assignments last week in order to encourage conversation between teachers and students about homework, life outside of school and more. If results of the pilot are positive with high student interest and constructive feedback, the Homework Pass could become a widespread option at Paly.

Students were allowed to use the pass to extend or excuse an assignment. However, the student was required to have lunch with the teacher who assigned the homework to have a follow-up conversation about why the assignment was not completed or why the student needed more time.

(Left to right) Junior Reid Walters, Principal Kim Diorio, junior Emma Hammerson and social studies teacher Alexander Davis crowd around a whiteboard at the Stanford School of Design. They are brainstorming ideas on how to "hack" school culture, eventually coming up with the idea of the homework pass. Photo by Emma Chiu.

(Left to right) Junior Reid Walters, Principal Kim Diorio, junior Emma Hammerson and social studies teacher Alexander Davis crowd around a whiteboard at the Stanford School of Design. They are brainstorming ideas on how to “hack” school culture, eventually coming up with the idea of the homework pass. Photo by Emma Chiu.

The idea resulted from an event hosted by the Stanford School of Design, at which administrators, teachers and students focused on how to “hack” and improve school culture.

Principal Kim Diorio, who took part in the Stanford event, thinks the homework passes provide great opportunities for students to have honest discussions with their teachers.

“We hear that students can’t speak up, because they’re worried a teacher will retaliate and take it out on their grade,” Diorio said. “For some students, it would provide an opportunity to have an honest conversation with their teacher without that fear of their teacher thinking something bad about them.”

Diorio hopes that teachers will learn more about students’ school and extracurricular schedules.

“It’s the empathy piece,” Diorio said. “How can we, as the adults on this campus, empathize with the students and understand what their experience is like? And then take that information and change teachers’ practices and ways they assign work.”

Teachers formulated a list of questions to ask students and collect data points, according to Diorio. These questions include, how much homework do you have per night? How do you think the homework assigned could better benefit you? What other activities are you involved in that limit your time?

Senior Zoe Tierney is excited about the passes and used it this week.

“As a senior, it can be really challenging to keep up with college apps, homework and production for publications,” Tierney said. “I don’t mind having homework as long as it’s meaningful and is helping me practice the material.”

As a pilot, the homework pass was only available last week by certain teachers to test levels of student interest and its effectiveness at sparking helpful conversations.

This is just the first of many steps in improving school culture. If this homework pass system was effective, Diorio hopes to continue implementing it.

“Maybe we can expand on this,” Diorio said. “The goal is to get more teachers involved and do it on a bigger level.”