Guest Post by Andrew from Match Next
Part of our nightly homework includes 45 minutes of reading a book-of-choice. Checking whether this got done, though, is tricky. We end up relying on kids self-reporting how much they read and on looking at their Kindles (or paper books) to see if they reached their nightly progress goal. A kid who hasn’t done the reading can pretty easily game the system by flipping ahead in their book and lying.
We may have found a tech solution for this. It’s a feature on the new Kindles called FreeTime that let’s us monitor their reading activity by recording when they turn the pages and how long they spend on the device. Completely eliminates us relying on kid self-reporting.
So what is FreeTime and how do we rate it?
It’s a Kindle feature that lets users track the amount of reading a kid does each day. You can see information like how many minutes a student read, how many pages they got through, or how many words they looked up.
Overall, I’d give it a 7 out of 10. It seriously eases the problem of relying on a kid having to self-report how much they read the previous night, and it helps our tutors spend less time having to figure out how much a kid actually read.
It’s not perfect, though. It makes it much harder to load books onto a student’s Kindle by adding an extra 3 steps to the book loading process (this almost means it takes more time) Also, a kid can still flip ahead in their books on the Kindle. If they flip ahead slow enough, while playing a video game for instance, a kid could theoretically trick an adult into thinking she really did her reading (we actually think this is a pretty unrealistic scenario, but it’s still possible for a kid to do this to get out of doing their homework).
I tested FreeTime on 4 of our consistent reading non-completers, and showed 2 of tutors how to use it and assign goals/books to kids. We had to iron out a few kinks early on (e.g. kids couldn’t access the books they had to read), but eventually we got it doing what we needed it to do. Now, one of those tutors who’s been using FreeTime with a chronic homework non-finisher says it’s “one of the most helpful tools she’s used all year - a total game changer,” because she never has to wonder whether her student actually did the work or not. It worked beautifully with these smaller groups, and we’d like to scale it up for our entire class to use, but can’t just yet - more on this later.
How we normally check homework
Right now, we check homework by looking at their Kindle to see how far they got, and checking a parent signature sheet that says ‘my kid did their homework.’
The parent sheets are tricky. On one hand, we want to make a nightly check-in with parents and kids around homework a routine. On the other hand, parents are understandably unreliable reporters of whether their kid did the reading or not. They face the same challenge we do – relying on the kid to be honest about whether they did the homework. The only way to be completely sure is to sit there and watch a child read for the full 45 minutes, but few parents have the time for this, and even then, you can’t be completely sure the kid is actually reading.
If a student brings a signed parent sheet and is on her assigned location, then we count the homework as complete. If the student forgets the parent sheet, the tutor does a little digging, like having the student summarize what happened in last night’s reading, predict what’ll happen next in the story, etc. Even then it’s still hard to tell if they really spent the full 45 minutes reading.
How we assign homework using FreeTime
Tutors assign a ‘time’ goal directly on a student’s FreeTime account. Then, FreeTime tracks the student’s page turns while they read. The next morning, the tutor can then go onto a student’s FreeTime dashboard to see how many minutes they read for, and how many pages they read. Here’s what that dashboard looks like:
You can track other things too, like total time spent on a book or how much progress a kid has made. Here’s what that screen looks like:
Problems with it
Two annoying things about FreeTime.
1. Loading books onto the account is incredibly cumbersome. It takes an extra 3 steps to add a book so that the book can be tracked by FreeTime. This adds at least an extra 2-4 minutes to a process that normally takes no more than 1 minute. Multiply this by 50 kids, which turns into way too much wasted time.
2. You can only have 4 FreeTime accounts on a single Kindle account. Since we have one Kindle account that holds our entire library, we can’t currently use this with every kid’s device unless we created a bunch of individual accounts. Possible, but another time-suck..
Overall, we’re very excited about this software. With a few tweaks it could literally solve the classic ‘did you really do your reading homework’ problem.
if you’d like to talk shop: firstname.lastname@example.org