I was chatting with Mike Cohn last summer at Agile 2005 about user stories.  He told me how he applies some of these techniques to his kids.  This got me thinking - what is important to me, as a parent, when it comes to my kids homework.

  1. I want to know what assignments are active, pending and complete
  2. I want to know the measured quality of the work turned in and the time spent on each assignment.
  3. I want my daughter to have a sense of ownership when it comes to her deliverables

I did not want to invent a new proprietary system in solving these.  I thought to myself, if user stories work for the team at work, why not at home?

So, want to get your kids up and running using user stories applied for homework? Read on.

Required Tools:

  • A cork board, hung in a public place where your child frequently visits (in front of the TV might just work for some).
  • Multi-colored 3x5 cards
  • Pencils
  • Thumb tacks or push pins

The Exercise:

Every Monday (in our case, our daughter only gets homework on Mondays, so this is any day your child gets a new assignment) we have Ashley write down each of her homework assignments on a single note card.  Different subjects get different colors, like red for math - easy enough.

Each card gets the following attributes:

  • Assignment name
  • Estimated time to complete
  • Date due

Once complete with the assignment, she will add the following information:

  • Actual time to complete
  • Actual date turned in
  • Grade (once provided by the instructor)

She is free to add additional items on the card, like where she found the information, how she liked the assignment, and so on.  On the board, create three areas - "Queued (or pending), Active, Completed".  This allows you (and her) to see what the backlog of work is, how much work your child has bitten off at any given time and how much work has been completed over time.

Sounds a bit crazy, I know.  We want her to learn to be accountable her herself and to her work.  We want her to see that the effort she puts in may not give her the grade she desires (quality and reward) and that next time she should work harder.  This helps her realize that when she puts in 30 minutes to some work, does a crap job at it and then gets a poor grade, she is the only one she can cry to.  We coach her along the way, but ultimately we leave what "done" means to her.  Granted, we can coach a littler harder from time to time when she's off in la-la land.

You get the point.  Try it out with your kids and let me know how it goes.