The great homework debate. In my years of teaching, I've been just as guilty as anyone of assignment "busywork" for homework. Because I had to do busywork for homework, something compelled me to assign the same stuff to my students otherwise I felt like I wasn't being hard enough.
Then I had a student - Jackie, who is now herself an aspiring high school teacher - wrote a persuasive paper in College Comp talking about the great homework debate.
Her main point was simple: I don't mind doing homework - and here is the kicker - when it's meaningful . . . when it actually teaches me something . . . not when it is just something the teacher is going to check off as done and assign a completion grade to and hand back.
That actually caused me to re-think my homework assignments. And when I examined them, I found plenty of meaningless busywork.
Here is what I found - just because the textbook or curriculum company designed the worksheet to foster learning, it doesn't mean that it does.
Furthermore, just because I was thinking "if students do this worksheet, they will understand the concept better," doesn't mean that it will foster learning.
I saw KoKo bring home tons of homework when she first began high school. None of it was personalized to her or interesting for her. I often sat down at our kitchen table to grade papers while she did her homework. It was interesting to me - as a teacher - but I saw her hurrying through it just to get it done (a classic sign of busywork).
See, when the homework is just a one-size-fits-all worksheet, students don't see it as relevant.
All KoKo saw those worksheets as were hoops she had to jump through before I'd let her go on Facebook.
So now when we do homework, I try to always make it personalize (I do that by as often as I can leaving the assignment open ended so the students can personalize it, such as the homework assignment students are working on this weekend - write about a best moment related to a passion or hobby. All students got the same essay topic, but they are free to approach it in any number of ways about any number of topics . . . all relevant to them. I can't do that with a word find related to Ch. 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird . . . and I've given those assignments and they are busywork. Even I know that).
Here is a very interesting article from one of my favorite people in education today, Will Richardson, "Stop Innovating in Schools. Please."
This section is spot on -
But on balance, is all of this “innovation” really changing us?
Not so much. Our efforts at innovating, regardless of method, idea, or product, have been focused far too much on incrementally improving the centuries old structures and practices we employ in schools, not on fundamentally rethinking them. And the vast majority of “innovation” I’ve seen in my visits to schools around the world doesn’t amount to much change at all in the area where we need it most: using those new methods, ideas, or products to shift agency for learning to the learner. To put it simply, innovation in schools today is far too focused on improving teaching, not amplifying learning.
S - substitution. Some just use technology to substitute another form of technology. An example would be listening to a novel on iTunes as you read it.
A - augmentation. Some just use technology as improve their curriculum a little bit more than simply substituting one tool for another. An example of this would be reading a book on a Kindle, which allows you to look up words or see what others have highlighted, instead of reading a book.
M - modification. Some use technology to actually enhance the learning experience. An example is using Google Docs to post discussion questions on that student can access any time and post responses. Another example is using a site like TED Ed to personalize any video related to your content.
R - redefinition. Some use technology to create a new type of learning experience that couldn't have existed previously. An example is using FaceTime or Skype to interact with an author or historian. Or using FaceTime or Skype to set up a question and answer session where students can FaceTime with a teacher on any homework problems they're having. Or how I have recently tried to redefine feedback on writing in my class is by using Google Drive to give immediate feedback on my students' writing as they compose in my class.
Most schools today are in such a rush to innovate that they forget not jus about whether the new tools (whether those tools be technology related or curriculum based) that they forget what kind of experience those tools are fostering for teachers and students.
What I love about Richardson's article is that he believes students need to stop adding new gadgets every couple years and get back to the real concept of education: creating life-long, passionate learners by FIRST finding out what turns them on and they enjoy. We examine their curiosities and questions. THEN we use that passion and energy as a bridge to what we have to offer them.
I believe if you do that correctly, it doesn't matter if every single student in your school has a MacBook Air, a Chrome Book, a Kindle, or just a tablet . . . they will have something far more important - a passion and desire to learn. Sometimes we have that backwards - we often think the newest gadget is going to poster that passion and desire to learn . . . which it doesn't because that was never there in the first place.
In this way, the gadget just become yet another distraction.
When we read The Element by Ken Robinson in College Comp, we talk a lot about "flow." If you've been living under a rock, "flow" is that state you find when you're really focused on working to accomplish something personally meaningful to you (like right now. I've been working on this blog post for 45 minutes now - yet it feels like five minutes).
This article has a great title: Leadership 101: What Doesn't Kill You Leads to "Flow."
See, flow cannot be attained by sitting on the couch or going on vacation. Yes, time my fly by, but you aren't really working to accomplish something meaningful. That's the key with flow - work. Yes, work . . . as in work you love, work you find personally fulfilling and meaningful can lead to happiness.
This article reminds me of another quote I heard some time ago: "Find what you love and let it kill you."
Now who couldn't use more creativity in what we are learning?
The bond between this little girl and her therapy can is amazing!
The bond between this little girl and her therapy can is amazing!
Finally, this is a very fascinating idea. I know several schools that use "digital learning days" in place of snow days. I know some schools too that use the same idea whenever there needs to be a sub in for a teacher.
I really like how this high school is trying that same concept, but in a slightly different way by having everyone stay at home for a virtual learning day. I'd love to try that just once and then study the results.