Thinking about CHANGEd: What if homework were just that? #12 and reflecting…

As a youngster, I assigned myself homework. I loved writing down words from the dictionary, playing with their definitions, and learning their spelling. I have vivid memories of “reading” the dictionary with a pen in hand and putting a bookmark at a certain page when I was ready for bed. At some point that stopped.

Bo’s “what if” about “time to work on our home” is an interesting one. At the early elementary level, I have witnessed students actually asking for homework. I think it is born out of a desire for more learning opportunities.

I stopped my nighttime reading of the dictionary. And at some point in elementary school, students stop asking for homework. And then, homework is hardly associated with learning but with stress and sometimes even tears.**

What if we capitalized on early elementary students assigning themselves homework and continued with that momentum throughout their elementary, middle, and high school years?Instead of “time to work on our home,” I propose that we call homework  something different: “learn at home” work. This work would not be teacher assigned but instead, it would be student assigned.

For the second day this week, I think of Steve Goldberg’s vision for the learning that will happen at Triangle Learning Community Middle School. Here’s what he has to say about this “learn at home” work:

After working on projects for about two hours, students will blog to summarize what they learned and the progress they made on their project during the afternoon. They will also include in this blog post a description of what they will work on in the evening to prepare for school the next day. This part of the blog entry facilitates communication with parents/guardians about what work is to be completed to prepare for the next day. Not all students have the same needs, so not all students will have exactly the same homework (though some elements may be in common, especially if we are working on a common math or science project, or if we are reading a common piece of literature).

Each student will typically spend at least one hour per night reading quality literature (though not always the same books). One night, Student A may be working on a tricky math concept that she struggled with during the hour of morning math, while Student B might learn Greek and Latin roots of vocabulary words. Student C might focus on re-writing an article he wrote as part of a project, while Student D might choose to look in more depth at the science involved in the long-term effects of the BP oil spill – an issue she learned about from a Time Magazine article her classmate recommended during the morning session.

Students leave for the day only after one of the teachers has read their blog posts and has made sure the student has clearly articulated both what they are doing for HW and what they hope to achieve through their HW. Learners who are not sure why they are doing HW often spin their wheels and work inefficiently. TLC aims to be thoughtful about the work that the members of the community does, wherever that work may be done.

The emphasis is mine.

Why couldn’t we make this vision for homework ours?

**Interestingly, I had to stop writing this post when a student walked into my office in tears, utterly upset about forgetting a homework assignment. Worried that she was going to get in trouble (at home and school) for this mistake, she was stressed and in tears. How can we build resilience and make homework something that does not elicit such emotions? This experience is not limited to the school where I work, I know. How can we experiment with a different approach? Is there a teacher willing to think about “work on our home” or “learn at home” work and share their experiences?


5 thoughts on “CHANGEd 60-60-60: “LEARN AT HOME” WORK

  1. In the spirit of improv, “Yes, and…”

    I love your riffs and suggestions. I adore Steve G’s wonderful thinking on this, too. And…I wonder why we seem to think that school must be the originator of learning. (Okay, not all of us think this, but many people seem to think this…based on actions and habit.)

    In a 24 hour day, can we think in thirds? Young people should sleep about 8 hours +/-. School takes about 8 hours, +/-, as currently structured in most places. Shouldn’t there be some sense of freedom and pursuit of other “stuff” during the other 1/3? After-school activities take some of this time – soccer, theatre show rehearsal, etc. When do “students” get to just be? When are we supposed to work on our “home” – meaning our family and our home in the sense of self (other than the parts of self being directly developed at school).

    Doesn’t the “rest of us” deserve a 1/3…or even a slice of a 1/3?

  2. Yes, and…

    …I totally agree with you re: the second shift that our students experience. It’s not okay. I like your thinking of thirds as well…sleep, school, and other “stuff.”

    So…about that stuff. IF we are creating learning experiences in schools which students are interested in pursuing outside of school, I’m okay with a slice of the other third (not the whole thing) being school-connected.

    I think a little bit about my own life…the fact that it took me until after college to realize that I needed to create space and time for my own learning. That it wouldn’t just “happen.” This kind of personal-brain-time certainly doesn’t happen every day (in a formal way), but when it doesn’t happen for days/weeks at a time, I feel off. Not good.

    Is there a way to scaffold in and build this awareness in our elem/mid/high school students in a more personalized way? How might they pursue their own passions outside of school — to add to what happens when they are in school? To enrich their home life as well? How could we teach them to let their school (later: work) learning echo and complement their self-learning? And the other way around?

    Or am I just too used to what I have experienced/assigned/witnessed and not thinking enough outside of the box?

    Thanks for engaging in this conversation with me, Bo. I appreciate the jumping-off-points that you are providing.

  3. As a child, I also assigned myself homework and begged my teachers to create worksheets full of math problems. I was an avid reader as well. My love of reading ended when I was assigned reading in English class as a junior high student, and my passion was not reignited until about 10 years ago.

    This year I have a very motivated group of 7th grade girls who love learning languages, and I probably spend as much time with them outside class (language conversation tables, field trips, epals, Mango online software) than I do inside class. They are not getting a grade for any of these “extra” activities. They just love languages, and that is what they choose to pursue in their free time. Some even corresponded with me over Spring Break with language-related questions. I hope that all students are finding this level of engagement somewhere in something that they truly love.

    Moreover, I have a high school student who does almost none of the assigned homework (I am team teaching with a veteran teacher who assigns homework, so I am doing the same). However, he is probably my most engaged learner. He does unassigned research on French topics that interest him rather than what I assign. We should encourage this self-directed learning!

  4. “I hope that all students are finding this level of engagement somewhere in something that they truly love.” I love this sentiment, @professeurb2, and I don’t think that it’s overly optimistic.

    As I think about both examples you provided, these students (despite or in spite of a lot of work in other subject areas, I suspect) are engaged in self-directed learning. They probably aren’t the 99%, so part of what I wonder is how do we encourage the development of these kinds of mindsets. To think that it will happen magically is overly optimistic, I think. At Trinity and into junior high, students learn how to write reflectively. It’s a learned skill that students need to hone and polish. With a strong foundation, they can continue to refine their reflective writing well into their adult lives. Similarly, I think we need to be teaching the pursuit of self-directed learning opportunities. For some it will naturally happen, for others we need to open the door or shed the light on all that is possible. I think a bit about Maxine Greene’s essay “Teaching as Possibility: A Light in Dark Times” — how can we show students what is possible?

    Thanks for engaging with me in the conversation here…I very much appreciate it!

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