Does Homework Always=Learning?

This post is in response to this week’s question from the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge

hwThis summer, I experienced first hand a small taste of what some of my students experience on a nightly basis from their classes. I took a graduate class from 8am-4pm for six days. Each night, after returning from the eight hour class, I had on average three hours of homework. The first night I returned home, I was exhausted. My brain was spent, but I had to push through the task…and it was one of my least favorite memories of the summer. Luckily for me, I only endured this for six nights. High school students experience this often and for their entire high school career.

The idea of homework is definitely controversial. Some teachers feel they must give it in order to have something to grade or feel that students need the practice outside of school. Some teachers only grade for completion, but don’ t even check the homework. Parents become angry when their students are not bringing homework home, as they feel their student needs the homework.  So where do we draw the line?

In my opinion, the amount and type of homework many students receive on a nightly basis is outrageous. We expect students to be in school for seven hours a day, and then head home to work on an additional two to three hours of homework a night. And for the struggling learner, that number can increase two fold.  My biggest complain with homework comes from the excessive amount of “practice” of a particular skill and the type of material covered. When a student takes home homework, the material should be something they know how to do. Students should not be teaching themselves the material. At that point, the “practice” is simply “self-teaching” or lack thereof of the material.

For the student that struggles with the homework or is more advanced in the skill, homework many times=failure. For the struggling student, when they don’t complete the homework, they earn a 0 for the assignment. And the determinant of zeros on a student’s grade is so great. For the student who is more advanced, and does need this “practice, ” they too are impacted grade wise like the struggling learner. Only they often have the stronger test taking ability, and can do well enough on tests to where they can still pass.

Homework does not always=learning. And in fact, the time during which students are in the classroom working with and learning from their teacher and class mates is much more a time of learning then doing homework to get the grade. When homework goes home, how are we sure the student is actually doing their own work? What if no one is home to assist with the homework or doesn’t have the skill themselves to help the student?  What if the student doesn’t get the homework? How are we setting students up for success when they experience one or more of these situations?

As Allen Iverson said repeatedly at a press conference, “We are talking about practice?….we aren’t talking about the game?” We need to be more focused on how students learn the material and can apply what they learn, and not be so hung up on the need for repetitive “practice” (homework.) Let’s focus on the game for students, recognizing what they know and have learned and how they can apply this information.

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From Paper to Digital Notebooks: Evernote!

evernote

Last year in the Academic Center, each student was given a composition book for notes and activities. They worked well, but the need to find storage for each one was cumbersome, and students were often misplacing them. So, as we are pushing to be a dedicated BYOD (Bring Your Own Device Classroom), we are starting this week replacing our black and white notebooks with Evernote!

The Plan

Each student will create an Evernote account on their mobile device or classroom computer via the web. Students will create a notebook to be solely dedicated to our class, Learning Strategies. Within the notebook, each note will be for a different topic that we cover in class. While we will still occasionally use worksheets for group activities, we will do the majority of our work in Evernote.

Why Evernote

Students will have access to their accounts from anywhere and every device, whether it is web-based or through the Evernote app. This will eleviate the issue of misplacing notebooks. Students will learn to imbed pictures in their notes, such as pictures they take from activities they do, upload documents they have that relate to the topic, as well as set due dates through Evernote’s newer feature of reminders. An email or app popup is sent to the person when a due date is approaching.

Generalization of  Evernote

As with every new idea or concept we teach our students, our goal is to move students to carrying over their knowledge to their other classes. Students will become proficient with using Evernote and can use it to take notes in their other classes, stay organized and share their notebooks with others. Last year, many students would take pictures of teacher whiteboards as they were heading out of class. This information was often important to the student, and they might not have had a chance to write it down. Now these once miscellaneous pictures could be embedded into a note that correlated with the information that student have from the picture into a note.

A great post, done by a fellow educator, Mr. Abud, shows how he uses notebooks for Chemistry to track student progress on lab reports. Student teams create notebooks, share them with him, and upload steps to labs along with pictures and documents. Check it our here!

Additionally, I can see Evernote accounts being shared by paraprofessionals and co-teachers with support teachers, such as myself, to quickly share information being taught in the classes in which they are supporting. This would eliminate the need to constantly be walking down the information to our program or emailing it. Great option for everyone involved!

Interested in learning more about Evernote?

Check out this Haiku Deck   

Using To-Do Lists in Evernote

 

 

A Curriculum Conundrum

Wordle ACWhen the idea of revamping our program came to fruition, we started searching high and low for a curriculum and resources to teach our students. The internet had many ideas, and there were a  number of “study skills” books on the market. But they had several problems. First and foremost was that we were looking for engaging lessons and topics that would interest high school students, and provide skills that they were often lacking in their skill set. What we found were often worksheet based, strictly teacher led lessons. Or worse, video tutorials on study skills. And to top it off, many curriculum options out there focused on all paper and pencil skills. Our kids don’t learn that way. And, our goal was to introduce them to skills that could integrate technology. So after searching for the majority of summer, we decided that in order to run the program on our vision, we would create a program from scratch.

We decided that there was so much we wanted to cover with our students, but the most emphasis would focus on organization, test taking strategies, advocating for oneself and personal drive.