Who is the homework for?

Homework experiment: Self-directed practice and reflection

After reading extensively about homework–best practices, pros and cons of assigning homework, and quite a bit of recent literature suggesting that teachers should forgo homework all together–I’ve decided to at last take a new look at my homework policy to see if an update would be beneficial. Almost immediately, a key question surfaced: Who is the homework for? Is it for the teachers in order to have something to put in the grade book? I don’t think so. Is it for the teachers to provide evidence of opportunities students have had to practice? I really don’t think that is the driving purpose of homework either. Is it intended to provide students with additional practice? Yes, this is part of the answer, but that’s only true if the homework is completely aligned with the learning that occurred in class and if the students actually do it! Is it for the students to supplement what is learned in class by teaching themselves new/additional material? I don’t believe so; I have never been in favor of assigning students chapters to read for homework as if that would teach them the material. If we thought that students merely needed to read in order to learn, why have teachers at all? Yet many, many teachers assign textbook “chapters” as homework, often while continuing on with their own lectures (which themselves merit being the topic of an entirely different post on this blog)  that are disconnected from the material the students are supposedly reading (and learning) at home.

Ultimately, I decided that I firmly believe that the purpose of homework is–or should be–to provide students with additional opportunities to practice and apply concepts learned in class in ways that are meaningful and useful to them. It’s not busy work and students shouldn’t be completing it just because the teacher said so. Since I have never felt that it is appropriate for teachers to expect students to teach themselves content as their homework, I have always worked carefully to ensure that the homework I assigned was aligned to our targeted objectives for that day. Nonetheless, every year, there are some students who just won’t do the homework and won’t take  advantage of my policy allowing students to make up missed homework during our weekly tutoring sessions in my room.

Although I saw a lot of good points in the literature advocating abandoning homework (allowing students to develop other avenues of interest, such as sports, volunteering or the arts; ensuring more time available for family events, lack of a statistically significant impact on learning/achievement in some studies), I am not willing to completely toss homework out of the entire learning process. So I came up with a compromise, albeit one that will require a lot more thought and reflection on the part of the students and a lot more diligence in grading on my part. As our new homework experiment plays out, I’m hopeful that this new emphasis on individualized, student-driven homework will result in greater achievement. But I’m also hopeful that this will be more respectful of each students’ learning needs. Students can choose to not do homework on the topic we are studying in class that day if they honestly don’t need any additional practice in order to understand or produce the material with high accuracy. As a result, they are free to use the time getting additional practice on other topics with which they are having difficulty, thereby helping students reflect on their own learning and learning needs.

Here’s what I gave my students today to explain the policy: 

For at least the next couple of weeks, we will be doing homework a bit differently for French 2, 3, 4, and AP.

Note: What I normally would have assigned for homework, we will now complete and discuss  in class, so you will get at least the same amount of practice, and possibly more practice than you are getting now. [Note to readers of this blog: this point is of great importance to me: it ensures that students are guaranteed at least the same amount of practice with each new concept that they would have had under the old policy, while also building in the practice time so that students who weren’t completing that practice can now have support from peers and the teacher to complete the activities. As stated in the policy, this should lead to most students actually getting more practice with this new policy than they did under my old, teacher-centered homework policy].

In addition to what is completed in class, students will create their own additional practice opportunities. Follow these directions precisely for credit:
1. Use the French class reflection and practice form that will be supplied in class. It will also be attached on the “resources” page (for all levels).
2. On Mondays, you will complete the “topics” fields so that you know what to study and practice for the week.
3. For each topic that you practice, complete all the cells in that row of the table.
4. Attach work samples as evidence of what you did, if there are any. If you say you did written practice, you must supply the evidence! If you did the work online, print a sample of your work and the score you earned, if the program gives a score. Be sure to include a “short” URL so I can see where you practiced or the online lesson you viewed.
5. Each day of the form will be stamped as will any work samples submitted
6. Ask questions in class based on the areas that caused you difficulty when you practiced the night before (you’ll record your questions on the form as part of the homework).
7. If you find good resources online, add them to our French class wiki (be sure to add them to the appropriate level, or to all levels if they provide good resources for all years of French): http://bvhsfrenchresources.wikispaces.com

[Note to readers of this blog: In order to help students focus their efforts, every day I will suggest a practice activity they could do for homework, based on what we are learning and where they are at in terms of their proficiency with the new material. They are free to choose to do something else, but the fact that I will provide some suggestions in this area is particularly important for some of my students who are less skilled in study strategies and struggle to identify useful techniques].
GRADING:
You will earn two grades for your homework:
1. Your initial homework grade will be up to 5 points for evidence of 5 days of practice, submitted on Mondays. You will earn one point for each day of evidence submitted. For most students, this will go in the “writing” category.
2. You will then receive an additional homework grade that will be determined AFTER you take assessments on the topics: you will earn the same grade for the “homework assessment” score that you earn on the quiz/test of that topic. Each skill assessed on the quiz/test will have 10 points for the homework assessment grade, of which you will earn the same percent as you score on the subsequent assessments. For example if you score 82% in reading proficiency on a quiz, you will earn 8.2 points out of 10 for your reading homework assessment grade. Speaking will be graded only on weeks leading up to oral presentations and oral assessments, when you will note how you have practiced for the speaking portion each night. If you would like to earn a higher grade after your assessment, you may come in Mondays and Tuesdays at lunch for our tutoring and practice clinics. We will go over your reflection form and the work you did, correct any errors you did not correct prior to the assessment, and determine if there are additional ways you could practice that might lead to more successful results. You will then earn full credit for the homework assessment grade and you will be eligible to retake the assessment for a higher grade as well.

[Note to readers of this blog: Every day, our “homework corrections” will involve having students share how they are practicing/studying in their groups so that they can see the strategies their peers are using. We will also go over any questions the students had while they were attempting to practice. Recording their questions/difficulties each day is an important part of their daily reflection because it ensures that they are thinking about their own learning and where they have gaps to address.]

HOW CAN I PRACTICE?

Here are some suggestions for coming up with your own practice activities in addition to the practice we will be doing in class. You might come up with other ideas.

1. Redo textbook and workbook activities writing new sentences based on the ones you already practiced. Change the subjects (for example, if sentence number 1 in exercise 2 in the textbook used “je”, redo it with “tu”). Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

2. Go over the notes and add additional examples using a variety of subjects, masculine, feminine, singular, plural. For more advanced levels, use a variety of verb tenses as well. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

3. Go online to Quizlet and play the games. Be sure to set them up so that they require you to write in French, not English. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have. You can find our flashcard sets on the “links” page of the class Web site.

4. Go online to the Website for your textbook and do the online practice (French 2 and 3, go to http://www.classzone.com; French 4/AP, go to the “Imaginez Supersite”). Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

5. Make your own flashcards for vocabulary and even for verb conjugations and then practice writing the French and checking yourself against your flash cards. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

6. Write completely original sentences using the material we are learning. Get together with another classmate to go over them and see what questions you both have. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

7. Come in before school or at lunch to practice in the classroom. You can come by yourself or with a group. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

8. Go online and look for French instruction videos made by Madame Naditz or other teachers that explain the same concepts. Watch the videos and do some written practice based on them. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

9. Go online and look for and do online French practice on our topics. Be sure to note what questions/difficulties you have.

10. Create new activities like the ones in the book and workbook and exchange them with a partner for him/her to complete. Be sure you also have an answer key.

11. There are even some places online where you can practice listening. Check the links page of my Web site or go to http://www.flagsteacher.com and go to “Resources” then click on “Resources for French”.

12. Create a three-column notes page: divide your paper into 3 columns. In left column, carefully copy 10-15 words you have trouble with. In center put the English definitions (or pictures). Fold paper so only English and blank 3rd column are visible. Look at English and try to write correct French, incl accents in 3rd column. Check your work against the first column and repeat the ones that you got wrong until you are consistently getting them right.

13. For additional listening practice that is authentic (and will NOT be tied to specific vocabulary or structures), try listening to Radio France International or France 24 online. The news reports with video provide an excellent resource since the video increases your ability to understand. You can also try reading articles from online newspapers, such as Le Figaro (http://www.figaro.fr)

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4 thoughts on “Who is the homework for?

  1. Thank you for this information! I have been looking for a system like this! I too believe in students their own meaningful homework, practice! Would you be able to share the forms “mondays Topics field”? Would love to incorporate into my classroom. Congrats on ACTFL teacher of the year!

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    • This post is somewhat older, so it won’t surprise you that I have made some changes since then, but the philosophy is the same. I do NOT assign workbook/textbook activities or worksheets to all students to complete as homework. and I offer them complete freedom to choose how to practice. And even whether they will practice at all. Believe it or not, I no longer use the form because it was only really meaningful for a few students. So, as I mentioned above, I still have an “open” homework policy in which I ask students to practice (NOT “study”) 10-15 minutes a night. I find that most students interpret “study” as “open notebooks and blankly flip through the pages.” Actually, in honesty, I believe the students really think they are studying when they do that because they haven’t been taught how to actively study. As they look through their notes, students tend to tell themselves, “I remember that” or “Yeah, I know how to do that.” And they don’t actually put themselves to the test to use the material so they can see if they really do know it. So instead, in our online planbook, I post suggested activities (often links to online practice opportunities that are self-correcting) that they can do. I also remind them that they are free to design their own practice. I also provide them with information on apps they can use to practice (both language learning apps and authentic media apps for those who want to challenge themselves).

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  2. I really like your ideas and philosophy about homework being meaningful and useful for students. Do you have links to some of the forms, such as the one they use on Mondays to fill out their “Topics Fields”? I realize this post is from a few years ago, so perhaps you have updated your homework policies. Thank you!

    Like

    • I have updated them…believe it or not, I took out the form because it was only really meaningful for a few students. I still have an “open” homework policy in which I ask students to practice (NOT “study”) 10-15 minutes a night. I find that most students interpret “study” as “open notebooks and blankly flip through the pages.” Actually, in honesty, I believe the students really think they are studying when they do that because they haven’t been taught how to actively study. As they look through their notes, students tend to tell themselves, “I remember that” or “Yeah, I know how to do that.” And they don’t actually put themselves to the test to use the material so they can see if they really do know it. So instead, in our online planbook, I post suggested activities (often links to online practice opportunities that are self-correcting) that they can do. I also remind them that they are free to design their own practice. I also provide them with information on apps they can use to practice (both language learning apps and authentic media apps for those who want to challenge themselves).

      Like

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