You may recall that in Episode I, which came out in late November, I blogged about what was then a pending conversation our faculty was going to have in order to revisit and realign our school’s homework philosophy with our learning target. In that post, I suggested some likely ideas that I imagined would make their way in based on all the work we have done these last few years making our beliefs about teaching and learning more explicit.
In Episode II, which came out in late January, I blogged about the process our faculty had gone through to create a new philosophy and set of guidelines for homework at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School:
We introduced the project at the December Faculty Meeting in a really interesting way. One member of our 21st Century Learning Team, randomly went onto class blogs and picked homework assignments that were then presented to the faculty to open the meeting. The question was then asked: “How long do you think this assignment ought to take the ‘typical’ students in this grade?”
The results were clarifying to say the least. Just about each assignment – regardless of grade level or subject – was estimated to take anywhere between 5-40 minutes!
So if our own teachers couldn’t agree about how long an assignment ought to take our students to complete, imagine how our parents and students feel!
This was a great introduction into a conversation about revising and articulating our school’s homework philosophy. Unlike other decisions in our school, I made it clear to faculty that although they would have input, the ultimate decision would be mine. [In our school we peg decisions on a hierarchy of decision-making. Some decisions they make with my input. Some decisions I make with their input. Some decisions require consensus. Some decisions are made democratically. And so on. I find it helpful to make this transparent to teachers so expectations are clear and there are no unnecessarily hurt feelings.] They were given the month to provide me with feedback to a draft. I was then to report back at our January Faculty Meeting what the new “MJGDS Homework Philosophy & Guidelines” were to be.
And so I did and I shared it in Episode II.
The final step in the process was and is, perhaps, the most important and complicated – implementation. Every teacher wants to and believes he or she is giving important and authentic homework. Every teacher wants to and believes he or she is giving homework of appropriate length and content. And yet…every teacher struggles to make those beliefs come true. What does it really mean for homework to be “authentic”? How can we be sure that the assignments we give are essential, necessary, meaningful and time-respectful?
Those questions we began to answer at our April Faculty Meeting. And in true MJGDS style, we utilized what is fast becoming a favorite pedagogy of ours: Speed Geeking! This time we selected five faculty representing different grades and different subjects who are experimenting with authentic homework and we “Homework Geeked”.
Like any “geeking” experience, it was both too quick and not quick enough. Faculty had enough time to get the basic idea from each Homework Geeker and to start to explore how that idea may or may not translate to their grade/subject, but not enough time for deeper engagement. We got to experience a range of ideas from badge learning for Lower School Math Enrichment to VoiceThread for Jewish Studies to flipped learning for Middle School Math to authentic reading as part of a Daily 5 philosophy (that we are going to extend school-wide next year) to family engagement for Kindergarten Social Studies.
And as we went around each table, there were a whole host of other great examples and ideas put on the table and shared. All faculty were asked to continue the conversation and the sharing on our Faculty Ning. Faculty were also asked to think about other ideas that go along with an implementation strategy such as…
- How will teachers who share a grade communicate with each other about daily homework to ensure appropriate time management?
- How will we coordinate quizzes, tests and other major projects that – along with daily homework – must not only pass the “authenticity” test, but must also be factored into appropriate time management?
- How will we solicit feedback from students and parents to ensure that our time expectations are accurate?
- How will communicate with parents so they will understand our homework philosophy, guidelines and implementation strategy in order to be the critical partners we need to achieve success?
As we head into the final quarter of the school year, answering these questions will hopefully bring peace to the “Homework Wars” and usher in a new age of “Homework Authenticity”! Stay tuned…