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Melbourne, VIC, Australia
2nd Grade Teacher at a school in Melbourne, Australia. My job: push kids to think. My passion: helping kids to tackle the life-long skill of searching for meaning, skills, answers and more questions.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Home Learning - The Mega-Blogpost

I started to summarise Alfie Kohn’s “The Homework Myth” for a staff presentation.  I quickly realized that I can’t really summarise a book which is now completely covered in my green highlighter pen.  I’d be writing a third of the book down in quotes.  I’ve decided to do something different as a response to the book.  I’ve decided to put together my Home Learning framework and to formalize it.  I will be clear from the start that this framework would not have been possible without Alfie Kohn’s work.  I have based many ideas from his text and if anyone wants to know the detailed information that inspired my choices, they need look no further than “The Homework Myth.” As a final preface, it is worth noting that Mr Kohn’s book is the culmination of every study ever undertaken about homework around the world for the past 60 years.  It sites hundreds of studies, papers and journal articles.

During the second semester of 2012, 
4RPB undertook a trial we called, Home Learning.  

The immediate impact of the trial was 
the end of homework as we knew it.
We changed the default setting from 
nightly homework to NO homework.

At the start of term 3, 4RPB were told that they would not be set any homework for the rest of the term.  
 They were excited.


We had a long class discussion about why I would trial such an idea.  I wondered if the kids could intuitively figure out some of the reasons why I was taking this risk.  They had some ideas about less family stress, more time to read for enjoyment, less ‘checking up on’ students, less time wasted marking sheets and less pressure for everyone involved.  In fact… they pretty much nailed it.  

But there was more to this trial.  Homework, you see, doesn’t work.

I do need to summarize just why traditional homework is not working at this point – before breaking into Home Learning as an alternative.  There’ll be some quotes (which I’ve tried to keep to a minimum) but the importance of understanding that the system is ‘broken’ is vital before we move on.

Time to check the data… HOMEWORK DOESN’T WORK!

I discovered something extremely important when reading the first chapter of The Homework Myth.   There is no research anywhere in the world that has proved a causal link between homework and greater academic achievement with primary school-aged children.  Many studies over the past 50 years have explored high school homework – with little to no positive results for homework there either.  Very few formal studies in the past 50 years have researched the impact of primary school homework on academic achievement.  These have shown no correlation between the amount of homework set and greater academic achievement.  

"In 1989, Cooper summarized the available research with a sentence that ought to be emailed to every parent, teacher and administrator in the country: There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students…. For third graders, the correlations were negative: more homework was associated with lower achievement." pg39


So… if homework won’t help you to remember or connect with your learning, it must just be good for study habits, right?  Wrong.  That assumption falls apart when you dig below the surface.  How do we teach time management skills to kids by enforcing rigid time management structures on them from an early age?  With homework, we teach kids to do what we want in a timeframe that suits us.  We are simply telling kids to do what they’re told... and when… often how!  This prepares them for the factory floor, not the 21st Century.

"In reality, if students lack this capacity [for organization] the primary effect of homework would be to make them feel anxious and incompetent." pg55 

“To help children acquire responsibility or independence, or any other characteristic requires us to work with them, as opposed to doing things (like homework) to them.  Thus an effort to make kids into hard workers by compelling them to work hard – to instill good work habits in them by sheer force or cleverness – reflects a stunning ignorance about how human beings function in the real world.” pg59

‘Improved study habits’ is the single most pervasive argument for homework.  What if I told you that traditional homework didn’t help these habits, but it actually hindered them?  That will take a small leap of faith later on when I reveal the (very much still a draft) Home Learning model.


But our students will be ‘smashed’ with homework when they’re older… so they’d Better Get Used To It, right?  “BGUTI”  is the title of Chapter 8 of Kohn’s book.  Here, he sites Lilian (early education guru) Katz’s argument that homework as a preparation for future homework is “vertical relevance” … “and she contrasts it with the horizontal kind in which students’ learning is meaningful to them at the time because it connects to some other aspect of their lives.”  Our PYP structure should be leading our children each step of the way towards successful and independent exhibition in year 6.  Sure, there are ‘vertically relevant’ skills that we need to develop – in class.  Ask any Exhibition mentor what the golden formula is for success and they’ll tell you it is a passion for the topic, learning, inquiring and making meaning.  Surely we will be far more successful as a school if we use our students’ home time to help them develop a passion for lifelong learning, inquiring and making meaning. 

 “As John Dewey famously said, education is a process of LIVING, not just a preparation for future living.”  pg144


Countless studies about motivation in children have revealed the same data:

“The benefits of experiencing a sense of autonomy range from better physical health to better emotional adjustment, and, in the case of students, also include greater academic self-confidence, which is associated with more successful learning.” pg57

Saying that Monday night is “Spelling Words Night” offers our kids some structure and routine – sure.  The greatest challenge we face as a teaching staff is to let go of this structure and routine once we’re done for the day.  The studies are many and very clear in their findings.  If we give our students choices, they can and will inquire for themselves.  We need to develop in our learners a desire (and of course the skills) to inquire and think for themselves.  The bombshell is TRUSTING HUMAN EVOLUTION!  

“…Children in particular are naturally inclined to try to make sense of the world, to push themselves to do things just beyond their current level of competence.  When they do slack off, that’s not a reflection of human nature; it’s a sign that something is amiss.  Perhaps the individual feels threatened and has fallen back on a strategy of damage control. Perhaps extrinsic motivators have undermined interest in the task… Perhaps the task itself is perceived as pointless and dull. Or perhaps the environment is a place where results, not intellectual exploration, are valued.  In that case, students who cut corners aren’t being lazy; they’re being rational. By choosing the easiest task, they’re just maximizing their chances of succeeding.” pg155

A traditional homework structure is great for parents to know what needs to be done and when.  One great unspoken truth is that many treat this structure as a guilt-free alternative to the television-babysitter.  Many others find homework as a protracted trench battle.  Would they be so keen to give up the childhoods of their precious bundles if they knew that the structured work they were doing would have little to no effect on the child’s learning?  More importantly, would the arguments, tears, solitary confinement, upset, anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem and much more seem ‘worth it’ if the parents knew that their kids weren’t getting anything out of it?

Many parents will argue that structured homework DOES raise standards.  Many will say that Timmy won’t learn how to spell ‘beautiful’ unless told to do so.  How else will he learn that times tables are necessary?  This is precisely why there is a default of homework in our school.  The research shows there is no benefit.  That being stated now and backed up by many studies over time, the burden of proof must now be on educators to prove homework does work – and that it doesn’t have a negative impact on love of learning in the long term.  My fear is that while our children do learn how to spell ‘beautiful’ (hopefully), they also learn something far more sinister… that learning is something one HAS to do – and should escape from at all costs as soon as one can. 

I propose that my school moves to a completely different default.  Hopefully, in a short space of time, we'll be able to meet at some agreeable compromises and develop systems that work for us which will allow our children to become the learners we really want them to be.

What follows now is a run-down of the system as it has evolved with some basic reasoning for why certain changes were made.

Home Learning:

I started my journey of changing the default from homework to Home Learning by talking to the kids of 4RB about when, where, how and why they complete their homework.  The answers to these questions were many and varied.  I suggest you talk to your class at the start of the year to see their specific responses.  The best possible result for a teacher who sets traditional homework would be for a kid to tell them:

“I complete my homework where and when I want, allowing time to think further about how this learning applies to my life.  I use technology to go further with inquiry questions that spring to my mind.  I organize my thinking and I am keen to become a balanced human being who tries to work towards my academic and non-academic goals.” 

No… I didn’t have any kid tell me this.  Far from it.  What I learned (to summarise) was that my students completed homework:

When:  At a time assigned largely by their parents… the source of some frustration and argument.  Once they’d finished swimming, violin, soccer, basketball, gym, hanging at Mum’s work, sitting in car while driving on errands etc.  Sometimes straight away to get it over and done with and sometimes the next morning because they were forced to.  Very few children responded that they were allowed to decide when to complete homework.

Where:  In a bedroom at a desk was not the most common answer.  At the kitchen table, bumping into siblings trying to do the same thing was.  In the car rated highly… I wonder if that’s what teachers envisage as they slave over a photocopier to produce and then mark worksheets?

How:  It seems this followed a pattern for the majority of kids: 

1.  Parent asks what has been assigned. *
2.  Parent nominates a time it would be appropriate to complete the task. *
3.  Parent then reminds child when that time comes to begin. *
4.  Parent asks student if they understand the task. *
5.  Child says, “Yes,” but often doesn’t entirely understand the task – or feel up to completing it         at this prescribed time for any number of physical or emotional reasons. *
6.  Parent allows student to try for 20 minutes but is regularly reminding child to stay on task. *
7.  Parent intervenes when it is clear that the student needs further direction. *
8.  Parent facilitates the completion of the work or co-authors the completed work. *

*  ALL stages completed with varying degrees of frustration and/or argument.

Yes… there will always be many variations from this pattern.  This was, however, a pretty common pattern from my respondents and if that is happening to even a few of our students each night, then we are letting them down – badly.

Why:  The perfect answer did pop up. You could even pick the handful of kids in your class who would say it: “Because I love to know things and learn.”  (I’ll come back to this response later)
There were other, perhaps more familiar themes though.  “To stay out of trouble.”  “To keep everyone happy.”  “To learn the stuff my teacher and parents say I need to know.”  “Because I have to.”  “Because it’s the law!”  “Because it will make me smart.”  “So I can do better in class and get a good job.”

I wish I’d asked the really big question next, but I didn’t.  Alas, I was not thinking enough moves ahead of the class at the time.  The really big question is, “HOW do you LEARN BEST?”  I’m fairly sure the kids weren’t ready for that question yet anyway.  They certainly were by December.

With these answers in tow, I asked the kids what they would do if I didn’t set homework for a week.  The excitement was electric in the room.  Kids told me about their trampolines, basketballs, guitars, violins, sisters, running, board games, computer games, television, ipads, sports and so much more.   Not surprisingly, the kids equated academic work such as writing and reading as ‘homework’ that I assigned and so ‘no homework’ would mean none of this.  When I pointed these out, some astute children mentioned that they’d do some private study in these areas too.  “Yeah right…” I thought.

We came to the discussion about balance.

To be a balanced human being, one of the attributes of the IB PYP Learner Profile, one must be able to spread their lifelong learning in a number of different areas.  One needn’t be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, but to develop skills in a number of areas of enjoyment is considered wise.  Playing video games every night doesn’t lead you to being a balanced adult.  Playing some basketball every night might be important to you - for a short session each day.  The key is to not have basketball as your prime focus each and every night.  The key is to think about your several, varying goals and to make a plan.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

We decided to create some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed) goals for ourselves for the semester.  Some goals were what you might call ‘academic’ and others were more ‘social’ or ‘physical’ or ‘musical’.  I asked the students to stick their individual goals sheet on the back of their Unit of Inquiry book.  This way, they’d be highly visible each day.  The next step was to create a plan for our goals.  I left this as a simple class discussion because I didn’t want to drive this point to the stage where I was simply assigning time to complete set tasks.  We agreed that in our diaries, we’d make a note of what we did each night.  We’d try to do something towards our goals each week, formalizing this effort by mentioning it in detail in the diary.

You just HAVE to keep talking about it.

What became clear was that the most powerful way to follow up on goals was to talk about them – every day.  The first 10-15 minutes of each school day for Semester Two in 4RB was a class discussion about what we did the night before.  I would ask some leading questions (which I want to formalize and have the kids decide which to ask next year) and the class would discuss.  “Who did something totally unique last night?”  “Who did something social last night?”  “Who discovered something new from research?”  “Who went to a great webpage that they’d not seen before?”

I see a real chance for us to develop a clear understanding of PYP Transdisciplinary Skills through these conversations.  If we were to really push the use of specific language, we’d be able to have kids using the language of the Learner Profile Attributes, Attitudes and Trans Skills within the first 15 minutes of each day.

Then… surreptitiously I’d ask, “Who did something that helped them towards achieving a personal goal last night?” followed by the regular players, “How?  Why?  Where?  When?  With whom?  Was it hard?  Was it fun?  Could it be more fun?  How?”   Kids actually started to reach for their UOI books to check their goals at first.  Gradually, through daily conversation, they knew their goals by heart.

9 year old kids still need help with planning.

Next year, I intend to work more closely with each child to help them plan out how they’ll strive towards their goals.  I’d ideally like that conversation to be the one that they have with their parents too.  However, if either the parent or I prescribe learning for them, then we’re heading back down the slippery slope of taking power from the child.  At the crux of this issue is motivation.  If a student is motivated to inquire or learn for herself, then the learning will be more meaningful and memorable.  If a student is learning because somebody in authority told them they should, then they will do it for the same historical reasons with the same historical outcomes.   

The kids of 4RB were asked the same question each morning.  “What have you done that has helped you towards a goal?”  They were asked to consider making a plan in their week to do something meaningful towards a specific goal.  The power was ultimately in the hands of the kids to decide when, where, how or whether to do this at all.

Posters helped at first – 
but they soon became part of the problem.

I created two posters for the classroom.  One was an Essential Agreement.  The kids constructed the essential agreement together and decided on the items that would make our final draft.  I constructed a pretty poster and the kids all signed it.  We had an agreement for what we thought Home Learning should look like.  The second poster offered the students ten choices for how to spend their ‘free’ time.  Sure, one choice was ‘Negotiate an activity with your teacher’ but this was really a list of ten things I thought would be beneficial.  I’d signed the kids up to a writer’s blog club, I’d used Mathletics, I’d discovered a cool inquiry site called Wonderopolis… I’d considered 5 online and 5 offline options.  I high-fived myself for the great planning and then quickly found that the list was not really helping most of the kids.  Some were stressed that they didn’t like the options I’d ‘set’ but they felt they ‘had to’ choose one.  Others didn’t branch away from these options at all.  This was not the desired effect.

Motivation is the key.  Seriously.

Finding that golden key of motivation makes the biggest difference to a child’s learning.  We all know that instinctively as teachers.  If a kid does something purely because she wants to – out of a pure yearning to understand how the world around her works – then you have true learning.  For them to be purely motivated to do something, I had to be vigilant that my kids were not made to feel like they ‘had to’ do anything.  This seemed like a HUGE risk at the time.

“Yes, mate.  You can opt out of this and do nothing.”

Three boys challenged the new system, in typical Radford style.  They asked politely if they could get away with opting out of Home Learning all together.  I allowed the class to discuss if they should be allowed to.  The ‘miracle on 64th street’ was how THAT conversation helped the whole system.  Soon, the kids had realized that you really couldn’t opt out.  It is physically impossible to opt out of doing nothing.  You could opt out of specific activities, but my suggestions were just suggestions by this stage.  The REAL question became, “Can I opt out of striving towards any goals or being balanced?”  The short answer was yes.  The long answer came from genuine peers in a circle: “Why would you want to do that? We want you to be your best.  We want you to grow up alongside us, trying to become a balanced and thoughtful friend who we can trust to work with us in future years.”

Opting out became taboo – not because the teacher said you had to opt in, but because the students expected that everyone was ‘in this together.’  I felt the pressure gauge rising once again for a few young charges who would rather do ‘nothing’ and I threw in my two cents.

“Is playing with your little sister, pushing her on a swing and talking about her day in Kindergarten, helping this year 4 lad towards his goal to listen better?”  If so, (and we drew this conversation out to prove just how SO it was) then why make up some elaborate fib about an imaginary website when you could just say, “I played with AND LISTENED TO my little sister…..”  

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  Usually truth is absolutely sufficient for Home Learning.  The kids learned (and this did take some weeks to get right) that you could count everything you do of a night time towards Home Learning.  If you found a lost dog, say so.  If you helped Nonna bake a cake, say so.  If you climbed a tree, say so.  If you counted money from your mysteriously broken piggy bank, say so.  We will come together the next morning and I might ask you what you did.  You don’t need to be ready to justify why.  We’ll discuss the possible merits of this activity together – using familiar language.  The only pressures:
  1. Aim for a balance
  2. Be mindful of your own specific goals.

Soon enough, the student diary changed.

Previously, students in 4RB wrote, “Tables Sheet” on Tuesdays.  That was the sum of their expectations for that night.  I hadn’t paid any mind to Gracie’s 2 hours of gymnastics beyond telling her that she could complete the sheet any time she wanted/could that week.  The timing of all the kids’ co-curricular activities meant that I really should have just been setting four pieces of work on a Monday and telling the kids they has until Friday to ‘hand it all in’.  That said, I asked them to write, “Tables Sheet” every Tuesday.

With the onset of Home Learning, I was asking kids to write each little thing (and big thing) they did the previous night in their diaries.  The kids were running out of space.  We decided that bullet points would be sufficient conversation starters.  Some kids actually found it better to fill in their diaries during the conversation time the next morning.  I originally had an issue with this, but gradually saw that it was hurting no one.  What was causing problems was a lack of structure for this process.  We needed some guide as to what to write in the diary.  The guide we created together as a class was simple:
What?  How long?  With whom?  (If appropriate) Why?

Within a few weeks, we had these systems in place:

An essential agreement

A list of available choices… which had become more flexible

An understanding that everything we do can be a learning experience

What and How to write in the diary

Morning routine of discussion… with some diary filling in

Use of Trans Skills and other PYP language each morning


What DID work:

Kids were excited about Home Learning.  The new name was more than just a word change to them.  It became their catch cry.  “Home Learning” was theirs and they knew that it represented the end of traditional homework.  What’s more, the excitement didn’t lose its momentum when the novelty period wore off.  The kids were excited to remind me that they didn’t receive homework whenever I played the game and mentioned what homework they’d have.
In future:  I will continue to call this Home Learning – and continue to play with the kids about it to maintain their feeling of specialness.  

Several kids undertook their own regular private study.  A few boys used Wonderopolis every day to learn about the universe around them.  They didn’t take notes, but were happy to discuss the ‘Wonder of the Day’ with me any time.  This opened up many awesome conversations.   One girl spent some Home Learning time each night from October to December writing her NOVEL.  She had written 15 full chapters by the last week of school in December.  It is good too.   Yikes.
In future:  I need to find a way or a place to highlight kids’ amazing learning.  This might take time to establish, but a simple display where kids could add something amazing they learned about would be awesome.  These brilliant efforts need to be identified, celebrated and often taken further.

Several very ‘highly strung’ or ‘anxious’ students were able to relax and not stress about handing work in each morning.  These kids weren’t crying any more.  They weren’t avoiding communication with me for the first two hours of each day.  They were happily engaging in learning from the first moment of the day.  One mother confronted me early in the process.  “What are you doing?!” she exclaimed one afternoon.  She wanted to know why her son was being more calm, relaxed, friendly with his younger brothers, helpful, sociable, communicative with his parents, happy and motivated to read for his own enjoyment.  She had come in to tell me that this Home Learning change had affected her son significantly.  This ‘confrontation’ gave me a boost.
In future:  I need to ask parents for their feedback on a regular basis.  They won’t generally offer their thoughts without prompting.  I need to be more proactive to find out what’s really happening at home. 

Reading took off.  When presented with the opportunity to read whenever you like, as a nine year old, you might just pick up a book and go for it.  It is amazing how many teachers don’t really read for enjoyment until the holidays – because knowing there’s work to be done stops us from enjoying and immersing ourselves in a good book.  Guess what?  Kids operate the same way.  When there were no other pressures on them, my class began to read and read and read.
In future:  I need – as does every teacher – a class blog about reading.  Every kid should be invited to write about the books they are reading.  This is a main goal of mine for 2013.

Our community of inquiry circle became second nature to the kids.  Our Philosophy sessions are often conducted with us on chairs in a circle.  There are specific rules for our community of inquiry to help it flow.  These rules matched perfectly with our morning discussions.  The kids were getting a bonus community of inquiry session (practising these essential elements of skilful discussion) each morning.  By the time Philosophy sessions came around, the kids were so prepped for the community of inquiry circle that the sessions were able to become amazingly deep and fruitful.
In future:  I will continue the process of asking for contributions in a community of inquiry circle.  I will try to incorporate some reasoning skills and other philosophical strategies into the process more regularly.

Kids came to school happy.  Nobody ‘lost’ their diary in a fit of panic about whether they’d done homework.  Nobody, to my knowledge, needed to ‘take a sicky’ because they hadn’t completed a task.  Kids came to school happy and motivated to begin learning straight away.  The spectre of a looming and disastrous homework battle was no more.  The kids knew that they could start each day without the fear of reprisal for their previous night’s work – or lack thereof.  What’s more, the kids were having significantly less arguments with their parents and their siblings.  They were less battle-hardened and more learning-ready.  This may seem a bold claim, but I was able to begin morning sessions with more general enthusiasm and engagement from the class than during the ‘bad old days’ of homework.
In future:  I’d like to take a mood chart for each kid occasionally.  I’ve had the poster for ‘How do you feel today’ on my wall for two years and never referred to it.  A ten-second drawing of a cartoon face could tell me so much about where the kids are at each morning.  Maybe a quick survey every now and then to gauge student feelings about learning, maths, spelling, mood, Home Learning, inquiry, research, thinking, friendships…

Kids were interested and personally invested in becoming balanced human beings.  I actually had to explain after a few weeks that they could do the same activity several nights in a row if they were ‘really into it’.  They (particularly the girls) were intent on becoming balanced kids.  They took on the responsibility of choosing a variety of tasks.  Boys tended to be less interested in the ideal of being a balanced learner.  When they found a task they enjoyed, they generally stuck to it – particularly when that activity was a sporting activity.
In future:  I’d like to develop goals more clearly.  SMART goals were awesome, but now I’d like to ensure that our goals are more short-term (perhaps for a calendar month) and that there are a variety of goals for each student.  I’d like to see an academic goal, a physical goal, a social goal, a family goal etc…  I need to read more about goal setting and I am looking for anyone who has advanced ‘corporate knowledge’ in this area.

Half of the class started using their diaries the way we agreed straight away.  This was a pretty positive uptake of a large change.  We shared these positive diary entries with each other regularly and I made a point of reminding the kids why this neat diary work was important.  Some more took on this style of diary entry in time.  Some didn’t…
In future:  I’d like to offer some of my struggling students a simple template to complete for their Home Learning diary.  Perhaps there is an opportunity to have a parent information session about Home Learning?  How kids use their diaries would be a key part of any such session.  It was necessary for me to bring in certain parents just to help them with helping their child reach the expectations the class had set.  I don’t want the diary to become a source of stress.  I want the opportunity to celebrate the learning these kids are engaged with.  A well-kept diary needn’t be a hassle and it can be a thing of beauty.

SO.. what DIDN’T work:

Some kids didn’t use their diaries well throughout the process.  I regularly took the opportunity to discuss this with them.  I soon noted that they were too busy trying to think about the justifications for what they were doing.  These kids were worrying about the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’.  Interestingly, several really struggled to make this mind-shift.  With an opportunity to dig deeper, I suspect that some of the parents of these children were focusing on the ‘why’ in their conversations at home.
In future:  I need to drive home the fact that having a plan for our goals is essential, but it shouldn’t drive everything we do.  We shouldn’t always be working explicitly towards our goals.  We do need some time to just enjoy activities.  These kids need more support to decide when they could spend time working towards their goals.  They also need help to write about what else they’ve done.

Some kids were unbalanced learners.  Some gravitated towards sporting activity and tended to want to talk about that activity regularly.  Some competitive boys were keen to talk about the activity that they were ‘good at’.  Some kids spent time each day on the same activity to the neglect of others. 
In future:  I need to bring the students’ goals to the fore each and every morning.  I’d ideally like the kids to have the goal conversation with their peers once a week.  It is not easy to develop a culture in a classroom where we are able to talk about what we want to improve upon.  When a teacher builds this culture, those competitive boys will talk more freely about where they can improve their learning. 

Some kids were not talking with their parents effectively.  The first opportunity for conversation between teacher and parent had been at Learning Journey night – early in Term 3.  Some kids maintained an effective and realistic conversation with their parents about their choices.  Others didn’t.
In future:  I need to help the kids to create goal ‘cards’ or even ‘magnets’ that can live on the family fridge.  These could be the discussion starters at home.  While I don’t want parents driving their kids about goals too much, I do think that this conversation starter could give the parent some direction if needed.  My door will remain wide open for parent conversations with me about the process.

Some kids found the limited option of 10 choices (5 online and 5 offline) to be stifling.  They wanted to branch out and not be confined to the original choices.  I had to let go of this number – though the idea of offering choices really did help some kids.
In future:  I will discuss ideas for activities with my class constantly.  If there’s an activity that could be added to our list, we could add that to our class webpage.  I see our webpage as a receptacle for all of the potential activities and their descriptions.

Some kids figured that if Mr Black didn’t specifically tell them to do maths, they didn’t have to.  They were taking the ‘Gospel according Mr Black’ approach.  I’m so glad that the affected parents made the time to come in and tell me about this.  Some kids actually want that bit more direction.  They want to be given a task that they can do well with and then be praised for completing.  I have some reservations about this dynamic and its potential impact upon the child as a lifelong learner… but it is nonetheless real and should be catered for. 
In future:  I could do as I did in Term 4 and offer a variety of Maths sheets at the front of the room for any child who wanted to do maths and would prefer a sheet to do.  Burra Maths have created some highly engaging colouring/maths sheets that can are brilliantly differentiated if you choose a selection to put on offer.   Could I be offering sheets for handwriting or grammar?  Maybe...

Parents need to understand that traditional homework tasks can be effective if the child is self-motivated.  One parent wanted traditional tasks because he thought his child was slacking off with her Home Learning.  I offered traditional tasks and the child completed them happily enough.  Some kids just aren’t self-motivated at their stage of development.  In the meantime, traditional sheets are ok, but I’m concerned about what the deeper, underlying issues might be with these kids.
In future:  I need to look closely at these kids to try and determine their motivation for wanting to simply be told what to do.  Are they bored?  Worried about failure?  Hoping for acclaim?  Lacking in imagination?  Unwilling to research for themselves due to low self-esteem?  I need to talk with kids, parents and other teachers to see how we can best reach these children and their parents.  Kids who spend time with our Individual Needs Team (INT) teachers really do need to develop a plan together with these INT teachers.  This may seem like a large expenditure of valuable and limited time, but I see these kids being left (further) behind if they are not helped in this process.  

I feel very luck to be teaching at an International Baccalaureate school which focuses on inquiry learning.  We value our students’ ability to think, ask questions, wonder, inquire, organise, go further, read, research, plan, act, try, set goals and work towards those goals.  These are lofty ideals.  We aim to help our kids work towards independent life-long learning skills every day.   I, for one, am proud of the PYP framework and our inquiry learning setup.  I simply wish to now eliminate the traditional (and did I mention broken) system of homework.  I wish to open up the world of inquiry learning to our students and give them the opportunity to spend time truly and authentically inquiring.

I appreciate that there is much to do to refine this product.  
 I simply offer this as a starting point for my school and a thinking point for your school - wherever you are.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Great Post Blackie - again, I love your passion and the time and thought you invest in everything you do. At the heart of your model lies a philosophy that rings true for me. Motivation, relevance, balance, authenticity.

A question that came to mind as I was reading your post was about children of different ages. I wonder how this model would play out for a child who is 3, 4, 5 etc... Are these students unique in having some foundation skills that require consolidation - differentiated of course? Could the model be adjusted to suit this younger age group - to harness the innate curiosity and promote the love of learning you mentioned whilst balancing the need for skills that will allow much deeper inquiry as they grow. I don't have any answers - just a question!!

Love your work - I'll be following intently!