A big supporting standard for my notebook system is the way I distribute classwork. Instead of big huge pieces of paper with problems, I've boiled topics town to 8-12 problems that fit on a half sheet. Those half sheets are glued/taped/stapled into a notebook for reference. How the student performs the work is up to them. There's quite a variance in the degree of neatness, but I don't nitpick their methods. My goal is to have some amount of classwork or activity centered around my tested topics that the kids are given time to complete. In my mind, I would much rather a majority of class time be spent watching kids tackle problems and provide feedback than droning on and on about the finer points of parent functions.

It's why I've pretty much thrown all my weight behind classwork and banished the thought of homework from my mind. If the goal of Standards Based Grading is to encourage mastery and improvement, lecturing for 45 minutes and assigning a big pile of homework defeats that purpose. The problem comes down to how teachers view the day and how students view the day.

From the teacher prospective, they repeat a lesson 3-5 times. They spent anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour preparing their thoughts on the subject. They have an incredibly strong math background and have been doing this for years. To the teacher, homework should be easy because a 45 minute lecture contains all the details you need to be a master of the subject. It's not possible to not understand this. The brilliant PowerPoint is digested 100% and students will dutifully remember everything about this topic 3-4 hours later when attempting the homework assignment and they will all smile when they present it in its entirety.

From the student perspective, they attend 7 different classes in a day. They switch gears radically depending on the subject. They are inexperienced in all 7 fields of study compared to their teachers. They listen to some boring PowerPoint one time, dutifully copy down the textbook problem set and don't think about math for 3-4 hours when it comes time to do homework. Only...how did this work again? Did I doze off during this part? Did I not copy that example? But why did her example work out this way and yet the problem she says is the same doesn't look anything like that? How does multiplying negatives work? Is this a less than or a greater than sign?

You can start to see the breakdown. This scenario does not produce meaningful work from the student. It produces anxiety, half-hearted attempts, and in a lot of cases, resignment to inadequacy.

The way I roll, we spend less time fiddling with the beautiful theory behind a concept and devote time to activity. The kids are working less than a minute after I finish talking about it. All those anxiety inducing questions are settled in the classroom. There is a support structure. I can ask my neighbor. I can ask my teacher. I can reflect on what I wrote down because it's fresh in my mind. I can look at the board at the example the teacher left up for me.

Two funny stories: I abstract all these motivations away from the kids, and simply treat it as normal procedure. Now that we're about a month in they've started sensing this class runs differently. On successive days, I've had one Algebra II student ask me "why aren't there textbooks?" and another "why don't we have homework?" To the first question: "well, do you feel like you learned more from a book or more from writing everything down yourself and practicing?" To the second: "we just spent a lot of time working problems right? Did you feel more comfortable working them with neighbors to help you and a teacher nearby?" The reaction in both cases is "huh, I guess that's true." Mission accomplished.

What does this accomplish? The kids at the top will always do everything. The kids in the middle will perform closer to their potential. The kids at the bottom have a fighting chance.

I concede that homework has a place in Pre-AP preps, AP preps, and most private schools in general. But in the trenches, with the on-level classes of 30, how is homework necessary?

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AuthorJonathan Claydon