About Homework (Part II): If it’ll help me learn … I’ll do it

In my previous post I wrote about my attempts at learning new skills as part of my One Word for 2015: LEARN!


I committed myself to…

Learn more about Response to Intervention;

Learn about classical music; and

Learn to speak Spanish

My progress on these learning goals has been uneven and it comes down to the fact that I am not doing all of my homework.    Cathy Vatterott wrote about Five Hallmarks of Good Homework in a recent piece in Ed Leadership.  She identifies the following five hallmarks of effective assignments: Purpose, Efficiency, Ownership, Competence, and Aesthetics.  I’ve considered my homework delinquency in light of these hallmarks.

I am doing my Response to Intervention (RtI)  homework because I am accountable to my team.  If we are meeting to discuss the rollout of the RtI plan for district leadership, I need to do my research so that I am prepared.  I also enjoy the opportunities I have to discuss my research with others in my professional learning network both in real life and through a Voxer group we created to discuss the book, Simplifying Response to Intervention.

The San Francisco Orchestra Podcast is efficient because each episode is about 10 minutes in length and the director of the San Francisco Orchestra deftly explains each music piece through a historical and technical lens that is punctuated by segments of the works themselves.  The music is BEAUTIFUL.  Each piece fits neatly into my commute to school, about 30 minutes each way.  Aesthetics are one of Vatterott’s hallmarks.   You’d be hard-pressed to find homework more aesthetically pleasing than Mozart and Schumann.  Learn

So, my Spanish homework… what’s happening?  Using Duolingo is efficient.  The ten minute lessons are short and lively. I can do them anywhere because the App is web-based and follows me everywhere.  It’s been three months and I simply haven’t been doing enough “homework” to say anything in Spanish besides some simple vocabulary.  The problem is that I have no one to whom I am even remotely accountable for this work and I have no urgency.     My wife speaks English as do my family, friends and colleagues.  I do not HAVE to learn to speak Spanish.

But I am determined.  I discovered that the Duolingo App has a little button at the top right that tracks the number of consecutive days I have practiced, and badges for earning certain accomplishments.  Note: it awards badges for performance, not grades. It uses gamification principles to motivate users. I will embrace these tools as data to drive my progress.  I will also engage my Spanish speaking students to help me practice, I’m sure they’ll enjoy my attempts to learn the language and tease me about my mistakes.

My point about homework: If there is work to be done at home that will help our students learn; if they understand it’s purpose and how it relates what they are learning; if it really works to help them learn and if they can do the tasks we’ve assigned… then they’ll do them.  We do not have to “count” homework in order for our students to complete it.   If we give assignments that align with the hallmarks of effective homework, students will do them.    If by “optional homework” we mean throwing out a task and telling kids, “you have the option of doing this”, sure, kids probably won’t do it.  But if we offer assignments that have the hallmarks of Purpose, Efficiency, Ownership, Competence, and Aesthetics… then they will do it.

I welcome your thoughts…


About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
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