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The End of Homework
July 17, 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 21
Table of Contents
Alternatives to Traditional Homework
As an instrumental music teacher, I understand that "homework," otherwise known as practicing, is essential to a student's success. Although it is true that some students can get by on pure talent alone, this is rare and unreliable. The benefits of putting in the time to learn include getting to know what works and what doesn't, benefitting from perseverance, and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Traditionally, the instructor teaches the lesson and then gives students practice exercises to complete later as homework. Try an alternative to this approach with one of the ideas outlined below.
Track Concepts Visually
Introduce a concept; allow students to practice it in class as a group and individually; and give students a 24-hour challenge to write down or document ways in which they demonstrated the concept using pictures, projects, or crafts from the time they left school until their return the next day. You can do a few variations on this idea: use recess or lunch to provide an hour at school for the challenge, or allow 48 hours for students to take up the challenge during the weekend.
Keep most assignments, particularly homework, performance-oriented. Obviously, this works well in a music class, but all students need to have opportunities to "perform" what they have learned for the class on a regular basis. This approach can be time-consuming, but simply asking a few students each day to share what they learned the day before establishes a classroom culture that focuses on accountability to the group, rather than to just the teacher, and gives students a sense of ownership over the material. It's important to give students a variety of options here, such as a prepared or impromptu performance or a brief or full presentation. The options are limitless.
Practice with Purpose
Often, not every student will work on the same skill, concept, or level at the same time. To clear up confusion, set established routines and a system of organization that allows you to identify each student's weaknesses; make time to briefly discuss the weak areas with your students; and gear an assignment's goals to align with other, more long-term goals of each student. For example, if you have a student who needs help with time management or organization and you are working on fractions, encourage that child to use fractions to determine how much time he spent reading at home at night in proportion to how much time he spent watching television and undertaking other activities. Another student might have a hard time being creative, so you can ask her to use fractions to create a work of art (division of objects on a page) or demonstrate counting different note values in music. This is differentiated learning at its best!
Start with one of these approaches and modify the process until it works for you. As you feel more comfortable, try other approaches. In this era of increased accountability, it is necessary to create some kind of documentation system to show parents in conferences and administrators in an evaluation. You can use paper folders, take pictures of assignments, or record videos of performances with tablets or other available technology. Whatever system you use, make it something that is manageable for you. Remember, "no homework" should mean less for you to bring home, too.
Melanie Nolan teaches instrumental and vocal music in Toms River, N.J.
ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 21. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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