Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homework and the annihilation of study guides

Homework.  When I was student teaching, I actually gave very little homework.  Most of it consisted of a reading assignment or, for the honors students, research.  Obviously, students have to work on papers at home because no amount of time in the classroom seems sufficient (and we can't spend 5 days every time we write a paper).

But as I started teaching, I veered away from that mindset.  I don't think I did it purposefully.  I think I was simply overwhelmed with the task of determining what each day would hold for each class.  With student teaching, I had the ideas of my cooperating teacher to underwrite my own.  Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), it was a big change when I took my own classroom.

Recently, I've revisited the idea of homework, and I can almost guarantee that I will be offering next to none next year.  I don't like the results of most of the homework assignments I've given, and, embarrassing as it is to admit, I wonder at the worth of some of those assignments.

But no homework?  Will require a lot more planning--and way more class activities.  On the front end, that's a LOT more work for me.

One "homework" type assignment I've never been pleased with has been the concept of a study guide.  I realize early high school students often need guidance when it comes to studying for tests.  In the past, I've always provided a paper study guide and then played Jeopardy! with the students to prepare.

I hate it.  Here's why:
  1.  I felt like I was giving them too much guidance.
  2.  I didn't really feel like they were adequately displaying their knowledge.
  3.  They weren't always completing the guide and were unprepared for the exam.

So today I tried something different based on the curriculum meetings we've been having at school.

I had the students create Alphabet Books (for To Kill A Mockingbird).  Here's what I did:

I labeled several smaller pieces of posterboard with post-its that went through the alphabet.  I put more than one letter on each card and gave them options:

  1.  You can choose one letter or split your card and use every letter on your posterboard.
       Ex:  Just use the letter "Y" or split your board into 4 and use W, X, Y and Z.
  2.  For each letter, you must write a word that begins with that letter AND relates to the novel.
  3.  You must draw a picture that relates to that word.
  4.  You must write one sentence that explains how that word relates to the novel.
  5.  This is a whole class activity so there can be NO overlap.  Check with your classmates to make sure your word/person is only being used once.

I gave the class free reign to split the assignment as they saw fit.  I also only gave them 45 minutes and told them we would need the last ten minutes to review.

When the last 10 minutes came, I held up each board and we went through the entire alphabet as it relates to To Kill A Mockingbird; however, I did not simply take their word for the letters.  I also asked questions:  "What else can the letter "A" stand for besides Atticus?"

It was a hit.  The students loved it.  I felt like we reviewed the novel in its entirety and I really feel like they are well prepared for the test tomorrow.

The best parts?  EVERY.  SINGLE.  STUDENT.  WAS.  INVOLVED.  They were all yelling things about the novel back and forth to one another and helping with letters.  It was beautiful, controlled chaos. 

Another best part?  The grading consists of a simple participation grade.  For such a worthwhile activity, I'm pretty pleased.

Now all I have to do is revamp all of my curriculum so we're DOING something with what we're learning as opposed to simply filling out a worksheet.


Sheena said...

Nice! Good for you...glad it worked out so well.

kilipohi said...

I'd like to "like" this post, but sadly there is no button for that. hee hee!
I am a new reader and I am excited to read more of your blog as I am a teacher as well.