the homework question

“I think people confuse homework with rigor,” said Donna Taylor, the Brooklyn School’s principal, who views homework for children under 11 as primarily benefiting parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom.

In Homework Revolt, More Schools Districts Cutting Back –

As a teacher, it’s hard to know how much homework is enough homework. The wheels in my head started turning with this article because it’s something that is a new question with every new class I teach. Every year, every class section gets a different amount of homework. And even within classes sometimes individual students get a different amount of homework.

The simplest explanation for even giving homework is that it is practice.

In a perfect world, that’s a great way to ensure that students do exactly what you showed them to do over and over again until they memorize whatever the given concept is and are able to do it on their own.

In reality, there are very few students who grasp a concept on the first introduction to it. And there are even fewer students who can replicate that concept (whether it is solving a math problem or writing a sentence) on their own. And repeatedly.

My theory on homework?

It’s deeply rooted in the construction of the curricula. It has to do with the day’s lesson plan, with the longer unit plan and with the course goals as a whole. That’s a lot to take in at one given moment. And it took me a couple of years of practice to be able to do it without hours of thought beforehand.

The two most basic purposes of formal education are to teach and assess. The teaching part, mainly the construction of the lesson, is mostly the responsibility of the teacher. Yes, it does help to have willing students. And it does help to have students a grade level. But both of those things can be overcome with appropriately constructed lessons.

The part where I think educators don’t always agree is in the assessment. Yes, the students have to perform in some manner: on a test, in a written essay, in a presentation. But the assessment has to be crafted carefully. It has to be presented in a way that students don’t even know they’re being assessed so that the moment that assessment is much more formalized, it’s second nature. It would seem that this type of teaching could take way longer than teachers are willing to invest in for a single lesson, but it really doesn’t.

That’s where the homework question is easily answered. Homework should be assigned and created as both a product of informal assessment and as a means of additional assessment. That is to say if the class (or a student, for that matter) has mastered something in class and has proven her mastery, all is needed is a simple review. In that case, homework can be as easy as “remember this topic so well that you can write it down when you walk in tomorrow.” The student doesn’t need to take pen to paper for hours. Simply remember. And they do. They’ll think about it over dinner at volleyball practice or as they drift off to sleep. And when they walk in the next day, most will be able to tell you what you taught the day before.  In the instances where a topic is too much for the students to master in one setting, homework should be a gentle scaffold. Ten to fifteen minutes of review of the day’s work and left off in a place that the lesson can be easily continued.

In both scenarios, the quick review of the homework the next day is an additional assessment and shapes the lesson for the day–along with the homework for the next night.

The problem is not the homework itself. The problem lies in what the homework is used for. If it serves any purpose other than continual assessment, then I have to agree it is just a waste of time. It serves no one–teacher or student–to give homework assignments that are simply collected and thrown on a desk or in a basket for later grading.

So, yes homework is necessary. But it doesn’t need to be hours. It needs to be a well-crafted tool that is used by both teacher and student equally to complete the educational experience.


8 cups of coffee & a Frappuccino

That is what I have consumed thus far today. I say thus far because an after-dinner cup of coffee is a definite possibility.

So, I was pretty excited last week about Yerba Mate. Still am, really. I also failed to mention, I think, that I had been sick for almost two weeks. I usually can’t drink coffee with sinus medication and/or antibiotics. I was going along just fine with this thought that I had successfully substituted tea for coffee.

Except that I could not wake up. Like literally, it hurt my eyelids to open them in the morning. I thought I was just getting over the end of that cold and recovering from a crazy last month of school (think way too many 18 hour days).

After running more than 5 miles, I would literally sleep for two to three hours.

Then, I started to cry. Seriously. At everything. And I don’t cry. I rarely cry, that is. But any little frustration, and the tears would start.

Finally, I went shopping with my mom. And about two hours in she looked at me. What is wrong with you? Have you had coffee today?

I said no. And I explained about the tea.

So, she bought iced coffee from Starbucks. Iced. No sweetener. No milk. And literally, within 20 minutes I felt like a whole new person.

The moral of the story is that I have tried to kick the caffeine habit over and over again. And this was the final sign that there is no point. To sink into a symptoms of depression for no reason at all is foolish.

I’ll just live with my addiction.

on writing: the inspiration to share

I’ve really debated doing this for over a year. I hate unfinished projects and products so the thought of putting something out in the universe for other people to consume really made me uneasy.

But all of that changed when a friend started doing the very thing that I feared doing. Well, I’ll have to backtrack a bit. He started a few months ago with a blog of short stories and portions of what would become a first novel. It made me think that I could put portions of chapters or chapters up, but I still hesitated. What if I didn’t finish? What if I changed it and people reading it were confused or disappointed? Ugh. It just made me never want to let anyone read anything I wrote ever again.

Until the aforementioned friend announced late last week that his book was for sale on iBooks. Hmm. That made me reconsider. Perhaps I could eventually sell this the same way. And really the only way I would be able to do that is to share portions of it now.

So, I wrote an intro. Described the character. Described the book. And…let no one see it.

Ugh, again. But here goes.

The link is HERE and also will be an RSS feed on the side of this blog.

Comments & criticism are definitely welcome.

the bad: on writing

I have a journalism degree. Print journalism, to be exact. I got it right before print journalism disappeared from the face of the earth.

I will always remember one of the first writing courses I took at the Annenberg School for Journalism. My paper came back with the words: Don’t be cute. Too many words. written across the top.

What followed was a certifiable stripping of my writing. My language. Flowery description was eliminated completely. Get the facts. Get them right. And get them down. And for the love of God, don’t forget where to put the commas.

Writing like that is simple for me. Ridiculously simple. Give me a topic and a number of words and say GO, and I have no problem at all.

Then came this desire to write a book. Actually, it’s always been a desire. Since I was in about fourth grade. So, last year I sat down, wrote an outline and then proceeded to write the draft of a novel.

With absolutely no description.

I knew what was going to happen. Who was going to do what. Who was going to say what. And, it was absolutely easy. Just write the story was my theory. And it was good for me. Just to know that I could be disciplined enough to do it and get that amount of words on paper was very liberating.

But I hated it. Hate it.

So, I took a class. Two, now. And I was basically told to slow down. Write a story. Paint a picture. Something I actually used to do. Not well, but I definitely used to include description.

And the teachers encouraged this writing with lots of words. Writing with ridiculous attention to detail.

It’s definitely not great. But it’s a whole lot better.


the ugly: on running

I’m going to call this one ugly because it is.


I woke up Friday morning–the morning I was supposed to complete an 8-mile run–with a nasty bruise on my left calf. Upon further inspection, I realized my knee was also bruised along with the shin of my left leg.

I love my foam roller. It’s made my life infinitely easier. It knocked a minute off my mile time. It’s made me extra-flexible. And it’s solved my life-long knee problems. Seriously. No creaking. No clicking. No stiffness.  Not a drop of pain while I run. I don’t have to wear a brace anymore when I run.

But some days, I seriously look like I’ve been boxing instead of running.

And it hurts. The bruises are tender. And sore.

And they’re ridiculously ugly.

the good, the bad, the ugly

When I started running, I promised myself I would not complain on this blog about it. When I started writing (or at least starting writing a novel), I promised myself I would also not complain about it.

I realized, though, that it gives the illusion that these things are easy and come easy and cause absolutely no pain.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Both are a personal, mental, physical, spiritual and emotional struggle. Every. Single. Day.

And it’s funny because they hit the exact same sore spots inside of me. The same self-doubts and the same struggles.

I had lunch with a friend a few days ago, and she said something that has made me think. You have to give honor to the pain. She went on to say that she knows that I just want to push forward to forget about it.

Keep moving has been my slogan for about a year and a half.

But I’m not super-human and these things are not easy. So, I want to give myself the space to honor the pain and to be completely honest about how hard these things are.

on running: the baseball on my table

Someone asked me the other day why there’s a baseball on my dining room table. I need it to run. And the conversation went on from there, so I didn’t really get to explain why.

But there’s a very simple explanation.

As I sit at the table, I put the baseball on the floor and use it to massage the bottom of my feet. I read somewhere to use a golf ball, but I don’t have golf balls lying around my house. Baseballs, though. I have plenty of. When I started running with the Frees, I was a little concerned about the lack of arch support.

The baseball is a great way to relax those muscles, though. To stretch them out. And it feels really good after a run.

So…that’s why there’s a baseball on my dining room table.