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9 Oct 2012

Creston High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan

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This month's feature is actually Diane Nienhuis (pictured at right with her students) a teacher from Organized Binder school Creston High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Diane and I recently had a discussion about the purpose of homework and the following email was her response:

"Here's where I came from: Six years ago Creston used to be on the block schedule. It is next to impossible to teach for 106 mins straight and still be effective. At least, that's my theory on teaching a foreign language because kids need to hear repetition on a daily basis, not the same thing repeated over for nearly 2 hours. I taught on the block schedule for 3 years. I gave my students A LOT of homework. I gave them "bell work" to start class in addition to classwork and homework. I bet I gave at least 6+ assignments a week. Every assignment was always due the very next day. If they turned it in a day late, I took off 50% of the credit. I felt as though I was constantly grading homework, because I WAS constantly grading homework. I was stressed out! As a new teacher I also used the mass amount of work as a strategy for classroom management and it worked.

Three years ago we switched out of block scheduling and even dropped an hour. We taught 4 classes a day on a staggered schedule (meaning there was one day each week without a prep...hard to explain...but this was a year of transition as we switched over to Trimesters). The classes shrunk to about 70 mins but I kept up the same pattern of homework. I was swamped with homework but I didn't know how to make successful changes. Nor did I want to turn into the teacher who just grades all homework by walking up and down the aisles and giving out a check mark. I thought that homework had to have value for the sake of the student and I also viewed homework as a way to assess my own teaching. "What did the kids learn? What should I reteach? Where did they get stuck? Are most of them on the same page?" I collected and graded every single line of each assignment. It was too much! Then about 10 months ago I heard the question, "What is the purpose of homework?" coupled with, "Is all homework equitable?" and I realized that I was misusing the very nature of homework! The purpose of homework should be to extend the school day into the home environment so that a student can continue learning. I also realized that it is not fair to most of my clients to expect them to turn in their homework the very next day. This became evident when one of my students became homeless. Could I reasonably expect her to turn in her homework the next day? Should she really be penalized for an incomplete assignment when she is living in a homeless shelter? The answer was a resounding "NO!" all the way around. But I still did not know how to make effective change!

Enter, Mitch Weathers! Thanks to the successful implementation of the Organized Binder in my classroom my students now keep all of their homework! Without the OB I would not be able to change homework patterns in my class. Last week as we switched to a new trimester I was able to attempt a change in my homework policy! Now I've come to realize that the purpose of homework is for the kids and to extend their learning. Additionally, our school district has decided that tests/quizzes are worth 70% while homework is worth 15%. So why was I working 10-11 hours a day grading homework that even the district does not find valuable? Now I am telling students to KEEP all of their work in the H section of their binder. A day or two after it is assigned I will walk around the room with a clipboard and physically check each assignment. I correct their mistakes on the spot and am able to do immediate re-teaching. (They are usually working on a new assignment while I walk around). I love the immediacy of talking to kids about their homework! On the spot! If they have it partially done, I give out partial credit and tell them that I will give them full credit when they finish it but they have to bring it to me after school. If they wait a week I will take off points for being late. I have assigned 3 assignments in 6 days (whoa!) and have been able to retrieve 2 or 3 hours of my life EACH DAY!! It took too much time to grade each line, mark each paper, alphabetize them, and then enter each grade for 165 students. Instead, I have a homework log printed from the computer on my clipboard and after school I simply have to transfer the grade from the clipboard back to the computer! It takes less than 4 minutes per class! This is also easier to manage because when kids are absent or if their assignment is late, it's still kept in the binder! NO FUSS! I love this! It works for me! It works for the kids! It works because of the binder!! Not ONE kid has raised an eyebrow about the changes,which is great! THANKS MITCH!"

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