Friday, April 18, 2014

Appropriate Practice Makes Perfect EDUC 731
I have been studying the SIOP model as a way to actively engage students in their learning, specifically ELL students, but I suggest to you that this model will fit all learners at any age. One aspect of this model is that of practice and application.

And now my ears perked up. Practice you say? Ah ha! That is what I have called "classwork" or what some may call "homework." It depends on how it is used.

First off, I will boldly stand in front of you and deny that homework should be given to any child. This leads me to my own definition of what is homework.

"Homework is that which is assigned to a student to do at home which has no great value or merit to the child's learning and instead, is pointless and passive. I believe that assigning it shows a great lack of respect to the families and to the student themselves. Often it must be done correctly. There is a right answer and there is a wrong answer. Homework then is often graded and recorded in a grade book of some kind with no or very little feed back given to the student."
I believe that homework to do at home specifically should not ever be assigned. The main reason is because the only level playing field I have as a teacher is that which goes on in my classroom. I cannot control the home environment of each single student, nor how many activities those children are in throughout the week. I cannot control the levels of education the parents might have nor can I control the language barriers that some students and families face. I even know of teachers who have used homework as a punishment.

So assigning homework to do at home is unfair.

I believe that there are teachers out there..and I know, because as I hang my head in shame, I was one of these types of teachers over the past 20 years, that hand out homework. The feeling was that perhaps if I had handed out homework, that the assumption was that the skill had been taught and the student had learned. Indeed, that is clearly a wrong assumption.

The truth is that if you teach your objectives then assign a task, "homework" and you give them a score, a grade for that, you have not taught. There is more that has to happen for solid learning to occur.

(*Gasp*,  I even handed out "extra credit." I can't believe I did that...and that is another discussion!)

Practice is very important in designing a lesson. "Practice" is the key word. You can call this concept development if you want to, because that is what it really is. The point of practice is to pave the way to understanding the standards and the objectives that you are teaching.  It is vital that students  must be quite familiar with the content. It is also essential that there are in place, many great opportunities for self directed learning and then allowing the students to reflect and share with others what they learn.

To do this you can think of it in this way:

Me (The teacher)
Me (The student)  

Practice is NOT graded. It is formative only. That means that it forms and shapes the students learning. It must be assessed with  feedback to help the student continue well on their learning journey. I like what my friend Rik Rowe said in a #sblchat recently that practice is an, "opportunity to improve skills and uncover thinking stumbling blocks. It's not punishment."
Appropriate practice time is full of feedback, discussions, turning learning corners together and is unrecorded. This is true practice and instruction. If the teacher takes that activity and records it, then it is now an assessment.

So, here are some keys to appropriate practice for students, because practice does make perfect whether it is in education, sports, music or whatever. Practice is vital for growth.


Creative: With so many apps, so many ways to digitize learning, there are no excuses for a lack of creativity. Put yourself in their shoes, would this opportunity for practice motivate YOU?  Do your very best to stay away from artifact sheets...or as you might still call them, worksheets. Be very wise on this, some are meaningful, but most are not.

Challenging: Build in inquiry. A few of the ways I use of the ways I build in inquiry is by using  Wonderopolis , Genius Hour, and Wonder Wall. You can use these things across subject and across grade level.

Engagement: When students are engaged, they will gain confidence in their learning.

Differentiate: Use the 8 Intelligences as your guide on the side for helping you think of creative ways for the students to practice their learning. Design your practice work to reach each child at the level that they are learning. The one size fits all model for learning never worked then, and it doesn't work now.
Listen: For ELL students or for emergent readers it is really important to have time to listen to someone reading a story. For many students, listening to TED Talks is a great idea or small youtube blubs that you pull out and create an aura for with augmented reality that when the students scan the aura, more information comes forth just for them!

Manipulatives: There is no such thing as too many manipulatives. Providing these links their learning. So many kids need hands on learning!

Points: Do not give points for practice. When you do that, it no longer is practice. It is assessment. Assessment is the VERY last thing you do!

Read: They can read anything about any subject. The point is that they just need to read. Reading specifically for ELL students is vital. Time spent practicing reading  whether it is read to self or read to others is essential.

Redo's: Allow redos for all students with no penalty. This comes as a part of formative feedback. It is respectful and helps the students keep on track of their learning journey.

Student Voice: They can design their learning journey. Give them options of how to show what they know. One of my favorites is what my friend Paul Solarz does with digital portfolios.

Speak: Create opportunities for students to lead lessons for their peers. Create technical opportunities for students to record the sound of their own voice. Even record their explanations for math using Explain Everything . They just need time. Time for round table discussions. Create practice opportunities for students to listen to one another or  for there to be debates on subjects.

Short: This time for practice should not take forever. In fact, it should really take place all during the class time. What is not done is what then has the opportunity to go home. That is not homework. That is work that the student for a variety of reasons did not get done in school and needs to return for feedback.

Write: Again, creating a digital portfolio is important. Why digital? Because it can be saved by the student forever as well as parents (and other family members) can interact with it and see what their child is learning about. It is good to write in any way, shape or form. In math, it is good to have students write down HOW they got the answer as much as what the answer is when it comes to assessment.

Zeros: No zeros. For the sake of the students, say NO to ZEROS! When you do that you have erased any incentive for students to do anything at all. Some would say, well, giving them a zero teaches them responsibility. I say, it is a punishment. Curses to you oh student who didn't do their work! Don't give zeros, reduce opportunities for other things like, recess or or any other unstructured time. Yes, the work might not get done, but I think that when you transform your classroom into a standards based classroom and the mindset of the teacher, students and parents have changed about grading over all, you will see fewer zeros..and more work done, because what you are doing is training the students to own their own learning journey, not regurgitate information.

Students no matter if they are ELL students or not, cannot afford teachers who waste their learning time on something called "homework."

So, are you still wondering what I am talking about and thinking I am loopy on this? Here are some great videos from my mentor/guru of all things SGB. Rick Wormeli will talk about zeros, late work, and homework.