Homework, homework, homework…an on-going battle, the struggle for control of the precious minutes after school, the opportunity to consolidate learning through independent practice, the bane of middle school students. If there is any area of school that still cries out for some Universal Design for Learning (UDL) love, it’s homework.
A first attempt
Last year, I made my goal for teacher evaluation to have 100% choice in a combination of either activities in class and/or homework. In practice, this largely looked like giving students a choice for homework between a paper option (the daily Eureka lesson) or an electronic version of that lesson via ASSISTments. So, yes, choice, but not really all that much depth in the choices, not much room for students to be empowered to make decisions about their learning.
Rethinking “choice” in homework
This year, my colleague, Irene Witt, pushed me to think about using homework as a vehicle to hold students to a deeper experience, to have them take on different challenges. For example, she reworked a series of reflection questions from the Math Homework Reflection Questions by Dr. Jo Boaler from Mathematical Mindsets and we often offer them as an option on homework.
We continue to offer a combination of electronic and paper versions of the same core lessons, while also including multiple options across a wide range of formats. We are explicit about the purpose of the differences in formatting, so students can make informed decisions–Do they need to review the core material from that day’s class to solidify their understand and reduce anxiety? Do they need to move on to reduce boredom in order to remain engaged? Opening up our understanding of what constitutes homework has allowed us to empower our students to be engaged both by the novelty of the options as well as the chance to choose work that is meaningful for them.
Other ways to rethink homework can be found in Alternatives to Homework: A Chart for Teachers by Kathleen Cushman where we find detailed revisions of current homework practice, some similar to the revision Dr. Boaler offers where the skill-and-drill approach to math homework is simply eliminated. Whether we follow in the footsteps of Kathleen Cushman and incorporate many practices into the daily class experience or whether we use homework as a time to bring in novel activities, adding choice increases engagement across the board.