I’ve always struggled with the concept of homework-aside from the obvious pedagogical reasons (issues of relevance, relationship with curriculum, etc.), there were also more practical reasons why I’ve struggled with homework (is there anything more boring than reading slight variations on the same answers 60 times?). It just seemed to me that homework had lost its usefulness; I didn’t enjoy giving it, the students didn’t enjoy doing it, and it didn’t seem to advance my curriculum that much.
So this year, with the help of Google (who upped the features on our Apps for Education account at our school), I had the students create blogs. Instead of giving them questions each night, which they would turn in for only me to see, I simply gave them items to read and the instructions to blog as many times a week as they felt necessary (although I set a minimum of three times). I created a rubric for those blogs, citing the major requirement that they had to make connections to their readings, in class work, and anything they experienced in their lives. However, they only were to blog if they felt like they had something to say.
We’re a little more than a week into the curriculum now and I cannot believe the products that I am getting. I have received more thoughtful responses, unique ideas, and terrific historical questions than ever. I actually make time to read the homework every night (instead of letting it pile up and doing it all at once) because it is…wait for it…interesting stuff. The students seem more engaged in class and, in their writing, I actually learn not only about what they know, but a little bit about who they are.
Furthermore, student blogging has already given me the opportunity to assess student understanding better than ever. Because students are not simply “hunting and pecking” for the right answers that I want, they are revealing more of what they know (or think they know). In allowing students to write on their own interests and not giving them specific questions, I’m not limiting the material on which they’re assessed. When what they think they know isn’t quite right, I can then re-teach on a variety of subjects, instead of limiting things to simply what I had thought would be important prior to handing out the assignment.
Overall, after a week of school, I simply could not be happier with student blogging. It seems more authentic than anything I have ever done and has revitalized, for me, the process of giving homework. While this (like pretty much anything else at school) could change tomorrow, this year is certainly off to a great start.