Natural Consequences


This is the hardest part of teaching, if you ask me. What are the natural consequences of not completing a task in the given amount of time?

It started with a tweet from Alice Keeler:

...and it really snowballed.

Homework - and whether or not to assign it - is extremely personal. It's a methodological decision that (often) is tied very closely to the culture of learning a teacher tries to set up in their room.

Homework is divisive.

I teach high school...mostly 10th and 11th grade. Part of my responsibility to to teach responsibility to my students. Everything I do in my class rolls back around to life skills (this is called organic curriculum in the literature. See Glatthorn (1999) for more) and preparing them for their obligations once they leave the building.

I'm not naive. I know students are dealing with much, much more than I ever have. I have multiple students with children. Many with jobs. Most with clubs, athletics, and other extracurricular work. I also have some homeless, transient, and students dealing with significant adversity.

And it is my responsibility to make sure they're learning.

We use class time to make sure that happens. I give plenty of time to work through content. I'm here to help. They work in groups. They can ask questions, make mistakes, reflect, and revise in a safe place.

But sometimes, students make decisions to not use the class time. That's when it becomes homework.

Justin Aion wrote a great post which summarizes many of my thoughts on teaching responsibility. In particular,

At some point, the role of a teacher, in my opinion, slowly shifts to support, gradually handing off the responsibility for education to the student, helping them to become more and more independent before we release them into the world. I struggle regularly with finding that balance. This year, with juniors and seniors, I am much more inclined to leave the responsibility up to them. I make myself available and do my best to support them, but the responsibility for learning and decision making is on them.

Is it irresponsible of me to ask that work not finished in the time given during the day be finished outside of class? For high schoolers, I don't think so. Mainly because I know what support they've had during the day(s) of work on the task and really, anything leftover, should be minimal.

Here's the problem: none of these conversations about homework consider the support already given.

It's dogmatic. A kneejerk. And it's hurting education discussions.

If I don't finish work, I have to find time to do it. Period.

Why is it different for our students?

I'm here after school. I'm here before school. We have an advisory period. I can implore, beg, and even assign, but there is still a conscious decision made by a student to either take advantage of those opportunities or not. If they don't, the only reasonable expectation that I have is that they do it at home.

Blaming the teacher for a student's indiscretion is like blaming the principal for not getting your grades done on time. There is a set time period and it needs to get done.

Does homework - in and of itself - teach responsibility? No. Of course not. Neither does bringing a pencil to class. All I ask is that we start to look beyond the action and include the support system in place. What else is done? What could be improved? What might need to be dropped?

I left that discussion feeling angry and frustrated because we stuck to the idea that "all homework is bad." To someone new to Twitter - and even someone old on Twitter - it comes across as a personal attack. I think Glenn Arnold said it best afterward:

I (usually) enjoy the discussion...this time, I'm enjoying the reflection (again, Justin's <a href=""">post is great). We need to think big picture. Forget homework - it's a single thing that can influence learning. Let's talk about the larger systems or cultures we're building...that's a discussion I can get into.

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Homework is a Red Herring


Polarization is easy to achieve, but it's hard to undo. Education is riddled with polarizing issues, both political and practical, and the issue of homework is one of the worst.

The central argument: Homework doesn't benefit students, and you shouldn't be giving it.

Aside from pushing buttons and for increasing retweets, search hits, and Klout scores, the homework argument doesn't go much farther than that. Unfortunately, it's also gotten to the point where teachers who do give homework feel ostracized in the popular education social spheres. Apparently, that means they're bad teachers, so instead of trying to engage with an already polarized community, they hunker down and don't bring it up.

It's a tragedy that we can't talk about teaching without diving into our camps.

This girl is in every blog post or slide deck about homework...including this blog post. Creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Cayusa:

Homework in and of itself is no more a "bad" thing than giving multiple choice tests or lecturing in class. What's bad is when we do those things - or any thing - without thinking through what we're doing and why we're doing it. Rather than pushing for ideological conformity, why don't we take time to discuss what the real issues are behind each action?

Let's consider some valid reasons to have work done outside school hours:

Students need time to process their learning individually. This isn't always done best in the classroom. Time to reflect, process, or otherwise chew on information alone should be done outside of school because it is more conducive to finding insight.

Practice. Don't shoot the messenger, but skills need to be practiced. Again, corporate time in the classroom is not necessarily the best place for individual practice to take place.

Teaching time management. If we had unlimited and unscripted time during the school day, maybe I wouldn't use this one in particular. But, when we get down to nuts and bolts, we can't give unlimited time to accomplishing a task - and before you get all "real-world" on me, yes, it happens in places other than school.

Exploration of ideas. I would love to provide a fully immersive environment for my students, but I can't replicate a forest in the building. Sending students out to take a walk and experience their environment requires that they do it outside of school.

We get so hung up on where this stuff happens that we miss the bigger point. Yes, I had students who took care of siblings, played sports, or worked. I did my best to limit the volume of work outside of school, but I think it's a bigger adjustment to change what kind of work happens outside of school. Perhaps it isn't the fact that homework exists but rather the homework we give tends to suck.

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Where Are the #Flipclass Chat Archives?


I had a minor site reorganization, and I wanted to make sure everyone who relies on the chat archive each week knows how to find it. There are a couple different ways:

  1. This blog - The page hasn't been updated in a long time, but there is a link the archives under the Flipclass Chat page in the header. The archive is now sorted by year to help keep everything straight. flipclass chat link header blog

  2. The Twitters - I do my best to make sure the archive is out ASAP the following morning, so you can check the #flipclass hashtag search (you can do this even if you're not on Twitter) and find the link there. If you are on Twitter, be sure to follow me to receive updates directly each week.

  1. Right here - Just for good measure, here is another link to the folders, so you don't have to go hunting.

Remember, the chat is every Monday night at 8PM EST, 5PM PST. You can also find more information over on the Flipped Learning Journal.

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Special #Flipclass Chat Monday, Sept. 10


Monday, September 10th is the 25th weekly #flipclass chat. After beginning back in March, we have had a great team of moderators form and had increased participation on a weekly basis.

One thing we discovered this summer was that live discussions using Goole+ Hangouts On-Air were a great way to bring in experts in flipping from all over the world to discuss best practice and give tips on how flipping works for them. Stories are one of the best tools for learning, and we want to continue to embrace your stories.

For this broadcast, we're going to highlight classroom norms that work well for us. The beginning of the school year is a time where we get to know kids and learn about our class cultures, but it is also a time to build good habits and set community expectations. When you change the way you think about teaching and learning, that process can become very difficult. We're hoping to give a broad view of teachers who want to share what norms work for them. At the same time, we're all looking to learn some new tools from others.

While we can't all spend time together in the hangout, the audience will have an active role in the discussion. After brief introductions, I will serve as the voice of Twitter to the panel to encourage some Q&A and continued discussion.

photo credit: kino-eye via photo pin cc


Moving the Flipped Class


I have not written for almost two weeks now. Half of the reason is because of writer's block, another half because school is crazy, and a third half because of some family issues that came up unexpectedly. I opened up my blog a few times with intention to write, but I could not get anything to form. But that's okay. It gave me time to reflect on other's posts and thoughts while trying to get all of mine to fit in my head.

There has been a lot happening with the Flipped Classroom recently...almost too much to list. For example:

Plus, dozens of articles on the flipped classroom.

As I have been reading and following articles and discussions, one thing stood out: the prevailing description of the flipped classroom is "videos at home, 'homework' in school." And this bothers me.

The biggest complaint I hear from flipped class skeptics is that it still relies on homework and technology use. Any ideology that relies on any one tool is doomed. If your class relies on textbooks and kids do not bring their book, what will you do with no redundancy built in?

What is missed in so many articles on the flipped classroom is the fact that it does not rely on homework or video. That is simply one iteration of a larger process.

I have a flipped classroom, but I do not assign homework nor do I require students to watch lecture videos. What I do expect students to do is drive their own learning rather than relying on someone else (me) to crack the whip behind them. That is what the flipped classroom is about...reversing the learning roles. Not the video. Not the technology.

Flickr CC, Viernest

If you are a flipper, I want to encourage you to change the discussion focus from video to how we can better support student learning in a flipped classroom. What works well for you? What did not work well for you? How has your teaching changed since flipping? I do realize that video is a great tool in flipping, but it really is the smallest part of the puzzle and does not accurately represent the whole picture. If we want to move forward, we need to start having more deeper, connective conversations with other educators, just like we try to with our students.