Book Review: Ditch that Homework

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At the front end of this review, I want to lead with the fact that I have the privilege of serving with some of the most innovative, creative, and thoughtful teachers I’ve ever known in my role at North Cobb Christian School.  We have spent the last several years destroying silos (K3-12th grade), wrestling with necessary conversations (across content and grade level teams), learning about learning, studying what God’s word has to say about knowing the mind of Christ, challenging each other to try new things, studying the things that didn’t go well the first time…before we tried it again, and celebrating the wins like crazy!

I ran across Matt Miller and Alice Keeler a few years ago through a variety of educational resources…especially when our school jumped 100% into Google Classroom integration.  I’ve followed both of them through their blogs and social media since then.  Our school took a pretty revolutionary approach to homework a year ago and we have seen so many great benefits…the students are taking responsibility for their learning and realizing so many things about themselves in the process!  What a treasure to see them intrinsically recognizing the benefits of learning!  I saw this Ditch That Homework by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler released a few weeks ago and knew I needed to check it out.

This is a quick read and it feels like a great conversation with Matt and Alice.  I’m especially grateful for the resources they listed throughout.  I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below including a list of many of the resources they referenced throughout the book.  Pick up a copy and a few for the most awesome teachers you know!

  • “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  Pablo Picasso p. xi
  • For the purposes of this book, we’re defining homework as any academic work done outside of class: at home, before or after school, in the hall before class, or even during another teacher’s class. p. xiv
  • Here are a few questions to consider before giving homework for your next lesson:
    • Does it increase a student’s love of learning?
    • Does it significantly increase learning?
    • Does it stimulate students’ interest in the subject and make them want to delve deeper?
    • Are students able to complete the assignment without help?
    • Is it differentiated for ability or interest?
    • If the students didn’t have to do it, would they want to do it anyway?
    • Does it avoid causing fights, parent/child division, and a lack of harmony in the home? p. xvii
  • One deficiency in most homework is its vague definitely of homework.  It lumps word searches and mindless multiple-choice worksheets in with the kind of assignments that really cause kids to think, discuss, and create.  Not all assignments are created equal.  Unfortunately, most homework research does nothing to separate poorly designed busywork from quality academic work. p. xxiii
  • If research on homework is confusing and inconclusive and opinions on the topic are so divergent, why is homework still the status quo in schools—especially when there’s no proof that it’s effective? p. xxvi
  • Here are just a few ways to stop relying on homework:
    • Design for more active student engagement during class time.
    • Allow students to choose routes and topics for learning and meeting educational goals while touching on their personal interests.
    • Show your students that you know, respect, and care for them so that they want to take up your mission as their own.
    • Use technology to work smarter, more efficiently, effectively, and creatively.
    • Implement scientifically proven learning methods that optimize the way the brain works.
    • Empower your students to think for themselves and guide them to becoming lifelong learners. p. xxvii
  • Textbooks today are symbols of the past, a time when the modus operandi was marching chapter by chapter through the textbook and answering questions at the end.  But today, we have access to so many resources.  The most important of those resources isn’t an app or a digital tool.  It’s the brain of a well-trained educator, who can design educational tasks that stimulate, inspire, and equip students. p. 1
  • When you use your creative, innovative capacities to deliver stimulating and engaging lesson, you tend to use textbooks less.  And the less you use textbooks, the more likely it is that you’ll find that you don’t need to rely on homework to reinforce concepts because the learning that happens in the classroom sticks.  We’ve seen it happen time after time.  Teachers stop depending on textbooks.  They start creating more relevant and creative lessons.  Students become more focused, attentive, and engaged in learning because they are actually interesting it learning: it’s something they want to do.  That kind of hyper-attentiveness locks in learning. p. 2
  • It’s time to turn research reports and paper into something meaningful.  Here are ideas for some alternatives:
  • The first five minutes of class are golden.  It’s the time teachers are most likely to have their students’ attention.  And how did I use those valuable minutes?  By providing an engaging learning hook?  By asking a thought-provoking question to kick-start thinking on the day’s learning?  Nope.  We went over homework.  Golden time wasted. p. 17
  • Real engagement conjures the idea of being completely locked in and actively engaged. p. 19
  • Posting lesson information and basic directions for task where it can be easily accessed and referred to by students allows the teacher to spend more time working one-on-one with students. p. 19
  • Doing independent practice in the classroom lets students access a great resource: Their highly skilled teacher.  Students see teachers ever day for good reason: We’re trained in pedagogy, learning theory, and best practices.  We’re experts in our content area, and we have experience in helping learners succeed.  Why would we want to disconnect students from this valuable resource? p. 23
  • One of the most important things we can do with students is to sit down next to them.  Doing so strengthens our relationship with students and provides the personalized instruction and feedback that helps them thrive.  p. 27
  • The Internet is what it is because people created, not because they consumed.  If people weren’t willing to put themselves and their ideas out for public consumption, this vast resource we all rely upon so heavily never would have taken off. p. 27
  • Giving students the ability to choose how they demonstrate their learning gives students a locus of control. p. 33
  • That ownership of learning prepares them for life beyond the classroom. p. 33
  • When students have a say in what they’re doing, they get passionate about their work. p. 33
  • Rather than focusing on what assignments you want students to do, consider providing students the learning objective.  There are many ways to demonstrate understanding of a learning objective.  When students know what they are trying to show, it opens up the possibility for different choices in how they demonstrate their learning. p. 37
  • Imagine that your son or daughter has a teacher with a  vision.  That teacher has shared the vision with you.  You understand that all of the class activities and all of the teacher’s feedback are crafted toward helping your child achieve goals you believe in. p. 44
  • Think of teaching as a customer service job.  What if you considered that your students are your customers and periodically asking what they thought of their learning experience?  What kind of feedback do you think you’d get?  It may sound a little scary, but having used this approach ourselves, we can tell you that the information you’ll get when you ask students for input can be invaluable. p. 48
  • “The principle of mass-practice relies on short-term memory, whereas durable learning requires time for mental rehearsal and the other processes of consolidation to take effect, including forgetting.” Jeff Mehrig and Regan Thomson, Brain-Friendly Learning Tips for Long-Term Retention and Recall (2016). p. 77
  • “People generally are going about learning in the wrong ways.” Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel, Make it Stick (2014)
  • Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempts.
  • If you practice elaboration—giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know—there’s no known limit to how much you can learn.
  • Learning sinks in when a strong, personal, or concrete connection is made to the material. p. 83
  • Eight skills that can really affect how much students thrive far beyond school
  • 1. Solid Study Skills
  • 2. Decision-Making and Independent Learning Skills
  • In college, students make countless decisions every day.  That means that before they get to college, they need to practice making decisions and learn to think for themselves. p. 92
  • 3.  Critical thinking skills
  • Webb’s Depth of Knowledge
  • 4.  Digital Research Skills
  • 5. The Skill of Meeting Authentic Deadlines
  • 6.  Teamwork Skills
  • 7. Short-Term Goal-Setting Skills
  • 8. Informal Learning Skills

 

  • Looking ahead to the skills our students will need in their future, ingenuity and learning skills will be far more important that being able to follow directions.  Employers will be looking for innovators, self-starters, and problem solvers.  Because today, almost anything that involves following procedural steps can be automated, even something seemingly complex as driving a car. p. 120
  • Students need the responsibility of making decisions.  And yes, when you start asking students to make decisions, they will very likely make wrong or immature choices.  That’s okay!  We learn to make decisions by making mistakes.  Just because students make poor choices doesn’t mean we should remove that responsibility altogether.  Instead, use those poor choices (and outcomes) as an opportunity for self-evaluation and redirection. p. 123
  • Measure learning, not compliance. p. 126 (thinking behind our homework policy at NCCS)
  • What kind of learners does compliance create?  Yep, compliant ones.  And the marketplace isn’t looking for compliance.  It craves people with creative minds who can solve problems, communicate, and think for themselves.  When we, as teachers, turn away from rhetoric and compliance and focus on action and independent thinking, we help make lifelong learning a reality. p. 136
  • What’s best for the kids? p. 155
  • Resources
  • ditchthathomework.com/busywork
  • Screencast-O-Matic
  • Educreations-iTunes FREE
  • flipgrid.com
  • kahoot.com
  • quizizz.com
  • Edpuzzle.com
  • Right Question Institute
  • Skypeintheclassroom.com
  • nepris.com (connect with STEM/STEAM experts)
  • weebly.com
  • canva.com
  • piktochart.com
  • goformative.com
  • ditchthathomework.com/parentlog (to keep track of parent communication)
  • ditchthathomework.com/exitticket
  • ditchthathomework.com/notetaker
  • ditchthathomework.com/driveslides (turn a picture folder into a slideshow)

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