Wednesday, July 27, 2011

ReThinking : Assignment Notebooks

IMPORTANT: First, read The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn.  If, after reading this book, homework is still considered necessary for learning, you will want to consider these alternatives.

Many districts require assignment notebooks for scheduling homework and long-term assignments. For some students, a paper-based system works effectively. For other students, the assignment notebook provides unintended consequences as a method of frustration.  Not all students are able to independently record homework in an assignment notebook, for a variety of reasons (i.e. difficulty with pencil control, difficulty managing multiple paper materials, unable to use notebooks due to vision or physical disabilities) .  

The paper IS the disability for these students.

What are alternatives? Thinking creatively, and considering the ubiquitous technology available, here are a few options:

1.    Embed the assignments on the class webpage. Students (and parents) will know where it is recorded which can become part of the home routine.  
2.    Use Audio Recordings - If homework is assigned at the upper elementary level, have a student be the Homework Recorder for the day using simple tools such as Vocaroo, Fotobabble, or Eyejot (webcam needed). Or, use Audacity or Garage Band to create a podcast as a record of accomplishments as well as the assignments of the day. Whatever method is used, embed or link it to the classroom website or wiki.
3.    Use a Livescribe SmartPen to create audio recordings which are synched with the text for review at home. Audio recordings can be uploaded to the computer and linked to the class website or wiki.
4.   If you have a mobile device, consider these apps - SmartNote, Fotobabble, Evernote, any audio note app that allows you to embed or send to your students' email list.
5.   Allow students to take a picture where the homework is recorded with their cell phones or iPod Touches.
6.   Low tech - Allow students to purchase their own assignment notebooks - do not require a one size fits all mandated approach

Assignment notebooks, can get lost, students can overlook recording an assignment, students may have difficulty reading their own writing due to fine motor issues, When external supports are offered, students with executive skill challenges can flourish. They know (and their parents are grateful that) there is a place where they can find the information they need for success at home.

Keep in mind Toolbelt Theory. We have a responsibility to show students a variety of tools to develop their own toolbelts for use beyond school. Not everyone accomplishes tasks in the same standardized way. Some of us use paper-based organizers, others use cell phones or apps in Smartphones. Offering alternatives helps students develop a system that works for them instead of using a “one-size fits all approach” which may not actually fit.

These suggestions incorporate Universal Design for Learning principles. What is put in place for students with disabilities, benefits all students. Students can be encouraged to purchase the organizer that works best for them, if it is something they need. Some students prefer a daily, weekly or monthly view. One size does not fit all and assignment notebooks do not work for everyone.

Do you have other suggestions?


Your Therapy Source said...

Another low tech option - if the teacher can take the time to place the information on the computer or write it on the board, I am sure they can print a copy to hand out to each student.

If teachers must assign homework (my ideal world there is none), it would be great if it could get assigned on a weekly basis. I have seen teachers provide students with packets for the whole week and certain sheets are supposed to get done on certain nights. The great thing about this is that the student learns to pace themselves. One teacher even does it for the whole month. Keeps it very organized for the students. Also, if you are going to be busy one night you can do the two assignments the night before.

Love your idea of taking a picture of the assignment. You could also use an app that would create a PDF out of the picture (iecamscanner) that way it can be searched or read out loud in Adobe Reader.

MY MUSINGS said...

First...I love the multiple ideas of how to share a homework assignment, but I think that to make this an indictment on Assignment

I think we take the issues of the "few" kids and make them the issues of "all" kids. So much so that we have excused ourselves out of basic tools.

Lauren Hickey said...

I am a student at Illinois State University. I am currently taking an assistive technology class and for part of one of my group projects we were looking for tools that would be good assignment notebook type tools. My group found an Ipad application called Picture Scheduler which was created specifically for individuals with disabilities. It shows a list of tasks that need to be done with pictures next to the words as a visual aid.

Kathleen Kosobud said...

One of my kids constantly lost her planner--that's how much she despised it. We finally went to the bookstore and found a week-at-a-glance art calendar with her favorite artist's works--she valued it so highly that it never got lost--and she recorded her assignments in it! My son used to call home to read his assignments onto the family's voicemail. I think that one key aspect of the whole homework issue is to strengthen the elusive connections between home and school. Families cannot support what they don't know about.

Karen Janowski said...

Thanks for the great ideas. They validate the point that one size does not fit all; it's important to allow students to explore various options to see what works best for them.
@mymusings - if we are overlooking the issues of the "few" kids then we are not reaching all the learners in our classrooms. I believe it's essential we reach everyone and do whatever it takes to promote success and independence for all.
Thanks everyone for stopping by!

Samuel Sennott said...

I really like the automation suggestion of having assignments on a class webpage. It could be neat to incorporate auto-email reminders.

Your approach of using the "toolbelt theory" is terrific. By focusing on the core task and ways to problem solve it you can both get at the root of the need and also raise awareness about the potential tools to use. Nice!

amvorde said...

I can definitely relate to this soc called dilemma? I know that in the assignment notebooks that are free around campus don't fit my needs. I write bigger and write EVERYTHING down, so I need something that suits me better. Also, another example, my brother just entered 7th grade and could care less about his assignment notebook. He is always missing assignments because he doesn't have his planner with him to write them down, or simply doesn't want to open it. But if teacher's would let him or other students similar him to use reminders on their cell phones or post information online, and they can check on the computer or online with their phone. I feel they might feel "privileged" and be more opt to check out their assignments. SO many student's have cell phones and can't stay off of them, but as a teacher, we can give them a productive reason to be on their phone, and it's basically glued to their hands.

adjenri said...

I think you made a great point that students should be encouraged to get a planner that works best for them. Each student's needs vary and it is best to fit the student's needs by finding an appropriate organizer, whether it is an organizer that a teacher prepares for the students, an Ipad, voice recording, or an assignment notebook.

Karen Janowski said...

Thank you for sharing your personal experience. It validates the points I am trying to make in this post. Every student needs to be offered the opportunity to use the tools that work for them. I like the idea of shifting the conversation to "feeling privileged" to use a particular method.
There are so many options as you point out. It begs the question, why are we only offering the one planner solution?

Jessica Reinartz said...

Your Therapy Source said... "If teachers must assign homework (my ideal world there is none), it would be great if it could get assigned on a weekly basis. I have seen teachers provide students with packets for the whole week and certain sheets are supposed to get done on certain nights."

(Sorry new to blogging and not sure how to quote things)

I assign homework a basis by unit (usually 1-2 weeks long) but several students have a hard time keeping track of it. Everything is due on the same day at the end of the unit, and the assignments are available online, but some kids still can't schedule their time. I have found that teaching them how to use google calendars is particularly helpful. Any other websites/apps that could help them keep track of assignments and due dates?