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?