Sharing Ideas from the Personalized Learning Community

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Greetings! Want to share some really wonderful connections and conversations that I have had over the past two newsletters.

First, in case it got lost in your holiday email pile, here is the newsletter on homework that featured my deeper dive into exploring the purpose and value of homework. Since this newsletter went live…

  • Jay McTighe shared with his Twitter followers with the following provocations — HOMEWORK: too much? not enough? needed for cementing learning? is it mostly busywork? needed for rigor? is it eating into family time? preparing students for college? adding unnecessary stress on students?
  • Mike Anderson sent me a reflection after the newsletter came out —

A teacher I’ve worked with in Keene, NH had an interesting experience. Frustrated by the inconsistency she was getting from her students with homework, she decided to encourage them to read each night (without clunky accountability systems) and then offered optional learning extensions. She found that when she made homework optional, more kids actually participated!

One of the important considerations as well (with all of this) has to do with the age of the student. Homework at the high school level should look very different from the elementary level (where there really shouldn’t be much–if any). I worry when teachers justify nightly homework with the rationale that kids need to learn how to be responsible with homework now (elementary/middle) to prepare them for high school. Instead, many kids struggle and learn that they’re not really part of the school game. Also, I wish that we could help kids learn to lead balanced lives. Work hard while you’re at work and rest, relax, exercise, and engage in other interests when you’re not at work. Traditional homework practices seem to prepare kids (who do it) to lead lives of workaholism where work never ends. It’s like we’re training 16 year olds to be miserable burned-out 50 year olds!

  • Other community members sent along recommendations to add to the reading list:
    • Alfie Kohn’s 2012 blog Homework: An Unnecessary Evil? He reports the findings that: “There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and “no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”
    • Another sent me a ProCon link as she turns this question over to the students for debate and to practice developing argumentative text.

The first newsletter of 2019 on empathy caused an immediate and profound flurry of reflections and actions.

  • I heard from Claire Shea in Manchester, CT within 10 minutes of the newsletter’s release. “Given your recent newsletter, I thought you might appreciate this Atlantic article from a while ago. As an old English teacher, I found this article in the Atlantic (2016) as a reminder of why teaching (and reading) literature was so important to me ‘grappling with the way books make students feel—not just analytical skills—should be part of the high-school English curriculum.’ ” I’m afraid that we may have lost this purpose when some thought we should have a “skill based’ English curriculum.
  • Someone sent along a link to a heartwarming and impactful CNN video on how a 10 month old baby reduced the amount of bullying in a London school. Expanded my thinking of how to continue to grow empathy … small moves, big results. I had the privilege of collaborating with Bena Kallick and Art Costa to take the idea of empathy and provide form to it by drafting student goals and observable indicators. This is a draft proposal to inspire educators to model for students, practice with students, and provide feedback to students as they develop empathy skills. If you want to see the draft and take it out for a test drive as well as make it better, shoot me an email.

Keep the feedback coming — sharing ideas is the linchpin of growing what’s possible in our schools and for ourselves.

All the best,
Allison

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