By Adam Steiner and Elizabeth Stringer-Keefe
Today’s classrooms are filled with students from diverse backgrounds, all with their own unique learning styles and needs. Meeting the demands of such a classroom can prove difficult, even for the veteran teacher. We work hard to identify, plan, and implement flexible approaches that address the wide range of student needs and help us to balance daily classroom challenges. So, why do we often end our day by giving every student the exact same homework assignment?
Imagine the possibilities of applying progressive thinking and concepts like Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to homework in order to extend lessons outside of the classroom and allow students to be creative in demonstrating their understanding. How much more meaningful would homework be if students could more easily access it and have some control over the depth and breadth of their work simply by having choices? Digital technology can enable teachers to offer students a “menu” of homework choices that use multimedia, interaction, and various ways to represent content—all in service of the same learning goal. When homework methods match instructional methods, the benefit is clear: students have the opportunity to reinforce, showcase, and extend their learning.
We’ve compiled a list of five ways to end the “dog ate my homework” excuse once and for all!
- From school to home. First things first—make sure that homework is accessible and actually makes it into students’ homes. The obstacles associated with traditional methods of assigning homework (copying down tasks wrong, forgetting to bring worksheets home and back to school, etc.) can be avoided with online learning management systems like Google Classroom, Edmodo, or Moodle. These sites are a win-win-win for teachers, students, and parents. You can post homework digitally so that it can be accessed from anywhere and can even be completed, graded, and returned digitally. This method also provides a range of accessibility options for students with disabilities, such as screen readers in Google Classroom.
- No more writer’s cramp. At home note taking on required reading can be laborious and tedious, and sometimes it doesn’t produce the desired result. So many students struggle to discern critical information from extraneous information. Make mind mapping a standard part of note taking with tools like Popplet or MindMup, which help learners to organize their thinking and are free and easy to use. This is a skill that will benefit every student.
- Clone yourself. In some cases, there’s no substitute for hearing the directions straight from the source: the teacher. And who wouldn’t benefit from the opportunity to hear the directions again? When you need to record audio try a simple (and free) tool like Vocaroo, where you can create a short recording and e-mail or post it. If you want to add a visual component for further engagement, avatar yourself. Voki is a similar site that will animate your recording. Cool!
- Speak up! Google Read&Write, Voicedream, and NaturalReader are examples of software that turn plain text into spoken text. For some students, the experience of reading by listening makes all the difference for comprehension. This is a great tool to help students complete required reading sans frustration.
- Honey, I shrunk the whiteboard. Wouldn’t it be amazing to just shrink the whiteboard and let students take it home? Yep, it would. Meet Educreations and Explain Everything. This concept is called screencasting, and we think it rocks. Videos are great, but your voice narrating a lesson is way better. These two apps allow a teacher to write questions, notes, or problems on the screen and then record audio to explain what is happening. Share online for instant access for students anywhere!
For homework to remain relevant and effective, it should reflect the best of our classroom strategies and be flexible, engaging, and interactive. Can’t hurt to make it a little fun, too!
Adam Steiner (@steineredtech) and Elizabeth Stringer-Keefe (@ProfKeefe) are coauthors of the forthcoming book Remixing the Curriculum: The Teacher’s Guide to Assistive and Digital Technology, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in Spring 2015.