Monday, October 17, 2011

Home "Work"

After reading Making Learning Whole last summer, I really got to thinking about how to make the game of school transparent for my students, and how to honor the work they do at home for fun and personal learning.

Also last summer, when we were doing some cleaning in the basement back home, I ran across this straight line design I made with embroidery floss on black poster board back in middle school, and I remembered doodling endless variations of these designs for hours on end with ruler and well-sharpened pencil. I remembered the sketchbooks full of floor plans that my cousin and I made, as we imagined ourselves becoming architects in the future. I still have the writing journals I filled with adolescent angst, cartoons, poetry and fits and starts of stories.

It's this kind of "work" that I want to honor in my students. I want them to see connections between the learning we do in school and the playful exploration of these ideas that they can give themselves as "assignments" and bring in to share with the class.

Filling the wall around the straight line design which was my long ago home "work" are photos of students and the things they've brought in. One budding car enthusiast brought in the engine he made from a kit during the summer. Several have brought in collections. One girl has made several different tri-o-ramas, following directions she found either online or in a craft book. They have practiced math facts, and made a connection to a read aloud (I got a cupcake in honor of PAULIE PASTRAMI ACHIEVES WORLD PEACE).

When we were studying landforms, they made paper and cardboard and clay models of the landforms we were learning about. Although the landform unit is complete, a student was looking at the wooden M on her wall (one of the letters of her name) and she saw a canyon between the two peaks of the letter. When she shared it with the class, another student saw two plateaus on the flat tops of those points. They have seen that learning and thinking about a topic don't have to end just because they've taken the end of unit assessment.

Last week, when I was exhausted beyond belief and in a value-added/data-induced funk, my student who has inspired girl and boy readers of all abilities with her quest to read every Babymouse book in the series (she and several others have created checklists), brought in the Cupcake Tycoon board game she made.

Because of the way we start our day, I was able to play the game with her in the ten minutes the class and I spend together at tables in the cafeteria before they go to related arts. I played as Wilson and she, as Babymouse, thoroughly whomped me.

The time, energy, detail and thoughtfulness that this student put into her board game, which was an assignment SHE GAVE HERSELF, repaired my funk. My students really are more than just test scores, and I have finally found a way to honor their joyous learning "work" that is more like play, and which they seek out on their very own.


  1. What an inspiring post, and what very lucky children to be in your class! Lately I've been wondering about how to choose homework that is healthy for families, and here it is. This is a beautiful way to respect the people that these children are and will become. A.

  2. ps - That post was from me...Amy!

  3. Wonderful way to re-see your students! I've lately been teaching a blogging class and have found that those stories are what students are writing about, their 'home-work'. One student has shared the art she has created from filling bottle caps with various ephemera. Thank you for reminding us that there are important things going on out of school.

  4. What a wonderful connection to our book talk and such a great way to make homework connect with school but more important to connect with the students. Having time to play the game was so important and I am sure one of the highlights of her day! Marvelous post!

  5. I'm a teacher who is passionately anti-homework for homework's sake. This was crystallized when I read Alfie Kohn's "The Homework Myth". My school has cut right back - home reading only for our youngest students, then home reading and basic facts practice for the older ones. Since we have done that, I have noticed a huge upswing in the number of students bringing me "work" they have done at home, from their own interests. The other approach I could live with was Ian Lillicoe's Homework Grid, as it recognized all the things that students did out of school and how they contribute to learning (e.g. Scouts or Guides, sports, playing a game with the family etc.)

  6. Love this post, ML!! I am having the same funk, and was recently released from it in a similar situation to yours. So many great things happen at home!!! Love that you have a wall to celebrate that learning!!


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