Monday, November 9, 2015

Tarea Mensual: What middle school homework looks like this year

The short version of this post:

Here's a copy of my monthly homework options for middle school Spanish students! Tarea Mensual: Differentiated Spanish Homework Options (It's my first resource posted on Teachers Pay Teachers, and it's free!)

And for those of you who want to hear about how and why I put together this resource...

I spent a lot of time over the summer thinking about homework in middle school Spanish. (I rambled a bit about this over here.) At EdCamp this year I had the chance to hash(tag) this out at a great discussion with Alice Keeler. I don't feel as a language teacher I can give up on homework if I really want kids to be proficient - class time just isn't sufficient for learning a language. However, I do need to make sure homework is manageable and meaningful.

As a teacher, "dream homework" would do all of the following:

  • Homework should get kids to use Spanish outside the classroom - including reading, writing, listening, and reading, at appropriate levels. (That's the tricky part!)
  • Homework needs to be accessible for all my levels of students - from beginners to native speakers.
  • Homework needs to be engaging, relevant, and enjoyable (so that kids wantto do it.)
  • Homework shouldn't rely on internet access. We are using Google Classroom this year, which makes assignments so much simpler from my point of view - and for most of my students. However, not all my students have internet access. 
  • Homework shouldn't make or break a grade. Kids have wildly varying home situations and access to support. It's not fair for me to rest an entire grade on something I can't help students with.
  • Homework should not take over anyone's life. This applies to both students and teachers! Even in middle school, homework can start to take over - especially for the students who care about their grades and care about completing their homework, who in many cases are also the ones involved in extracurricular activities. I also can't let homework take over mylife - I have so many students, and I want to spend my time planning and assessing projects, not homework!
With all this in mind, and inspired by the homework choices over at Musicuentos,I started the year with weekly homework options to choose from. Students were to choose one or a combination of activities from a list, and turn in a report at the end of the week via Google Classroom. Those first two weeks were a little chaotic. Remember how homework shouldn't take over anyone's life? Homework took over my life. Students were confused about the report format (a normal learning curve, perhaps) and most of them just emailed me screenshots or questions, swamping my email inbox with emails. With the option of choosing a variety of 1 pt, 3 pt, and 5 pt activities, students all wanted to do the harder 5 point activities for more points - though these were often too hard for them. (Lead Us Not Into Google Translate Temptation.) I made some necessary adjustments that I think were important. 
  • Students get a grade based on whether they complete a variety of activities and submit proof. Activities are not assigned individual point values. I don't assign point values to any particular activity (since kids were tempted to go for the more "valuable" activities, when often these were not appropriate for their level.)
  • Students turn in one report at the end of the month, describing what activities they did that month. Weekly reports were just too much, for me and my students. Students need 4 activities for the month, but they can complete those at their leisure.
  • Students have some class time near the end of the month to complete the reports via Google Classroom. This makes the assignments more accessible to students who lack computer access at home, or who are less tech savvy... or who just aren't going to remember to turn in their report on their own.

So far I've gotten positive feedback from students. They've enjoyed picking activities themselves, and some have found resources they really enjoy. (Lyrics Training and Free Rice are some favorites.) So far I've rolled out this homework with 7th and 8th graders (3 classes in all) and I have found it fairly manageable as far as grading goes - using Goobric and Doctopus* for my workflow, I've been able to grade the homework for one class in 45 minutes (including individual comments.) That's not too bad for monthly homework!

We'll see how this evolves! I'd love any feedback and suggestions if you've done something similar with your students, or if you find this useful for yourself!

*Please do let me know if you'd like to know more about how I've streamlined my grading process with these tools!

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