Duane Graber presents an interesting solution in his post on the PLC Blog. I can see this working if two things are true: 1) the teacher has solid time management routines in place to protect those last 30 minutes each day, and 2) the school day is relatively free from interruption by unscheduled “surprises.”
Let’s face it, as teachers we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The ability to establish and maintain routines down to the minute is a learned skill that is developed with varying degrees of success after varying lengths of service in the classroom. Some first year teachers bring it with them and seem to be naturals. Some teachers struggle with it for several years, improving each year but always feeling like they are just one step ahead of the students. Some classes present more management challenges than others-which translate into lost time, which often leave teachers scratching their head at the end of the day, wondering where the time went, why we didn’t accomplish everything we set out to accomplish, and painfully aware that our students didn’t have enough time for independent practice following any of the lessons, let alone an extra 30 minutes at the end of the day. Still, I like the idea of preserving this 30 minutes, if you can pull it off and, if it is the best solution for your classroom/school culture. It certainly is better than assigning work that the student can’t do independently, the parent can’t help with, and won’t ever make it back to your hands.
As to the matter of unscheduled “surprises,” you teachers already have your own list in your head. Our previous school administration didn’t apprise staff of emergency drills (fire, lockdown, intruder, etc.). Our current administration includes it in the daily staff memo, allowing us to plan in a way that minimizes the disruption. Still, we get the occasional unexpected alarm, most recently triggered by a 1st grader who I guess wondered, “what happens if…” A more difficult problem is presented by too large a number of students who are pulled from class early. If one or two students are leaving early 2-4 times a week, that will impact their extra homework/independent work time. Those are just a couple of examples; add to those the special events such as picture day, assemblies, fun days, and so forth, that carve out a chunk of time here and another one there…you get the idea.
All of this to say that I do think the nature of homework is changing, and so is the nature of how we are working in the classroom. I teach 5th grade at a K-6 school. This year, our sixth grade went to 1:1 using laptops. In spite of numerous headaches and glitches, they’ve had some great successes. The 5th grade staff has started receiving “blended learning” training, and the district is moving forward with 1:1 at our level for 2014-15. In a community where technology has been sparse outside of the school walls, we are seeing a change. Teachers have more flexibility in what they can assign for homework, even if it is just viewing a video lesson and commenting on the class blog. That will free up time for more independent work in the classroom, and it allows for collaboration where student groups can be formed either within a classroom, or crossing between classrooms, schools, or even grade level groups. I’m not sure what homework will look like in another 10 years, but it’s safe to say it will continue to transform into something new and fresh, if we are willing.