Sunday, 30 December 2012

Showing Some Resolve

New Year's is traditionally the time for making resolutions for change and personal improvement. Resolution is a curious word with many possible meanings. Definitions vary from an intention or promise to do something, to acting with tenacity and purpose, through to putting a satisfactory end or effecting a solution to an issue. How apt! For many of us New Year's resolutions run that entire gamut too! They are formed with good intentions, started with some determination and are usually designed to put an end to some sort of challenge. offers a pretty common list of the Top 10 New Years Resolutions. They include things like spending more time with family, losing weight, getting more fit or healthier and helping others - all fairly positive and noble goals, but all equally pie crust promises, as Mary Poppins might have put it, easily made and easily broken.

In digital photography the term image resolution equates to a complex set of variables that can be basically summed up as the greater the resolution, the more detail an image can display. (I received a new digital camera for Christmas this year so learning more about resolution is currently higher on the priority list than normal!) The digital definition of resolution fits nicely with the other definitions in that they all require bringing the details into greater focus.

Its fine to make broad stroke resolutions for the coming year, but if real progress is to be made towards attaining them, success or failure will stem from the attention paid to the details! Education is often full of good intentions. Both learners and educators want to do the best they can but just wishing won't make it so. The proof of the pudding, as the saying goes, will be in the eating!

So this year whatever resolutions you might make,  I'd urge you to put some resolve behind them. Great efforts and solid results will trump good intentions every time!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Have A Dickens of A Time: The Best Present Ever - Revisited

Last year about this time I posted "The Best Present Ever" - an entry that extolled all of us to make the most of the holiday season through a positive attitude and by giving, wherever possible, the gift of time to those around us.  I cited an article by Dr. Leslie Becker- Phelps of Psychology Today who addressed the four domains of better organizing personal and professional commitments, taking care of one's health, accepting present personal limitations and setting realistic goals for the future to help make a person more present, and subsequently more of a gift to be around.  I also referenced Diane Dutchin of The Positivity Blog with her suggestion that time is the greatest gift people can give or receive, and using it wisely is the best way to reward ourselves. 

In preparation for the holiday break my students have been reading Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The classic 19th century tale underscores the idea the need for all of us to make the most of the time we are given. Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come combine to redeem Scrooge, causing him to change from a bitter self absorbed miser to a man who "knew how to keep Christmas well". 

Hopefully the coming holiday season will afford all of us time to enjoy the season, feel more positive and make the most of our time together. A recent tweet from our superintendent summed up this message nicely "This year, let your presence be your present". And as  Dickens wrote, "Let that be said of us, and all of us! And as Tiny Tim observed "God Bless Us - Everyone!" 

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Homework Debate

"If you can't complete this assignment in class then please do it as homework!" Students groan and the bargaining begins.

"Do you know just how much homework we already have?"
"Why does every teacher think their assignments take priority?"
"Will we have more class time for this?"

My grade 11's are, for the most part, motivated and hardworking students, so when they complain about too much homework, I try to listen. Personally I'm not a big fan of homework. I prefer to have assignments completed in class where I can monitor them for progress and understanding. There is very little point in sending work home if students don't know what to do in the first place. Practice done poorly is worse than work not done at all. However, I'm not against students taking work home to complete it in a more polished and complete manner.

The debate around homework must be as old as school itself. Those in favour argue homework remains a valuable tool for reenforcing presented concepts and instilling a healthy work ethic. Opponents say homework is overused, has limited value,  and that drill and kill is a counterproductive learning strategy.

Cory Armes gives a fair and balanced view of the issue in her blog post The Great Homework Debate Is Homework Helpful or Harmful?.  Amongst her key points is that time spent on homework should be age appropriate with 10 minutes per grade guiding the maximum. Other take aways include keeping homework tied to specific learning outcomes and ensuring that if its assigned, its also checked and prompt and effective feedback is given.

The homework debate really hit the news earlier this year when the newly elected President of France vowed to ban homework outright. As reported by Global tv Edmonton, Francois Hollande told reporters that students aren’t on an even playing field when it comes to homework because some kids get help from their parents. "Education is priority. An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school rather than at home,” he said, according to French media reports. Hollande's comments need to be viewed in the context of a proposed overhaul of the entire French education system. Some of his other proposals include adding an extra day of instruction to the week and shortening summer holidays, but given that BC is also looking at radical changes to its education system through the BC Ed Plan,  his ideas warrant some consideration.

Ultimately, I'd have to say that homework shouldn't ever go away completely. Provided students are given a good grounding in what is being taught in class, and that homework is checked, evaluated and given proper feedback in a timely manner, homework will always have a place in my classes. Time spent at home refining and practicing skills allows student to "polish the rock" as it were, and turn their initial efforts into work they can be sure of and be proud of. Hopefully what students are taking from my class can be used beyond the classroom, and the homework that that they complete proves to them that their education matters.