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Melbourne, VIC, Australia
2nd Grade Teacher at a school in Melbourne, Australia. My job: push kids to think. My passion: helping kids to tackle the life-long skill of searching for meaning, skills, answers and more questions.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


The 20-Step- Guide to Home Learning at Radford College Very First Draft

I'm posting this as a blog post so that I can share the journey with anyone who is interested.  Primarily, this post will help my boss to see the process of how we can ditch 'homework' and move to Home Learning.  Some of the language is very specific to the PYP but if you like the ideas, they are easily transferable to your education system.  

Finally, I credit a guy called Leo Reynolds (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/) for his photos on Flickr, which I've used to spark things up a little.  I've tried to be a good boy and share my source

                       You want to start Home Learning in YOUR class?
                       Here's my first draft 20-step process for HOW.

   Please let me know if there are errors or omissions here.  
Work in progress.  Hope you enjoy!
   Talk with your class about what they do for ‘homework’.  Ask them about the where, when, how, who with and why.  (I think a class discussion is preferable to a generic survey but am open to creating one if this is preferred)  Get a feel for the prior experience of your students. 

Display the Transdisciplinary Skills of the PYP in a prominent place in your classroom.  Understandably, this seems a lot when we already have LP and Attitude displays.  It will help you so much when the discussions about goals and plans eventuate.  (If you're not a PYP school, display the skills of a learner that you think are important)

Ask children how they felt they performed during the last school year.  I have a simple little survey which we used in 2012.  The children rate their performance and confidence in academic, social, physical, emotional (I’d like to add spiritual) pursuits.  Our survey allows kids to choose their own pursuits to rank themselves on also.  This process gives you incredible information.  You’ll be able to understand what ‘makes your kids tick’ in one fell swoop.

Time to set goals.  This is a huge process.  Enlist help from other teachers in a spirit of collaboration to get this task completed correctly first time around. Here is where you really should be involving your specialist staff (Music PE etc) in the process.  Discuss with each specialist how they can incorporate some of their learning into ‘relevant’ parts of your Smart Goals.

SMART goals are:

Specific – targeted to a discipline of mathematics rather than the general subject.

Measureable – given a number to target. 100 push ups in 10 minutes or 10 sums correct in a row.  Without a number to aim for, we have difficulty measuring success.

Achievable – needs to not reach too high.  Before setting the goal in motion, it is a great idea to try and see how many/fast/few/high/long etc you can achieve as a base line.  This takes time but is a fascinating process to watch kids really self-direct.

Relevant – it really helps to give the kids an idea of what you will be expecting during this timeframe.  This will actually be one of the most important parts of the Home Learning process.  If the kids know that you will focus on subtraction this month, they could choose a subtraction-based SMART Goal.  This will, in turn, affect what they do each night for Home Learning.

Timed – we need to have a finishing point where we can re-evaluate the process, our strengths, weaknesses, actions, desires, goals, learning and so much more.  Perhaps the timeframe could be for the duration of a Unit of Inquiry or a calendar month?  To be discussed in year levels.

Once goals are set, we as teachers need to take the time to evaluate these goals for each child.  YES, this is the slowest part of the process, but SO richly rewarding.  It will take you hours to scan over all the goals, but you will glean so much amazing data from the process.  We need to be able to quickly address the kids who have not met the expectations of the goal-setting task.  These children will have been too general, too single-minded or too unrealistic.  If we read them quickly, we can address this issue quickly and offer these kids the help they need to complete their goals properly.

Once all goals are sorted, collate results and discuss the many different goals that we all have as a class.  Now it is time to organise a plan.  “A goal without a plan is just a wish!”  The planning phase needs some professional discussion.  My class discussion style in 2012 was too loose.  I would lean towards personal learning contracts without the heavy focus on success or failure at the end.  I feel there are experts in this area among us who can set this up better than I can.  In the end, I want the kids to know HOW they can achieve their goals.  Whether they actually focus their energy on the right type of activities is dependent on this phase.  This may also be linked to the idea of brainstorming a list of possible activities which will help students work towards specific goals.

Provide a space in the room where you can leave a selection of traditional worksheets related to their specific goals.  These sheets needn’t be too laborious to print out.  Work as a team to copy some simple maths sheets, some grammar sheets and some comprehensions.  These are to be completely optional at any stage.  Certain students (and parents) will appreciate the direction / structure.  I had a very quick uptake on the Burra Maths sheets I used.  If the kids want to prove they have learned a skill, completing a sheet can give them a real buzz - particularly when they have chosen to do it.

Communicate the goals, the plan and the list of possible activities (including the sheets you’ve prepared) to parents.  This is a part of the process that will ensure parental support.  The kids are essentially locking themselves in to a certain Home Learning plan, of their own choosing, for a number of weeks.  If parents know what it is their child wants to learn or improve AND they know how this can be achieved, then they will be more likely to step back and observe their child's choices and progress.  The key is to communicate the message to parents that this is not designed to be something that they need to drive home every day.  They need to understand that we are looking for a love of learning through self-direction and balanced lifestyle.  Parents should communicate with the teacher if they feel their child is ‘slacking off’.  The child who ‘slacks off’ is most likely experiencing some difficulties with the process and needs assistance – not arguments at home.

Prepare the questions you will ask each morning.  Discuss these with your students informally for a few days.  Make sure the students know each question that will be asked.  Make another simple wall display.  

Create an Essential Agreement for Home Learning as a class.  This should include the discussion about opting out.  See if you can make this a moral/philosophical discussion about how the students will be relying on each other for the next n years.  Depending on year level, break open and discuss the words dependable and accountable.

Remind students that they needn’t make anything up for a particular night – especially the odd ‘quiet’ night.  If they slept a lot, they might be restoring some lost energy.  If they played the computer for a bit longer than they should, they should say so… nobody will yell at them.  If they write it down in their journal, they’ll be far less likely to do this regularly – thus improving their chances of achieving their goals in the requisite time-frame.  If children can see a pattern of unbalanced behaviours themselves, they will be far more likely to address any underlying issue.  Everybody just has to be HONEST.

Prepare the student diary for a huge change.  Show your class how you want the diary to be filled in.  There is no better model for this than the kids themselves.  Ask the students to complete a few journal entries for the day at school they’ve just had.  Share successful setting out.  Note the kids who take a long time or need assistance with this process.  Organise an INT session for these kids – or set up some team teaching while you lead a session yourself.

Ask the students to edit their diary entries.  They should circle each word which they are unsure if they’ve spelt correctly.  You can skip this step, but you’ll quickly have students writing very poorly in their diaries, spelling the same thing wrong over and over again.  That leads to upset parents.  I strongly advise this editing process is practised repeatedly and is consistently upheld.

Show the students the letter which you'll find at Step 18 of this guide.  Ask them to have a practise at filling this out for the days they have recently completed in their diary.  Explain that this letter will be filled out at the end of your agreed time-frame and that it will be sent home to parents.  This may sound overly ‘heavy’, but the letter clearly indicates that the child is given the freedom to ‘be a kid’ and make decisions to relax when they feel the need to do so.  Parents and teachers will only be upset if the child chooses to ‘be too much of a kid’ and neglect all of their goals too much.   This is subjective.  I know that.  Parents will have different thresholds for how much freedom they can accept.  Remind parents that you have an open door to discuss options.

   Have your first official night of Home Learning!!!  Tell children that you don’t want them to write in their diaries that night.  Just do something towards a goal, relax and enjoy the night. 

  Prepare your questions for the morning.  Set the class up in a community of inquiry circle and ask children to bring their diaries and a pencil to the circle.  This will become second nature every morning within a few days.  BE CONSISTENT.  

  Use the language of the Transdisciplinary Skills for your initial questions.  Also ask for unique or funny activities from the night before.  Allow each child an opportunity to either talk about their activities or somebody else’s.  It is essential that each child participate in some authentic manner.

DON’T mark the diaries with anything more than a stamp or a signature - if you are so inclined.  I personally try to have a quick glance each day and get to 6 or so for a closer look as the day goes on.  I’d ideally like to wear a red pen around my neck every hour of every day just to write in diaries whenever the mood struck me.  Feedback is incredibly powerful for Home Learning.  Give as much positive written feedback as you can.  Even if the kid is slacking off a bit, try to point out what simple activities he ‘might like to try’ in the coming days to strive towards a specific goal.   
Hint:  use your iphone to take random photos of diary entries.  Let the kids know that you will take photos of these regularly.  This keeps them honest and neat.... 

   At the completion of the first week, ask students to discuss their week with a close friend.  Establish a conversation pattern where they ask scripted questions of each other.  This might seem naff but it really works – with 10yr olds anyway.  When there is a script for peer chats, they are less likely to stray from the topic.  Watch for those who make a joke of this.  Ensure that students understand the importance of maturity in this step of the process.  If they spend this time giggling and not engaging, you may need to discuss whether they are ‘mature’ enough to be a part of Home Learning – or are more suited to traditional home WORK.  Have students report back the biggest successes of the week.  Have them report back if they have altered their plan for the week to come.  Make a note of this plan – somehow.


Ask children to communicate formally with their parents, perhaps through a fill-in-the-blanks letter, to describe what they have done with their Home Learning time.  There must be room in this letter for the student to mention their favourites events/foods/activities/learning of the week.  I am still creating this list and will seek assistance from many people before finalising itThis sheet should also refer to the Unit of Inquiry currently being studied.  How did the Home Learning that took place help the student to gather a better understanding of the unit?  Year 5 and 6 students might press this point more than 3 and 4.

Review, re-assess, re-write goals, re-plan, repeat from step 15.

Don’t stop talking every morning.

Don’t forget to continue talking to specialist staff, parents, PYP coordinators, your PLN or anyone else who’ll listen and give you suggestions for how to refine our Home Learning.


Kathy Thomas said...

Hi Richard,
I came across your poster on Action Ideas on pinterest. I think someone else pinned it and then I repinned it....
Then I went to your blog looking for the poster. Are you willing to share your poster? I work at PYP school in Kailua Hawaii. I was just talking about taking action today and your poster is the perfect visual . I also love your home learning experiment. I am going to check it out when I have time. Are you still giving Home Learning as homework? Thanks, Kathy Thomas

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard

this is very inspiring! Just great.
I had some thoughts on no. 6 - the "how" of a plan... if your interested.

All the best with HL for 2013!

Robyn Evans

Anonymous said...

Hi Blackness!

This looks great! Keen to get started!