Home > Uncategorized > Hey kid – Forgot to write down the assignment? HA-HA!!

Hey kid – Forgot to write down the assignment? HA-HA!!

March 21, 2012

Recently I went to a PTA meeting. I brought my son with me, figuring he could sit in the library and do his homework. The meeting started, and he opened up his books and found that for one class, he had not written down the assignment and didn’t know what it was. As teachers will freely tell you, there is a lot of activity packed into each class now, so it is not surprising that students sometimes miss this task as they are marched through their prescribed instructional paces.

So he checked the Home Access Center, where teachers record assignments, and found for that class, HAC had not been updated for two weeks. We got home around 9pm, too late to call around for information. It would be nice if the teacher lets him turn the assignment in late, but that’s not really what we want. We want to do it on time.

It’s time to move past the horse-and-buggy concept of flashing the assignment up on the board or even verbally, and expecting all 25 students to capture it in the brief time they are there. It is a cruel game of “Now you see it, now you don’t.” We are smarter now and have better communication tools – let’s use them.

Homework policies are all full of platitudes about “responsibility” but are pathetically indifferent to the school’s responsibility to communicate the assignments. Communication of schoolwork should meet three criteria: It should be persistent, asynchronous, and accessible. [Update: I’ll add a fourth requirement; communication must be timely. Which in this case can only mean one thing: before the due date].

All of these criteria are met by publishing assignments in the Home Access Center (or whatever your parent gradebook portal is) in advance of their due dates.


Communication should be asynchonous
Synchronous communication means that you can only receive the communication at the exact time it is communicated. A phone call or a meeting is synchronous communication. If you don’t show up, you lose the information. Asynchronous communication is a fancy term that means you don’t have to be there and you can always get the communication later. A message on your answering machine is an example of asynchronous communication. Email is another example.

Communication should be persistent
Information that is written on a blackboard or spoken verbally is ephemeral. Words vanish as soon as they are spoken. The blackboard is erased the next period. Persistent communication means the information is stored. You can always go back and count on the information still being there.

Communication should be accessible
Information that is locked in a teacher’s desk drawer or hard drive overnight is persistent, but it is not accessible. Accessible communication means there is a way to retrieve the stored information. Information posted on a web site, emailed to you, or retrievable via touch-tone telephone is accessible communication.

But some people don’t have Internet access!
This is a serious concern. But it is not a reason to forego the benefits of the Internet. What is Delaware doing to reduce the digital divide? What are the schools doing? What are you doing?

Of course paper-based communication should be continued and assignments still written on the board.

The thing about the digital divide is that, among low-income families who do not have home Internet access, a much higher number have either a telephone, a smartphone, or a cell phone with text messaging capability. Those are all channels that can be used to retrieve assignments, but we are not using them. To add support for these channels to eSchoolPLUS, we would have to beg or pay Sungard to add the capability to eSchoolPLUS. That is why we should replace HAC with a Delaware-built Parent Dashboard that will allow us to own the code and extend it to add critical features for home access for everyone. But that is a topic that deserves its own post.

  1. newarkmom
    March 26, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Home Access Center can be a great tool IF it is continually updated, and if everyone had computer/smartphone accessibility. In our school, each child gets an agenda, where assignments for every class are written every day, and checked by the teacher before the end of the day to make sure agenda is complete. In the younger grades, kids have a “Monday” folder that goes home with the assignments printed out and shows what is due Monday-Friday. It also included the papers graded from the previous week to keep at home. You may also be given worksheets throughout the week, but everything was clearly written out. I liked it because it gave us an opportunity to work ahead on nights we had no plans, and some breathing room on nights we had activities. I saw the value in this as my kids got older, and they are held responsible for completing agendas on their own and they are so used to doing this, it comes naturally. I think this will help keep assignments in order for high school too.

  2. March 26, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Thanks for commenting, newarkmom!

    The agenda notebooks are in every school as far as I know, and they should continue to be used. But the online tools should also be updated before the due date. The teacher, parent, and student should all be literally on the same page when it comes to schoolwork. Otherwise it is a travesty for the schools to ask parents to be engaged in schoolwork, and then not give them the tools.

    I saw the value in this as my kids got older, and they are held responsible for completing agendas on their own

    That’s great for your kids, but I wonder – How many kids are “held responsible” right out of the schoolhouse door?

    What is the value for either the student or the teacher to just say “Too bad, you weren’t responsible enough.Have a zero, and good luck catching up with the class!”

    Completing the homework will increase student performance. Now that teachers are accountable for student performance, I’d hope they would see the value of having every student complete the homework, instead of acting out some crazy punitive moral drama about responsibility rather than instruction.

    For kids who are having trouble remembering or completing their work, a string of zeroes isn’t likely to help them, and just might send them over the edge to drop out. It is a cry for help, and needs a more responsible and professional intervention.

  3. newarkmom
    March 26, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I absolutely agree about the online tool! It’s there, no reason why it can’t be as current as possible. I like schoolnotes too. I also monitor attendance for my kids on there too, and have found them marked “tardy” on a day it was a bus issue (nobody got in trouble, but it irked me so I called them on it!) To add, although my youngest has an agenda she writes in everyday, her writing skills are not the best, so having the HAC account & school notes always current is very much needed for us. I see what you are saying about responsibility, what I meant was since they have written in this agenda since a young age, it is now second hand to them, and I hope serves them well in high school. Great topic!

  4. March 26, 2012 at 9:43 am

    SchoolNotes and similar supplemental systems are (in my opinion) a good second choice for parents. HAC puts assignments for every class laid out neatly on one page, whereas Schoolnotes has you going to a different site for each teacher and reading their narrative to find out what the assignment is.

    Although for the life of me I can’t see why teachers would want to enter assignments in one system, and then log into HAC to enter the assignment all over again after it is graded (which they are required to do anyway). That is time-wasting doublework for teachers who say they are so busy.

    If they have time to put the assignment on SchoolNotes, why not just put it right on HAC in the first place?

    Maybe parents and teachers alike are unaware that entering the assignment into their online gradebook makes it instantly available on HAC? And even fewer are aware that documents (instructions, handouts) can be attached to assignments in HAC.

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