So many teachers that I admire have given up altogether on giving homework that I am often tempted to follow their lead. Reading Alfie Kohn is enough to make any teacher cringe at the idea of piling on more homework. Yet there are useful assignments that are worthy of my own and my students’ time. Furthermore, I teach on the block; my students need to be thinking in Spanish more than three times per week. My rule is that all homework must be meaningful, not just to me but also to my students. Here is my set assignment for every Tuesday night for my Spanish 3 & 4 classes.
Once a week students must find and read a newspaper article in Spanish (don’t give up, there is a twist). Although it is a Tuesday night assignment I always say “once a week” so that students who do not have internet access at home understand that they should not wait until Tuesday night… they can use school computers or go to the local library or have a friend print out an article for them. Either way, it is due on Wednesday in class, no excuses.
When students arrive to class I am standing at my door with a list of 12 students who will write the headline of their article on the whiteboard. Every student passes in a fifty word reaction to the homework bin, so there is accountability for all, but the fun starts with the 12 chosen ones. As a class we start by asking a few questions, making sure that everyone understands 100% of what is written (and that the 12 students have some grasp of the article that they chose). Then we decide which headline is the most interesting. Or rather, which headline will lend itself to creating the most interesting class story. At this point input from the person who actually read the article is no longer required because we, as a class, are not interested in creating a factual retelling of the news story; instead we are interested in creating the most interesting backstory that could possibly explain what led to the event reported.
If you are a TPRS teacher then you already know what it means to “ask a story”. Starting with a simple statement the teacher asks a myriad of questions, constantly recycling target structures in the questions and answers so that students acquire the phrases. As students volunteer possible answers to the questions some of the answers are accepted, some are not, and slowly a complex, often absurd story is created.
What I like about the news stories is that, when the class culture is just right, students are seriously motivated to find an interesting article. The entire class takes ownership of the story as nearly everyone contributes something, but there is a certain special pride in having your article chosen as the most interesting starting point. The class quickly acquires advanced vocabulary used in newspapers, and this is an entertaining lens through which to explore current events.