The Homework Notebook

Me: “Did you bring your notebook?”
Student: “You didn’t write in it last week.”
Me: “But you didn’t bring it last week either!”

I have a strange relationship with notebooks. I prefer my students to have them, but I’m aware that they can seem like a teaching form of bureaucracy in that they seem excessive for merely remembering what the homework is.

That is, until the student is playing material from 3 different sources and extra little instructional advice is required.

It’s not only the student that needs to know what the homework is though. Sometimes the parent takes an active interest in their child’s homework (I salute them), but it’s also us, the teacher that benefits (arguably more so that the student).

You see, after a week and 12-24 students later (well, 24 was about the max I taught back in my uni days), it gets a little difficult to remember what was given to the student when you see them again, especially when the student themselves forget. Initially I circle and date the pieces in their book and if there’s a photocopied piece, I’ll write that in too.

This approach doesn’t scale though (if I’m to sneak in an IT term); it works until two or more books/sources are involved. Which book to write in? What if the student forgets the book that actually has the homework notes in?

It’s at this point that a homework notebook becomes especially useful. As if to emphasise why it’s useful for the teacher, the notebook becomes an opportunity to make specific notes on what the student should be trying to work on this week. It acts as a reminder of what specific techniques/tricks you taught the student the previous week so as to bring it up again in the following class. Things like specific bars that were totally shambolic, or particular scales to practise because there was lots of that key in the homework pieces.

There’s one flaw in all this though. What if the student forgets their notebook?

Well, at Uni, my teacher used a notepad with carbon paper (the carbon paper you’d use in a receipt book). This would result in a penned original of the homework for the student and a carbon copy for the teacher.

I don’t think I could go that far though. That’s a lot of paper. Don’t the cool kids use digital now anyway? Perhaps we could do what we do in the software industry and take a photo of the homework specifics (from a mobile phone of course!) just like us software developers take photos of elaborate diagrams drawn on whiteboards (we do this because it sure beats having to redraw these diagrams).

In regards to what I write in a student’s notebook, here’s some candidate items.

  • Date
  • Pieces to practise
  • Scales and arpeggios; sometimes relevant to the homework pieces, sometimes for exams, sometimes because I’m a mean teacher
  • Perhaps a change of lesson time for the next lesson
  • A reminder that some money is owed on a book I’ve bought for them off the book depository
  • <liUsually I write a complete list of scales at the back of the notebook (the way I do this and the reasoning behind it is probably good material for another post, so I'm going to save that for later.)

Notebooks don’t have to be large; here in NZ we have a 3B1 notebook that used in the schools and it’s a perfect size for a saxophone case. Alternatively they can be slipped into a clear file page (where I tend to keep photocopied music).

Ultimately, notebooks are invaluable albeit old school resource for managing lessons. It’s a tool for student, parents and teacher for ensuring the student gets the most out of their lessons.

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