Monday, January 14, 2013

The Homework Question Rolls On

Let me pose two very important questions.  
  1. What is homework?
  2. What is your purpose for assigning homework?
I've been reading quite a bit lately about whether or not to assign homework, and there are good arguments on both sides.  As I consider the topic, it all comes down to those two questions. 

What is homework?
I guess we could go with the simple definition that homework is anything required to be done at home. I immediately see reasons why some work must be done at home.
  • Studying for tests.
  • Proofreading and editing by parents.
  • Bringing in supplies.
  • Completing school work not done in class.
  • Make up work from being out sick.
  • Researching for projects.
What is your purpose for assigning homework?
Nick Provenzano ("The Nerdy Teacher") wrote this post about homework in high school English, stating that there isn't time during a normal class period to give time for students to read the class novel and discuss the chapters read.  I imagine I would have read the entire novels in English class if my teachers gave us time to read them in class.  Especially on the high school level, there needs to be time outside of class to accomplish some tasks.

I used to think that giving a student 20-30 math problems was helping him.  If you want to be a good free throw shooter, you shoot 100 shots every day. It may not be fun, but over time you'll build muscle memory which will help you become a better ball player. Why not apply that to math?  There's another angle from which to look at this.  Why kill any love for math a student may have by overdoing the work?  If a student can prove to you in 5 problems that he understands the concept, why give him 15 more problems to do?  

If I'm assigning pointless worksheets or workbook pages, then shame on me for wasting my student's and her family's time.  However, if I'm assigning thought provoking and meaningful activities, is there anything wrong with that?

A colleague of mine requires her students to read 100 minutes a week outside of the classroom.  Is that bad?  Our band director requires 100 minutes of practice each week outside of band rehearsals.  Is that valuable?

I was recently asked to read and review an article with twenty reasons not to assign homework over the holiday. This article suggests many different things families could be doing if they were released from the tyranny of homework.  My first gut reaction was that most families wouldn't actually do most of the things suggested.  Then it hit me.  One, who am I to judge whether a family would or would not go to a museum over the break?  Two, it's not my job to decide how parents parent their families.  My role is to help parents educate their kids, not dictate what happens outside of school hours.  

A former student, now trying to wade her way through her first year of teaching, sent me this article about an alternative to spelling tests. Those of us who have taught language arts know that spelling tests don't do a lot to help kids learn to spell.  At best, it helps them learn how to regurgitate information on a test.  While the alternative is more labor-intensive for the teacher, it helps kids work on spelling in more realistic situations.  Not a bad idea.

As the homework question rolls on in my mind, I keep coming back to those two questions.  What is it and why am I making the kids do it?  There is value in doing some things outside of the classroom but we have to be careful what it is and the frequency of the assignments.

I'm all ears.  Let me know your thoughts.  Am I on the right path or do I need to reevaluate?  

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