We need to spend some time thinking about our homework policy and the role that homework will play within our curriculums. A big question that we need to ask ourselves is, Homework, wherein does the value lie: the grade book or the mind? If your sole purpose in assigning homework is to get some marks down in your gradebook for interims or to make sure the kids have something to do when they get home, it’s time to tweak your mindset. If you can’t determine an academic purpose for assigning an activity to be completed at home, perhaps you should rethink whether or not it should be assigned at all.
Ask any parent that’s ever had a “homework aged” student, and I bet you’ll get a story or two about the tears and frustration that can come with homework overload. We may see a completed product when the student gets to school, but the behind-the-scenes efforts that went into getting said product to the turn-in basket may not be so pretty. When a teary-eyed eleven-year-old is asking his mom or dad, “Why do I have to do this?” it’s unfortunate that the reasoning is often not educationally sound. The way we view school and education is evolving and so should our homework policies. We can’t continue a process because we feel that it’s what we’re “supposed” to do because this is what school is “supposed” to look like. A lifelong love of learning and a budding imagination are not going to be fostered with skill and drill worksheets and/or hours of assignments that must be completed outside of the classroom.
Quality verses quantity should be the main shift. Gone should be the days of copying words, writing definitions, and doing 100 math problems for practice. Students need to be completing relevant work with practical applications. TeacherVision offers some great practical homework suggestions in their article, The Question of Homework. I especially like the idea of doubling your mom’s favorite recipe or writing a summary of a television program. These are activities that would involve family members and make better use of time at home. Don’t get caught up in the mention of a homework formula for determining how much homework to assign each night though. This is when your students will fall prey to issues of quantity and relevancy can be lost. If there isn’t a meaningful activity to extend learning outside of the classroom, it’s okay to assign (gasp!) nothing! Homework for the sake of homework leads to overload and burnout. The Five Hallmarks of Good Homework by Cathy Vatterott in ASCD’s Educational Leadership offers a great lens for viewing your assignments to determine if they will provide a relevant educational experience outside of the classroom.
With this school year, take some time to determine the value of homework within your curriculum. Spending any time with kids after school gives you a glimpse of how jam packed their schedules are already as they juggle extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and let’s not forget family time every once in a while. When you add homework overload to the mix, the result is going to be an overtired and stressed out kid. If we decrease the frequency yet increase the relevancy, homework will take on a whole new meaning for us as teachers and our less stressed students. Let’s focus on creating meaningful educational experiences beyond the walls of the classroom that foster student growth rather than dampen students’ spirits. Saying no to homework more often could be just the change you and your students need!