09 October 2006

Haggling about Homework

Coach Brown also picked up on this article in the San Francisco Chronicle on the movement toward assigning less (or no) homework. It seems like this sort of backlash emerges from time to time. I don't think it's really as simple as whether or not a kid has 10 minutes of work per grade level per night.

Numerous studies (nicely distilled by Marzano, et al) show that practice with a new skill is important for mastery. Homework is certainly one way for students to develop fluency with reading, writing, math, and more...but that still isn't the whole story. Part of what needs to be considered here is the structure of the assignment: quality, not busy work. A kid doesn't necessarily need to do 25 long division problems as practice. Can they do five and explain how they were able to solve them? Is knowing the answer to 3694 divided by 31 as important as being able to have a method for solving this sort of problem whenever you need to (without a calculator!)?

The other part that isn't being considered here is what the teacher intends to do with the homework. Most secondary teachers grade it in one form or another---either a "completion" mark in the gradebook or all-out-grab-the-red-pen-and-bleed-on-the-paper type. Is all homework really destined for assessment? If it is practice, then why consider penalizing kids for mistakes and incompletions? Do some kids quit trying because they believe the teacher is just going to put an "F" on their efforts, even if their learning is emergent?

Homework, like grades, isn't going to go away---no matter how many articles and books like to claim otherwise. What public schools do need to think about is what homework and grades mean...to teachers, parents, and students.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. Out here in Silicon Valley, there's another dimension to homework in the k-5 years: the homework load "proves" how rigorous the school is, academically.

One school has 3rd graders with 90 minutes per night. Math drills of 25-50 problems. Nightly "mad minute" (parent must proctor and sign). Required reading of 30 minutes (parents must sign reading journal). Science "exploration"--usually a mini-experiemnt requiring adult supervision (likewise, parent signs chart). Charting 10,000 steps per day.

By 5th grade they are reportedly up to 2.5 hours of homework per night.

I do think that requiring a certain number of minutes of reading per night in the k-5 grades, once a kid is reading relatively independently, is acceptable.

When you get into the 6-12 grades it is a different kettle of fish -- especially as the kid gets older. Certainly problem sets in math are useful (as long as new concepts aren't being introduced). Accomplishing things along the way to a longer research project can take daily work.