01 December 2007


During the change of classes this week, a teacher and student were having a very inconvenient conversation. I felt embarrassed for the kid. The teacher was telling him how she didn't see why he even bothered to be in her class, because he didn't do his homework. His side of the story? He does well on all of the tests and participates in class---he doesn't need the homework to understand the material. She continued to make a point of letting the kid know he was a failure in her class.

I stayed out of things, of course, but I did understand where each person was coming from. The teacher has concerns about academic behaviors...the kid's point is that he can show her he's learned what she's asked without the redundancy of homework.

I don't give a lot of homework in my class---I never have. I do expect kids to work during class and review notes/handouts at home. I do think that homework can be a valuable tool for learning, but I'm starting to ponder the "academic behaviour" part of it more. The class where the snippet of conversation occurred was an AP class---most if not all of those kids are college bound. I am hard pressed to think of any classes I had in college where homework was part of my grade. It's not that the profs didn't expect us to read and study on our own---just that tests and essays were what formed the grade. It was our task to formatively assess ourselves. We decided if we needed homework. For a college-bound high school senior, should our view of homework reflect the "self-management" of learning that the kid will experience in a few months?

Okay, so not every kid is college bound...especially not the ones I work with on a regular basis. As a teacher, I have work that I bring home. But I can think of lots of jobs where there is no homework expected. To say that I should use homework to train kids for expectations of the real world would be untrue. And frankly, I want to see evidence of learning as it happens. Homework is great for kids who need to finish up work or prepare for a presentation---but skills and assessment need to happen in the classroom. I am finding myself more focused on this as time goes by. These little snippets of conversations that I catch help move my thinking along this path.


Unknown said...

Glad to hear some other educators thinking like this. I never gave much homework, either, but I taught special ed, so it was even more pointless than usual. :) I'm reading Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth right now and I think maybe it should be required reading for all high school teachers!

The Science Goddess said...

I think that homework definitely has a time and place---but at this point in my career, I'm thinking more about its role within a student's grade.

I certainly agree with you that teachers need to be thinking and talking about this...although at my school, there is certainly no interest in doing so. Ugh.

Jim Anderson said...

For my classes, homework is mostly about finishing up work that students ran out of time for in class--a journal write, editing an essay, etc.--and, like yours, reviewing notes, studying, working on an essay or a story.

I tell my students at the start of each semester, "We will be busy all day every day. I will never waste your time. We won't have mountains of homework, but that's because we'll be working hard all the time." I can't say it's perfect, but it sets the right tone from the beginning.

There's an equity piece in here, too. Many of the students who struggle with homework are struggling with home life. They can't get it done at home because they don't have a computer, they have to babysit their siblings, they have to...

Mr. McNamar said...

So true. When I taught Pre-College English in WA I rarely gave homework other than a reading assignment and essays--that was the only homework I really ever had in college.
Heck, I wasn't even that great in the sciences (sorry!) but I pulled off a C in Biology my first year and I only went eight times!
Homework is overrated at the high school level.