31 August 2009

Just Practicing

With school starting up again, the subject of homework has re-emerged in a variety of venues. Some teacher-bloggers are posting about how to weight homework in their grading scale. Time Magazine has an article about how homework is Maybe Not So Onerous After All, while Teacher Magazine refers to homework as The Necessary Evil. When it comes to homework, there is no dearth of opinions to be found. Including mine, natch.

When it comes to whether or not homework should be assigned, I believe it is okay to do so...with the following parameters:
  • The task must be meaningfully connected to the learning target. This is not to say that popsicle stick projects, poems, dances, and other expressions can't be purposeful in terms of student understanding (and differentiation is a great instructional tool). The guidelines just need to be clear. (Along this vein, have a look at some hilarious student projects.)
  • Homework should be used to practice a skill or reinforce content that students have already worked with. If you teach something new and then expect kids to go home and be successful on their own, you're setting yourself up for disappointment (and probably some pissed off parents).
  • If a student already has shown you that they can meet the standard, they don't need the homework. Don't sweat the idea that some kids will have to do the assignment and some will not. You're focusing on what is equal---not is what is fair for each student.
Beyond these things, I believe that homework is a form of formative assessment and should not be scored. Should students get feedback? Absolutely. Should the task be reviewed and discussed in class so that students have the correct information? Definitely. If you assign some homework and a kid doesn't do it, should they be penalized? Yes, but not with a grade. Address the behavior and still require that they do the work.

Perhaps the term "homework" just needs to go away. I prefer to think of it simply as "practice." Just as athletes hit the gym and field before a performance (as do those who play an instrument), kids also can use various amounts of practice before they are expected to have some facility with information. This practice need not happen at home...need not involve a worksheet (or glue, glitter, craft paper, and sticks)...and doesn't have to take hours of time. We don't need a 10-minute/grade level rule. We don't need to think of homework as evil incarnate. We only have to remember that kids are just practicing.


Dr Pezz said...

Excellent post! I agree wholeheartedly. I even had a parent upset with me last year because not everyone had to do the homework, but her child did. Oh, well. :)

Hugh O'Donnell said...

You nailed it, SG.

Kralovec nails it also in this book:


Keep on Dr Pezz. You da man! :)