I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework. ~ Lily Tomlin
In a discussion about homework, I heard a frustrated teacher make this statement: “Kids just aren’t interested in doing work outside of school.” That is likely a true statement. Are any of us really surprised by this? Is there anyone excited about heading home after a day on the job and having to tackle another couple of hours of work related projects (even if it is a reality)?
We use all kinds of justifications for assigning homework. Our students have to learn to be responsible. They need to have practice time. Not everything in life is fun. You may not like it, but sometimes you just have to do it. The parents expect them to bring work home. Some of these may be valid arguments, but that doesn’t mean they are in the best interest of our students.
I am not arguing for the abolition of homework assignments, but homework should not be an afterthought. It is something that should only be assigned with a great deal of intention and planning. Just as we reflect on our daily teaching practices, we need to reflect on the homework we assign–being certain that it clearly supports student learning.
Things to consider when preparing a homework assignment:
> What is the purpose?
If you are unable clearly communicate a meaningful purpose for an assignment, reconsider. Assigning homework just for the sake of giving students something to do is not productive. Homework assignments should serve a specifically defined academic objective.
> How will students use the assignment?
Is the homework something students will complete and then never work with again? I believe that some of the most meaningful assignments are those where students collect data, or information, for use during a class activity. In these instances, there is a clear connection between what students are being asked to do at home and a classroom learning objective. Working with their homework assignments in class validates the effort that was put in at home.
> How (or will) students be given feedback?
Asking students to complete homework assignments without feedback or discussion is “busy” work. Even if an assignment is made for the purpose of practicing a skill or concept, its impact is lost if there is not a check for understanding and an opportunity for students to receive evaluative comments.
> How much?
My advice – less is more. Assignments should not be daunting and overwhelming for students. Recognize that fifteen minutes of clearly focused work will be more beneficial to students than an hour of drudgery, repetition and frustration.
> Do the kids have the knowledge/skills to be able to complete the assignment?
I am all for challenging students and stretching their understanding, but students should possess the knowledge and skills necessary to complete a homework assignment–without assistance. If students do not understand an assignment, or lack the resources to complete it, homework will be nothing more than an exercise in frustration.
> Will the assignment be engaging?
In order for students to feel that homework is meaningful, the activity they are being asked to complete should account for a reasonable level of engagement. This is a daily consideration in our classrooms, why should homework be any different?
This list of considerations could go on. For example, providing students with homework choices, identifying how/if assignments will be graded and differentiating homework for learning styles and student abilities. Whether you agree, or disagree, with these specific guidelines, my point is that when making homework assignments, our students deserve the same consideration and preparation that we put into planning daily classroom activities. Homework should be well thought out in order to ensure that it clearly contributes to student learning and skill development. To do otherwise is a waste of time and energy, for all involved.
Note: for more ideas on the effective use of homework, see 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework, by Cathy Vatterott (published in the September 2010 issue of Educational Leadership).