Don't Abolish Homework: Just Make Sure It's Worthwhile
Homework has been having a rough go of it lately.
On one side, schools, teachers and parents argue that it’s essential to extend the school day beyond the classroom so students can review information, finish projects and read ahead to gain a better understanding of upcoming class topics. On the other side, critics call homework an unnecessary drain on family time, an overreach for schools and, ultimately, a chore that encourages students to believe school is boring and disengaging.
Both sides have a point, but what should teachers do if they’re stuck in the middle? A few points to consider:
Staying the course is always an option
Regardless of your view of homework, it is best not to stray too far from the cultural and administrative expectations of your school. If you decide to dial back on homework, you run the risk of alienating grade-level colleagues who give homework and running afoul of parents who expect it.
Also, most likely your school district has a policy on the role of homework in a student’s experience, which is why simply abandoning homework on your own (without consulting with your superior) could be disastrous. Before you change direction on homework, be sure to speak to those in charge first.
If homework must be given, make sure it’s worthwhile
Will the homework assignment truly help your students, or is it just a way to impress parents? Many teachers lack better communication options, so they use homework to send a message home: “Hey, look at how hard we’re working here!” The trouble is, a lot of the time they’re just distributing busy work.
Always make sure your homework assignments deepen student understanding, clarify and reinforce complex topics, or introduce an upcoming topic. Homework shouldn’t be a rehash of work that’s already been done in class over and over again. This destroys morale and credibility.
Redefine what ‘homework’ means
The traditional homework model is to assign it one day and expect it to be handed in either the next day or within a few classes. But you may be able to break that mold.
Instead, think about long-term assignments, completed at home and over time, that develop an aspect of your class that may lend itself better to independent study. It can also involve students taking the time to collaborate on an assignment, thereby making good use of today’s collaborative technology — shared documents, presentations and spreadsheets can all be accessed from home by students. This strategy is effective if your school requires homework but you want to move away from traditional homework assignments.
Recognize the pressures on families
This isn’t the 1950s, and today’s families aren’t the one in “Leave it to Beaver.” For two-worker families (mine included), inflated school expectations and more detailed, complex curriculum have created an environment where nightly homework puts far more pressure on families than ever before.
Get to know your families and see what reasonable expectations look like. Be flexible in what you expect the whole class to do, and be particularly aware of the needs of economically challenged families and English-as-a-second-language households. You don’t want your class to reinforce inequality.
Coordinate with colleagues
Your class doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Speak to your colleagues about their class expectations and workload. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of students complain about extremes: They have no homework or a tidal wave of it. Spread out your assignments, speak to your colleagues and offer your students the same consideration you would expect from your administrators.