After about 3 days of doing this assignment, though, in the hustle and bustle of family life, I realized it had already turned into a battle involving cajoling and incentives that’s more about trying to cram it in so I can sign off that’s it done. He now hates ‘doing reading log’ since it competes with play time or is squeezed in before bed when he’s already exhausted. Instead of enjoying reading more, he’s internalizing that it’s work and almost a punishment.
I’m slightly horrified by this reality and it’s made me stop and reflect a lot about homework, its role in the home, and its impact on students, families and learning. I can’t imagine what it will be like when I have 2 kids in middle school, both with mountains of homework as well as extra-curriculars and my husband and I both in full-time jobs! Forget about figuring out how to make dinner, sit down and eat it together, and maybe enjoy each other’s company for five minutes on top of it all. And what if we have some sort of event during the week as my students often did, like church or a sports game? I’m in awe looking back on my students’ families and how they managed to get everything done when homework may have dictated or derailed their home life on a regular basis.
There’s been a lot of research done on homework proving that it doesn’t positively impact student achievement, but I’m not convinced it should be completely removed and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon anyway, so I’m offering up some possible guidelines to help make sure that when we are assigning homework, it’s a good use of time and doesn’t add unnecessary stress to our students and their families.
- Keep it short – Kids won’t get more from doing 20 problems than if they do 2. Actually, if they do 20 and they’re all done incorrectly, they’ve solidified an incorrect understanding that will be hard to undo. And for students who are exceling in our classes, the practice is likely unnecessary to begin with and so making it longer serves no purpose. And don’t forget that for those of us teaching secondary, there are several other teachers also assigning homework, so anything over 10-15 minutes really adds up.
- Keep it independent – If students need help in order to complete it successfully, it shouldn’t be homework. Parents can’t be expected to actually teach our students a skill or improve their reading levels – they may not have the knowledge or language to do it or they may not be home on a particular evening in order to help them. And if they can’t easily complete the assignment on their own, they’ll either abandon it or struggle through it with minimal progress, both of which work against positive student learning.
- Keep it low-stakes – Combined with long and difficult homework assignments, homework that carries heavy penalties for not completing it inevitably leads to cheating and/or short-cuts. It also means that it’s inevitable that many parents fall into unfortunate scenarios of accepting low-quality or half-done work in order to just get it done and avoid the consequences. (My son has only been in school for 2 months and I’ve already let things slide a couple of times!) This isn’t a good model for our students and not a fair position to put their families into.
- Keep up with it – One hard truth I’m looking back on is assigning homework that I then didn’t have the time or energy to even look at once it was turned in. If it isn’t important enough for you to read through, don’t give it. A student may have stayed up until midnight and gotten in a fight with their parents over it only to have us simply check it off and drop it in the trash.
- Keep a team log – With your grade level team (if you’re not self-contained), take turns completing all of the homework your team assigns for a night and logging how much time you spend doing it. Then multiply that number by 3 for an estimate of how long it takes your students to complete it. Once you know how reasonable this load is, you can determine if there needs to be a change. It also allows you to experience a little bit of the burden they experience since some of you are probably breaking out in sweats thinking about doing a whole nights’ worth of homework!
How do you and your team handle homework? What kinds of assignments have you found success with?