The Homework issue

 

Is homework necessary?

What’s the right amount of homework?

Is homework effective? (Study of this has been going on for nearly 100 years)

In a nod to student stress, should schools have “homework-free” weekends?

(Pause. Reflect.)

It might be easier to teach myself how to play Flamenco guitar than it is to answer questions like these with solutions that makes everyone happy.

sheer-cliff
Scaling this without any gear looks easier

 

 

Homework is orthodoxy. It has “always” been given. It’s Geocentric, pre-Copernican thought. It’s good for you. You’re full? Here, have some more and more and more….

Parents were students. Therefore, watching their children complete homework is normal.

Watching your children do homework way past their bedtime is…common. It’s not normal.

Truly, #notcool.

The Puritan Work ethic or, Nancy Sinatra’s bootstraps

If you work hard enough, it easily opens up the doorways to success. Just make sure to wear your overalls.

Of course it’s that easy. I’ve had many students try to get into Stanford. They definitely put their overalls on. I’m sure all of them routinely did homework past midnight. In 18 years, all but 1 “failed” (no doubt, many consoled themselves with the 2nd place trophy of, say, Cal Poly SLO or, more importantly, somewhere where they felt was a good fit).

The ethos of “hard work conquers all obstacles” is in the DNA of what it means to be an “American.” Millions of immigrants have come to the United States to live a more prosperous life and were successful due to unyielding levels of hard work.

Naturally, it must be so in the classroom. Thus 50-75 math problems 2-3 times a week. Or read 10 chapters of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in over the weekend and answer 20-30 comprehension questions with at least 4-5 sentences each (because, you know, a paragraph is a unit of length and not a unit of thought). Or, my personal favorite, over 40% of my son’s grade in his 6th grade English class was based on spelling tests and they wrote a single essay all year.

Homework, in a sense, becomes a math problem that is undeniably both Puritan and American:  more > less; more is better than less. Running 5 miles? Run 10. Eating 10 g. of protein post workout? Eat 25 g. Supersize those fries and drink? You betcha!

Wisdom of the elders

 

veggies

Eat them; it’s good for you. And, of course they are. Preached at dinner tables across the country, our parents and grandparents, aunts/uncles have helped pass along this accumulated wisdom. Many, most likely, were also told the same thing when they were young when they balked at eating vegetables.

(I hated many veggies as a child and now I am a vegetarian. Go figure.)

Denying the positive health implications of a diet rich in vegetables is just ignoring science. Although, people do like to deny science.

Doing a lot of homework “must” be good for you as a learner, for your future academic possibilities, for the sheer Puritan-based ethos that it is simply good for you and good for your soul, so make sure to do a lot of it.

oingo_boingo-good_for_your_soul
A very fine album by a very fun band

 

But is it in mass quantities?

What do teachers, parents and students do about it?

As a teacher, I need to design homework assignments that allow students to “increase accuracy, fluency and, if appropriate, speed.” (Marzano & Pickering, Classroom Structure that Works). The problem is, that sounds like something a factory worker would be told or maybe even someone working on the pivot of a double play. The other problem is that students do need practice. You want to write better? Write more. You want to surf better? Surf more. It is that simple.

Just as there are problems with the Standard Model of the Universe (that pesky gravity; always being disruptive and causing problems), homework is that problem.

Consider the choices by teachers:

  • No homework (students are happy about that, and maybe some parents)
  • A lot of homework (some parents might be happy about that and it makes a teacher’s class appear hard. Gotta be rigorous, right? But too much rigor = rigor mortis and whatever happened to vigor in the classroom?)
  • The “right” amount of homework, whatever that is. But that brings up a host of other issues & questions. What’s the right amount? What type of homework? What topics? What format/platform? How many days to complete it?

 

Maybe it’s better to ask what should be done about homework?

It’s better, socially and mentally, for my students, to be “kids” (though I don’t call them that). They need to be young and outside and running, thinking, playing (music, sports), surfing, drawing, hiking, singing and dancing, working at a job and sleeping. They need to explore, unplug, visit museums, go to concerts, and feel the sand beneath their feet.

But, they need to practice thinking, reading and writing. Is a teacher a “good” teacher if he or she is trying to not add to the stressful lives of their students? How many teachers have had a student cry in class because they got an A- on a test or essay? (all of them). That’s not healthy. Homework as an extrinsic motivator has long since been turned into a hammer and our students are the nails.

Is a teacher “bad” if homework isn’t assigned? Then what’s the right number of math problems to assign? Or pages to be read, paragraphs to write?

Ideally, a school site has these critically-important conversations. Teachers need to be informed (through self study and professional development) about how to design effective homework and then the staff needs to wrestle with this issue to determine what works best for all students. And it will be a wrestling match. Getting 75+ teachers to agree on much of anything is a  complex and challenging task.

 

Respectfully,

HRH Gill