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I Hate Homework – A Teacher’s Perspective

September 25, 2013

Earlier this week, we looked at homework from the eyes of a parent.  Now let’s examine the topic from the perspective of a teacher.  I thought it would be interesting to read the article as if I were a student completing a homework assignment.  So I assigned myself the task of agreeing or disagreeing with each paragraph and writing a sentence explaining why.  The teacher’s words are in italics and mine are in regular font.

I hate — hate — homework.

I hated homework when I was a student, I hate the battle of wills I have with my second-grader and I hate seeing my middle-school-age son miss out on the afternoons of his childhood.

Agree – When you have to fight about homework as a parent, everybody loses.

But most of all, I hate being a hypocrite. So it’s time to come clean: I am a teacher, and I assign homework.

Agree – I do the same thing but have fewer concerns.

I have always assigned homework because that is what teachers do; if I didn’t, word would get around that I am a pushover, or don’t care enough about my students to engage their every waking moment with academics. When I first started teaching, I assigned homework liberally and without question, and scoffed at my students’ complaints about their workload. I expected them to keep quiet, buck up and let me do my job.

Agree – I assign homework because it’s part of the culture of the schools where I have taught and, more importantly, because I believe that work outside of class can benefit students in terms of knowledge gained and skills practiced.

But 13 years later, I find myself at a crossroads. My son Ben is in middle school, and homework is no longer an abstract concept. I can’t just assign it and forget it, and I will no longer sacrifice my students’ right to their childhood so easily.

Agree – A parent once told me before I got married that I wasn’t able to conceptualize the impact of the homework I assigned because I didn’t have kids.  So true!  Now that my sons have homework on a nightly basis, I view the topic from a totally different perspective.  It’s important that I assign work that is worthy of the time spent.  I would disagree with the notion that homework ruins lives because if students are invested in the learning process, they will hopefully see the worth in the work I ask them to complete.

I am not the only parent — or teacher, for that matter — questioning the value of homework. It’s the subject of heated debate in school meetings and Internet chat rooms across the country. Even elite private schools in New York City are vowing to lighten their homework load.

Agree – It’s an important topic and people should be talking about it.  However, we as teachers need to be vigilant about the homework we assign because studies show that too much homework turns kids off and makes them not like school and the learning process.

The popular media tempest surrounding homework formed in 2006 with the publication of two books on the subject: “The Homework Myth,” by Alfie Kohn, and “The Case Against Homework,” by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, followed by Time Magazine’s The Myth About Homework by Claudia Wallis. Last year, Vicki Abeles’s documentary “Race to Nowhere” joined the fray. In her film, Ms. Abeles claims that today’s untenable and increasing homework load drives students to cheating, mental illness and suicide.

Agree and Disagree:  While I haven’t read any of those books or seen the documentary, I believe that homework can have a negative impact on kids if it’s assigned in the wrong way.  When I give homework, I only do so when I am fairly certain that all of my students are able to complete the assignment.  In fact, I want homework to be an activity that increases a student’s self confidence because he or she is able to prove to themselves that they can complete the work.

So is homework worth it or not? I went directly to the source. I asked my students whether, if homework were to completely disappear, they would be able achieve the same mastery of the material. The answer was a unanimous — if reluctant — “No.”

Agree – Homework helps kids master the material.

Most echoed my son Ben’s sentiments: “If I didn’t have homework, I don’t think I’d do very well. It’s practice for what we learn in school.” But, they all stressed, that’s only true of some homework. “Bad” homework — busy work and assignments that don’t do anything but eat up precious evening hours, is (as one of my more opinionated students put it) “a stupid waste of my time.”

Agree – Assigning homework just for the sake of assigning homework isn’t fair to the students.  As I see it, if I’m asking students to do the work, then I need to put in the effort to make the homework meaningful.

Fair enough. If my students feel that quality homework is worth the effort, I’m keeping it. With one caveat. All assignments must pass the “Ben” test. If an assignment is not worthy of my own son’s time, I’m dumping it. Based on a quick look at my assignment book from last year, about a quarter of my assignments won’t make the cut.

Love – I know the assignment is to agree or disagree but I love the idea of the “Ben” test.  The Golden Rule fits here – Only assign homework to students that you wouldn’t mind seeing your own children doing.  Taking the time to review the effectiveness of assignments is an important part of the process, and it’s one that should be shared with students.  Not only does it empower students by showing that their input counts/that they are part of the process, but I want to be a role model for my own students.  If I’m not a lifelong learner who enjoys improving myself, how can I expect them to be?

Children need time to be quiet, play, read and imagine. Teachers who sacrifice these vital elements of childhood for anything less than the most valuable homework assignments are being derelict in their duty to their students and the teaching profession.

Agree – That’s a strong statement but I would agree.  Assigning good homework is just as important as creating valid assessments and effective lesson plans.

Source: Lahey, Jessica. “I Hate Homework. I Assign It Anyway.” Editorial. New York Times. N.p., 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. <http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/03/i-hate-homework-i-assign-it-anyway/?ref=homework&gt;.

**Thoughts after completing my “assignment”**

Image

What I did here (just for fun) was to replicate what I often ask my students to do when reading or thinking about a concept.  I ask them to evaluate what they are reading because doing so forces them to think critically, which helps them to master the material.  It’s impossible for them to read passively when they are being asked to judge something.  According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, evaluation is the deepest form of thinking.  Perhaps part of the problem with homework is that it often only focuses on lower forms of thinking such as knowledge and comprehension.

Thoughts?  I’ll buy the next beer to the teacher that leaves a comment.  How can you lose!

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From → Homework

13 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    beer me

  2. stephanie permalink

    As a school, we watched “Race to Nowhere” and I am happy to say that we have adjusted our homework as a result. As a teacher, I love having one less day to correct homework in class (more class time for discussion, practice, etc.), and having another day when I don’t need to worry about getting finished with a lesson so the homework I have assigned will make sense. On the two days I don’t assign homework, I am more relaxed in my teaching and comfortable with letting students explore concepts in more depth. I still agree that the children need homework, but I will say that cutting out a day of homework from my class makes me focus even more on making sure that the three days I do assign work are valuable experiences. Love this discussion you have going!

  3. I have never seen race to nowhere. I will try to change that sometime this month. So – two questions about homework: 1) You said that there are two days per week that you don’t assign homework – does that mean you take one day off and that you don’t assign work on the weekend? 2) Do you get to choose the day when you don’t assign homework or is it schedule so throughout the week the kids have one less subject to do per night?

  4. Beth permalink

    So here’s my struggle, as a music teacher: it’s not just about what we do in class…yes, I want them to review, re-do, analyze our daily (and past days) activity, but as an instrumentalist, they’re actually building muscle memory. Daily practice, which in my case is reinforced by a practice log, is pretty essential. We’re having this conversation at my school too, and just like I shake my head at other “new educational theories”, I can’t help feel like this no homework phase is a fad.

    Also, there are more skills that are being learned by taking HW home, completing it, and bringing it back than just whatever concept is being taught. I teach at a Title I school, and building ownership and responsibility is a big part of what we do.

    • Anonymous permalink

      Amen Beth! As my former piano teacher used to preach to me, “Practice, practice, practice!” How can you improve unless you actually do the work? And I agree with you about the organizational skills reinforced by having students take home, complete, and turn in homework at school. These are things that need to be taught explicitly at school and practiced at home.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Amen Beth! You nailed in right on the head. How can people say there aren’t benefits to doing homework when you as a music teacher know that students will never master an instrument unless they practice at home. Why is reading, or writing, or critical thinking any different?
      As for building ownership and responsibility – the need for explicit teaching is just as important at my son’s suburban school as it is at yours. My oldest has incredibly weak executive functioning skills because they aren’t being taught at school and practiced at home.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. I hope you will do so again in the near future!

  5. chris permalink

    Interesting discussions overall. I have two approaches to homework because I am both a Performing Arts Teacher and an AP US History teacher (gotta love the freedom of independent schools!). In AP homework is a necessity. They have to have a broad understanding of the content and I believe there is no way to do that other than for them to do lots of the reading at home. I do not address or “cover” everything that they read because I can’t. I don’t have time. Simply put, I blame the friendly folks who write the AP Exams for this situation. Now, they are fundamentally changing the AP history tests next year and claim to be making it less of a content juggernaut. I hope that is the case.
    In performing arts, things are completely different. Homework is either memorizing lines which would be a waste of class time because they need to work with their scene partners during class. Or it is writing journal entries on prompts that I have given them. The hope is that they are thinking about the practice of acting outside of class. I feel that work is absolutely worthwhile and additive if the students take it seriously.

    • Chris – Good to see you yesterday and thanks for letting me know about your comment. The homework for performing arts totally makes sense. As for AP History. I get the fact that the AP is all about content (and while I’m not a huge fan because I think there is more to learning than just content) I realize that AP classes are just the way things are. I’m wondering if you ever differentiate the way you have them learn content outside of class. Like assigning a video or a Ted Talk or something? My concern is that while most AP students tend to be good readers, some might benefit from receiving the info in other forms. Thoughts?

      Thanks again for joining the discussion. Sorry about those Broncos!

  6. Stephen Chamberlain permalink

    H/w is fine if it is relevant, appropriate to the needs of the student and the student takes ownership and understands the value of it.

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