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Homework: The New Hotness or the New Level of Hell?


Homework. To assign or not to assign: that IS the question, isn't it.

It's a touchy subject; people have remarkable strong feelings on both sides of the divide. Personally, I'm torn.

My homework policy is pretty much, "If you don't do it at home, I reserve the right to have you do it at school on your own time." I am trying really hard this year to make homework stuff that they can't do at school, work that actually needs to be done outside of school hours, so that I'm not assigning homework for homework's sake but rather am assigning it to actually support our work in class. The letter of introduction certainly could have been done in class; that one was just to get the year started with the expectation of doing homework. So, totally antithetical to what I'm actually trying to do with homework. :/ And yet, GREAT return rate. Over 90%.

The next assignment? They had to go someplace they've been before, someplace they spend a lot of time but not inside their home, and write for fifteen minutes. The goal was to focus on using sensory details and creating a sense of setting. That assignment had around a 70% return rate on the day it was due. That's better than I normally get at the beginning of the year, but still pretty mediocre. And that one needed to be done outside of class; inside the classroom would have given far more limited results. But they didn't do it. (By the third day after it was due, all but three kids had completed it. Those three stayed after school that day. We trucked outside and found a place to sit; I chose a spot where a lot of students, parents and teachers would pass us as they left. The three sat there and did the assignment as I told any interested onlookers why they were there. Don't like the publicity? Next time, do your homework on your own time.)

Maybe it's because the letter was about them - their lives, their interests, their goals. Maybe it was because that was the second day of school and they were trying to impress me. (Totally worked, if so. How do we get back to that?) Maybe my sensory assignment wasn't clear enough for them to really understand. Maybe they felt uncomfortable having to go someplace to write - maybe the public nature of it made them feel weird.

I get not wanting to do homework. As a high school freshman, I almost failed math because I didn't do my homework. I got As or Bs on all the tests, so I didn't see the point in doing the practice. If I didn't really need the practice, why waste the time? And I still feel that way, to large extent. On the other hand, I had to figure it out eventually, because that's how the world works. In high school, in college, in the workplace, most people have to do work at home at some point or another. So the sooner kids learn how to manage their time and motivate themselves to do things just because they have to, even if they don't want to, the easier it is in the long run. But it's not fun, and I know that.

No matter what, though, I need them to do homework. Two reasons. First, because there are some things we just can't do in the school day, and they need those life writing experiences to support their school writing. That's how writing workshop works.

And second, because they're eighth graders. Next year they're going to high school. They need to be equipped to succeed in high school, and when we asked some high school teachers what they wanted out of honors students specifically, they said, "Kids who do their homework." I'm sure there's more to it than that, but that was the number one request. I want my kids to be ready for high school success. They NEED to be ready for high school success. Thus we need to do homework.

They might not like it; I won't always like it. But we'll do it.

What do you think about homework? How often do you assign it? How do you deal with kids who don't do it?

(Photo credit to Rennett Stowe)

2 comments:

Rachel said...

I had to lecture my students the other day on homework & cheating. Another discussion for another time - what I mentioned to them was that I don't assign homework to be evil or laugh at their misery. "Remember, I have to grade it! I'm just creating more work for MYSELF, too!" I reminded them. I could see this actually struck a chord with them. Ultimately, though, I said I asked them to do homework for these reasons:
1. In standard classes, students spend 90% of their time reading in-class. In honors, I expect them to read the material outside of class so we have time to TALK ABOUT IT in class or work with it in some way.
2. I want to know that they know something I've taught, and one way to do that is through extra practices, i.e. homework.
3.College. If these students want to go to college (and 98% of mine do/will), they will be expected to complete work independently. They need to build those study skills and habits of time management and personal responsibility so that when they get to college, they at least know HOW to work on their own.

The third reason is the main reason why, unfortunately, our school counselors sell honors classes as those-classes-that-are-college-bound. Standard classes RARELY give homework, mostly because we got tired of not getting it back. Sad, isn't it? But that's not how it should be! Another rant for another day.

teachin' said...

#1 seems like a sad thing too - the standard kids also need those discussion opportunities. Maybe even more.

I get the getting tired of not getting homework back. I kind of feel like it has to be a systemic change if an individual teacher isn't going to go crazy trying to keep up with it all. Luckily, a few of my colleagues are doing the same thing I'm doing, so our kids are starting to expect it.

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
 
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