Saturday, January 23, 2016

What Can I Say?

The following post is the second in a 3 part series on the topic of homework. The first post in the series was a guest post by Allison, one of our amazing #Cantiague teachers. Allison offered us insight into how homework works in her classroom and why it is at a minimum in her learning community. In the following post I share my own personal take on homework, which helped me flush out my history with homework, which has influenced my current position. Here it goes...

Homework... what can I say? I have been thinking long and hard about this topic over the last couple of months and the truth is, I am not a fan. The main reason my opinion of homework has shifted so dramatically over the last few years is because of my experiences as a parent. Here is the deal- helping Paul with his homework is not always necessarily that much fun... actually, it is rarely fun. It is frustrating, slow, time consuming and rarely does it lead him to a deeper understanding or appreciation for something he learned about in school. In fact, for him, homework is just something he has to get done because his teachers tell him to and he never wants to disappoint his teachers. 

So, if our kids don't want to do the homework and their only motivation is to be compliant and please someone else, does the homework actually have any sustainability or value? From my lens, the answer is no. Maybe I'm missing the mark... maybe there is some value to homework but I have yet to see it.

Don't get me wrong, my opinion about homework has evolved over time but the greatest shift came in the last four years. When I was a classroom teacher I gave homework every single night because I thought that was the sign of a "good" teacher. I gave math worksheets, reading with some sort of log or reflection and some type of word work every single night. I gave homework because that is all I knew as a student. I did try and give less homework because I remember homework being such a struggle for me. 

My parents are immigrants and although they were able to speak English, they weren't able to help me with my homework. I remember having dozens of math problems each night and reading from textbooks and answering questions and having book reports and projects, with little adult support. I remember homework being something I dreaded and often got me into trouble at school because I invariably made mistakes or didn't complete the assignments. Trust me, that wasn't fun or easy. Even though my experiences with homework weren't necessarily positive, I still couldn't do away with it as a teacher. Homework had always been given and I was convinced that the parents of my students were going to judge me by how much homework I gave and the quality of the assignments.

I guess one could say that I was somewhat indifferent to homework. I didn't love it but felt it was a norm within schools and thus it should be given each night. That thinking stayed with me even into my first few years as a principal. Then Paul got to 3rd grade and all of that changed. Homework suddenly became the bane of my existence... in fact, I think I dreaded homework just as much as Paul did at that point (actually, I might have dreaded it more). Homework became the "black hole" of our time together - it sucked out the fun and took away time from the things we actually wanted to do together (build Lego sets, read books for fun or play video games). Homework became a source of tension and stress in our home... and it was something both of us were feeling and taking out on each other. Homework was more of a battle than it was an extension of the learning in school.

That is when I realized something had to change and I started doing some research about the impact of homework on the academic experience of students. And guess what? I couldn't find any research that showed a direct correlation between the practice of giving homework and academic success within school. I read a lot of Alfie Kohn's work, who presented extensive research about homework and actually shared that homework could have a negative impact on children and their families (click here to see a summary of his research findings). It wasn't the only research I came across - in fact there were dozens of studies that show homework has no positive impact in elementary school and even middle school. Yet, homework is the norm... not the exception and I don't understand why if there is no research to support the practice.

Research shows us that people learn through social interactions and thus we encourage collaborative inquiry in our classrooms - we are not forcing students to work in silent isolation (except at some schools but that is a whole other post). 

Research shows that positive reinforcement is a way to get students to model desired behaviors instead of acting out and thus we implement behavior plans and reward positive behaviors - we are not just relying on consequences and punishments to change behaviors. 

Research shows us that children learn better in smaller chunks of time because of their short attention span and thus we keep our direct instruction to 20 minutes or less - we are not lecturing for hours on end in the hopes that children will learn. 

I would argue that we don't use research enough in schools to guide our practice but we do use it in many instances and yet when it comes to homework, we do the opposite? Why? What are the benefits of homework? How is homework impacting our students in a positive way? How is homework supporting or extending the learning from within the classroom? If we don't have the answers to questions like these then the time has come for us to revisit homework; to reconsider homework; to potentially re-brand homework!

What do you think about homework? Why do you think that? What is the value of homework? Does homework in our schools need to change? Can we throw out homework completely at the elementary level? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts, insights and opinions!

1 comment:

  1. I teach middle school level math in Patrick County, Virginia. My first year as a teacher, I taught 2nd grade and gave homework every night, thinking that was the expected thing to do. The next year, I was moved to 4th/5th grade math. Within the first month I began to realize how damaging, yes damaging, giving homework could be. I noticed that my weaker students were becoming more frustrated as were parents. My view on assigning homework changed in that I only assigned homework study guides the night before a test. What I noticed was that students became more active in class and grades began to improve. Students who are struggling in class with a concept are still going to struggle at home. Plus, many parents are not familiar with the content or have simply forgotten how to do it themselves. Now you have two forces working against you, the student and the parent. As effective teachers, we should take the appropriate steps needed to ensure that our students are comprehending the content taught in the 7 hours we have them each day. So my question is, by giving homework to students, especially if they are struggling with it at school, are we failing them by causing them to become frustrated with homework that they do not fully comprehend? Should we be offering more avenues for remediation during the school day? I favor the second question.