If students have been fully engaged in class, they’ve probably put in a solid 6+ hours of hard work.
So consider homework for a moment: Is it worth something?
I will go ahead and lay out the argument for homework, because it’s a popular and worthwhile opinion: “Students need to practice what they have learned in class in order to maintain their skill and review concepts that have been taught in class.” I actually fully agree with this statement. However, again, if students have been engaged in class for the majority of the day, and the teacher has been present supporting them with clarified, sound instruction, questioning at high levels of DOK, and providing opportunities for students to communicate and apply their knowledge, when kids go home–they need to be kids.
I imagine if a teacher is one of those individuals with a cake classroom where engagement doesn’t matter, yeah–those kids need to go home and hit the books. But, for someone reading this blog, who has a passionate interest in first-rate classroom engagement, their students slay it in the classroom on a daily basis. When they get home, they deserve to be rewarded with rest and relaxation. I absolutely think that providing them with a little bit of practice to stimulate them outside of school is appropriate, but it is important that in assigning this practice, the view and the volume need to be assessed.
In assigning homework, it is important to ask, just like Runn croons, “Is it worth something?” At the end of a lesson, many teachers think, providing evening work for the skill learned earlier in the day will reinforce the information that was presented. They say reinforce, I say rattle. Surely, we’d like to think that all of our students were able to grasp what we delivered, but how often does every kid make an 80 or higher their first attempt at taking an assessment? It’s not best practice to give kids evening homework on the skills they learned during the day. If they didn’t learn it correctly that day in class, they’re not going to practice it correctly that night at home. Thinking that they may figure it out if they practice it independently is like saying, “Alright, teenager; you ran that stop sign and took out a few mailboxes while we were practicing driving together earlier today–this evening, once it gets dark, hop in the car on your own and try your luck.”
Teachers who feel like it’s just not right to send a child home without something to do, should think about sending home true remedial assignments that serve more as spiral reviews than extended independent practice. This will provide a chance for students to enhance fluency, extend thinking, and refresh their knowledge in order to continue building on it in the classroom.
Another option is the flipped classroom model, where instruction actually happens at home via a pre-recorded lesson from the teacher. With this model, the time at home is spent listening to the teacher and watching concepts as they are skillfully modeled (with the gift of infinite rewinding and re-watching), and the time at school is spent doing guided practice with the aid of the expert–the teacher.
Thinking about the purpose of homework also allows teachers to take into consideration the fact that not all students go home to a place where knowledgeable adult help is handy.
If a teacher has assessed the purpose of homework, the amount should surely be brought into question as well. I’ve heard at many different schools in many different places that the rule of thumb is 10 minutes of homework multiplied by the grade the child is in. I am so sorry, but I have the hardest time understanding this: DOES EVERY SINGLE FOURTH GRADER TAKE 40 MINUTES TO DO THE SAME HOMEWORK? Does it take every first grader 10 minutes to complete the same homework? If so, who determines what that homework is, and how are they able to assign homework “in minutes”?
The amount of homework should probably match the concept or skill being reviewed, plain and simple. Those fourth graders receiving 40 minutes of homework should probably get no more than 5 or 6 long division problems (the view of this homework should be practicing the proper use of the standard algorithm or another previously taught strategy for correctness). Those first graders may only need to draw a picture and write one sentence about the principal, police officer, and mayor they were introduced to earlier in the week in order to show that they have retained their knowledge of people in authority. I am not privy to the ability levels of all first graders, so I’m not sure how long this will take. If I were their teacher, however, I’d make sure they understood my policy about their kids and homework: “It’s meant to be practice–if it gets to a point where frustration is reached, get to a stopping point, send in a quick note, and I’ll take it from there.”
Homework is not all bad, however, there are certain educators who when asked, “Is it worth something?” they ultimately think no. With purpose in mind and while being cognizant of the amount, homework is definitely worth the quick, intentional spiral review opportunities it can provide.