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  • Writer's pictureKrista Price

Let's Talk Homework... (Quarantine Day 3)

Today’s post may not make me popular, but I was never the popular girl in school, so here it goes…

Teachers, may we have a frank discussion about homework? Let’s just break that word down: Home. Work. Clearly, it’s work we ask students to do at home. But why? Seriously, why?

“How will students be ready for college if they’re not used to the rigors of homework?”

“Students need to work on their own - it shouldn’t all be on the teacher.”

“Students need practice with the content - just like basketball or piano. Homework provides that opportunity.”

While some of these arguments hold some truth, I assert that even the arguments themselves are outdated. Let’s look at the typical life of a student 20-30 years ago: She went to school, did well in her studies, went on to college, got a job in her field, and hoped to work at that job for the long-term. Now, let’s look at the typical life of a student today: He goes to school, has 7 courses he’s trying to keep up with, has after-school activities (with seasons that last almost the entire year), must work a job to earn money for college, may or may not go to college for four years (due to his projected crippling debt), finds a job for which he is qualified, and may or may not stay at that job long term.

Teachers are working in a different societal structure than the past but with the same academic traditions of classes, bells, and homework. We’re training students to ultimately become college students, but many will not go to college (and yes, I’m still a strong advocate for attending college despite that); we’re saying that some of the work of learning should be on the student, and assuming that the motivation is there to do the learning at home (or that students have the resources, time, internet or help to accomplish this work from home); we’re saying that homework is good “practice”, when in reality, it’s often just busy work, copying from others, obtaining answers from the internet, or ignoring the “work” all together (which only results in two main outcomes: failing students and frustrated teachers).

So if the tradition is not relevant to today’s learners, and/or if that tradition re-routes the teacher’s time and professional energy to the assigning, collecting, and grading of homework, rather than to maximizing meaningful time spent mentoring students in a learning process, then is it valuable? Is it truly accomplishing what it’s meant to do?

I personally have found that my teaching became much more meaningful, student-focused, and rich when I omitted the tradition of homework. I arrived at Oxford High School 9 years ago (as a former "flipped instructor") to discover stressed out and/or apathetic teens taking seven different courses. If a student had only a half hour of homework in each course, (s)he would have 3.5 hours of homework each night - on top of sports and/or extra-curriculars. I learned quickly that anxiety and depression were the new norm for teens, and that mental health and coping skills were becoming almost non-existent. I looked at my own life: What if I had 3.5+ hours of work AFTER my 8-hour work day and 3-hour practice (rehearsal)? Would I be bitter towards my employer? (Granted, teachers ALWAYS have work far beyond the school day, but you get my point.) I’m sure all of us would find that excessive in any job and would eventually break down mentally and/or withdraw completely under that workload. And yet, we do it to our KIDS. Day in and day out.

I urge all teachers to take this time "off" to reconsider the purpose and benefits of homework, and then decide for themselves whether it’s truly necessary. I’ve discovered for my teaching that it is not. Sure, there are times when students may need to practice skills at home, in addition to what we’re already doing in class. Also, many of us consider certain reading assignments or projects to be necessary to complete at home. But largely, homework is no more than an academic tradition that we never question. We assume we are being “good teachers” if we assign and grade homework. Well, times and students’ needs/futures have changed. We, as teachers, need to reassess our purpose in and beyond the classroom, and we need to do right by learners and their families. If we consider a paradigm shift now, and put our focus on student growth (i.e. learning and skills) and not student “work” (i.e. punishment and rewards), only then will public education remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Post script: If you’re wondering “Then what are students’ grades based on?!”, don’t worry…my answer/suggestion for that will be a future post. :)

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