This post is a response to the Teacher Leadership Challenge 2014 being coordinated by Michigan Educator of the Year, Gary Abud. Weekly prompts for the challenge can be found on his blog. All educators are welcome to participate and share their thoughts using the #tlc2014 hash on Twitter, or submit thoughts via their own blog, vlog, or comments on Gary’s blog.
The Wrong Homework Argument
Our default “mode” for viewing the world comes from our own egocentric view of reality. It’s why we’re shocked when students we work with everyday still can’t grasp a difficult concept. It’s why our close friends and loved ones surprise us with radically different political viewpoints. It’s why we still struggle with judging “rightness” through the application of absolute principles rather than our own experiences and feelings. Our individual experiences shape who we are. If we can accept as a natural truth (or at least a strong assumption) that each of us is unique, we can shift the conversation about homework. We can talk about the value of homework not as a polarizing dichotomy, but as an encompassing plurality.
Homework is Unnecessary
Josh Stumpenhorst, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year, insists that homework is really only stealing time away from students that they could be using to be kids. Josh considers that the differences in home life between his “have” and “have not” students means that most traditional homework would be unfair as some students would be met with too many obstacles (lack of safe environment, quiet space, computer access). In short, Josh doesn’t want his students to “burnout” on learning. Alfie Kohn would probably agree.
Homework is Necessary
The research in support of homework is far less sexy a tale as Josh’s stance against it. The supporting evidence focuses on the direct impact homework has on percentile scores, emphasizing the nature of short term gains many schools are under pressure to produce. Even Alfie Kohn acknowledges that despite overwhelming evidence against it (research evidence as early as 1897 suggests homework produces no discernible effect on learning), homework still exists as something that is just accepted as part of our culture in the United States.
I’m not going to take sides on this one. Whether it’s from a stance of “repetition makes perfect” or “homework kills learning,” the redefinition of homework thanks to virtual schools, online classes, and the internet makes that choice moot. Almost all work completed in an online course could be considered “homework”. Students in more traditional learning environments that want to explore interests and curiosities from their daily lessons have access to many “homework like” activities online. MOOC participants will create homework for themselves on occasion. The question for me then isn’t one of assigning homework or not, but helping students determine how to make work and learning that happens outside of the classroom meaningful.
Give learners choice in what they want to complete, similar to the DS106 Assignment Bank. Give them the agency and flexibility to alter or remix classwork to better suit individual needs or curiosities. Brainstorm some creative alternatives for those students who need a little more. If homework is a necessity, make sure you provide as much time in class to work, digest concepts, and produce new understandings as students are given at home. Because leaving students to fend for themselves can quite often produce less than desirable results:
I liked homework better when it was called coloring – http://www.flickr.com/photos/busyprinting/4225224298/
sagan quote – http://www.flickr.com/photos/limadean/5238649892/