|Ah...homework. Staple of childhood today...|
Image by apdk [CC BY 2.0]
One of the ideas that often seems to come up when discussing homework is that of "teaching responsibility." As in, "I assign homework to my students to help them learn to be responsible!"
Folks, despite great intentions, I think this is a pretty rotten purpose to assign homework. Often times, this kind of homework really only burdens the parents, and doesn't actually help develop responsibility in the kids anyway.
Way back in April, one of my Twitterfriends, Jon Smith (@theipodteacher) tweeted this gem:
I hate homework given to teach kids "responsibility". Give them an egg to take home and bring back. Same result. #ohedchatGreat point, there. Such a clear visual of the problem with "homework for responsibility."
— Jon Smith (@theipodteacher) April 23, 2013
I hope you are hearing me right; I'm not arguing that I don't want students to learn to be responsible. Of course I do--that's part of growing up and maturing! But the assumption that every student needs the same homework practice--and that doing this same practice will result in becoming "responsible"--doesn't seem to make much sense to me in this day and age.
You see, this makes doing the homework a mark of compliance, not responsibility.
I'm not suggesting that students don't need to be accountable for their work. They do. But I think part of the problem is actually this mindset, this attitude on the part of the teacher. The idea that "I am the teacher and I will make all the decisions" really promotes a compliance-oriented classroom practice, one in which the students are not really responsible for their own work and learning, but are only accountable for following the teacher's agenda. As I see it, compliance might be one aspect of responsibility, but I don't think we can equate the two. Compliance has the connotation of "I must do this because you've told me to do this" in response to an authority figure. True responsibility, on the other hand, has a connotation of personal efficacy, a sense of "I will do this because it is up to me to do this."
How shall we develop this personal efficacy? I think that if we really want students to "take responsibility," we need to give them opportunities to be responsible! If I, as the teacher, am always the one making the decisions, will they ever learn to "take responsibility?"
I think the best way to have students learn to be responsible is to give them reasonable choices, and then expect them to follow through. Do you see the difference here? By placing the burden of reasonable, developmentally-appropriate decision-making on the student, they have an authentic chance to practice being responsible.
So let's consider this, teachers. When you really reflect on it, is the homework you assign intended to foster compliance? Or do students have enough personal investment in their work to truly develop responsibility?