I was recently struck with what I think might be a helpful analogy for teachers who are themselves perhaps wrestling with what to do about assigning homework. Here it is...
Imagine, teacher, that your administrator hands down an expectation that you are going to write detailed lesson plans for every single thing you teach. You are expected to do this every single day, and must submit them by 7:30 a.m. every day. If you are late, or if your work is incomplete, you will have to give up your lunch hour as a consequence. Every once in awhile, you get a stack of your lesson plans back from your administrator with "10/10" or "B+" or "78%" written on the top of them, but with no other comments, written or verbally submitted.
- Would you be excited to get started on this work every day?
- Would you be methodical and thoughtful about your planning?
- Would you be thankful that your administrator has your unique needs as a professional educator in mind?
- Would you be joyful to have the opportunity to demonstrate your creativity and innovation on a daily basis?
- Would you be grateful for the thoughtful scoring of your work?
- Would this improve the quality of your teaching?
I suspect not.
I suspect...but am not certain...you would not look on this assignment with joyful enthusiasm.
- I suspect--but am not certain--that you might start to get a little resentful that your administrator is horning in on your time with what feels like "busy work."
- I suspect--but am not certain--that you might begin to rush through the planning, just to get it done, rather than to do excellent work.
- I suspect--but am not certain--that you might begin to wonder why you have to write these plans, whether you are the first year teacher overwhelmed with all the challenges of teaching, or the 20-year veteran who knows the curriculum inside out.
- I suspect--but am not certain--that you might begin to reduce creativity in your teaching, perhaps because it's just too much work.
- I suspect--but am not certain--that you might feel frustrated at the lack of authentic feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your work.
- I suspect--but am not certain--that you might think this busywork would actually get in the way of good teaching, and have little-to-no impact on improving the quality of your teaching.
Now, teachers...I challenge you to think about the work you assign to your students in this light.
Note, of course, this is certainly an analogy: you are a professional educator, with a sense of calling to your office, and an ambition to do well as you serve your students. Right?
And your students...they're just kids. Right?
So that must mean it's okay...
- to give them busy work.
- to harangue them for sloppy work.
- to assign the same one-size-fits-all work for all students.
- to wonder why they don't spend more effort and creativity on the tasks you assign.
- to not expect them to do any more than look at the score and then promptly forget about it.
- to accept that creating a quality learning experience is not really the goal of homework, but rather completion and compliance is.