Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ensuring Valuable Homework

This one popped up on Instagram for me this morning. Got me thinking, of course...

[Screenshot of my phone this morning...]
You really should follow Bored Teachers on Instagram.
I guess what got me is the fact that I actually really agree with this statement.

I know, I know...if you've been reading this blog for some time, you're probably falling out of your chair right now, since I so often rant about homework. (Check out previous posts, if you want...)

Here's why I agree: Homework, when done right, SHOULD be just what this Insta-post suggests.

"Good" homework should not require the parents' intervention. I think that's implicit in the above post. Reading between the lines here, the teacher behind this post has heard feedback from parents about the homework being assigned, and not all of it has been positive. Parents need to understand the role homework ought to play. But--and here's where I'm getting reflective of my own practice, friends--I think teachers also need to understand the role homework ought to play.

And, judging on the kind of work I know I assigned early in my teaching career, I don't think we teachers really consider the kind of homework we are assigning. Okay, I shouldn't speak for you...I guess I'm saying that I haven't always considered the kind of homework I assigned.

So here's what I'm thinking, my fellow teachers: if we're going to assign homework, it should be just as thoughtfully planned, introduced, and reviewed as any other part of our lessons. That means...

It should NOT be assigned because we are thinking, "I ought to assign some homework." Homework, if assigned, must meet some learning objective, and you should be able to explain to students (and parents) why they are doing the work that is assigned.

It should NOT be assigned as busywork. Homework, if assigned, must be purposeful, meaningful, valuable practice that takes into account kids' (and families') needs.

It should NOT be assigned as a punishment for bad behavior in class. Homework, if assigned, must be an extension of learning in class, not a way of "making up" for what wasn't learned in class.

It should NOT be assigned haphazardly. Homework, if assigned, must be thoughtfully designed to provide the practice students need, or prepare them for the next day's lesson. Either way, it has to be deliberately planned and prepared--not just "do this worksheet" or "read the next chapter." And if we assign it, we should assess it in some way, whether formally or informally.

I'm going to hold myself to this standard, even at the college level where I'm currently teaching. I assign a fair amount of "homework" (okay...maybe "out-of-class reading" is a better way of framing most of it) to my college students. But I recognize that I'm not always as purposeful as I could/should be in the work I'm assigning.

This is a challenge I'm giving myself--and I hope you'll join me in it, teachers. I'm going to carefully consider the work I'm asking students to do outside of class time. Is it valuable? It the assignment reasonable and realistic in the amount of time it will take? Will it further their learning, or solidify their understanding, or prepare them for what's next?

Who's going to join me in this? If we're going to assign homework, let's ensure that it's valuable homework.

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