Homework: Putting Home and Work Together
This year has made me take a close look at how much work I expect students to complete at home. We need to think about what we’re asking students when we ask them to do homework. Wake up early, go to school all day, attend after school activities, eat dinner, have a good conversation with your family, walk your dog, and then, for a few hours before bedtime, open up multiple different textbooks and handouts and get back to working hard. It’s almost like we’ve planned out every second of every day for them. We’re also hoping that students can complete their work in a supervised, quiet space outside of their bedroom that’s free of distraction, and that they’re sharp late at night. I’m sure a few of our students rise to the challenge – after all, children are resilient and really want to make their teachers and parents happy. Some will do anything to get that A.
But is this really the life that we want for all of our students? Should we reward the students that will do the work at home only because there’s a grade attached? Will assigning large amounts of homework (sometimes completed with the assistance of a tutor, parent, or let’s be honest, by copying the work of another student) level the playing field and give all students a fair shot at success?
In a way, we’re training them to become like adult workers on overtime without pay every day of their lives, committing every free moment they have to work. We work to improve our lives and the lives of others, but we shouldn’t be expected to devote our entire waking life to work, and we shouldn’t expect children to either. When children come home from school, we should want them to do the same as adults: read at your own pace, for pleasure.
I teach high school English, so I ask students to read the assigned novel at home, and I allow them to read it at their own pace. I give them one due date and ask them to submit their notes (free resource) on the entire novel after they finish reading it. We study the novel for at least one month. I also try to give them as much time as possible to read by breaking up with year with poems, short stories, and essays that can be read in class. They always write in class because it’s a place free of distractions.
Obviously, we want to find a balance between too much and too little homework. When a student works from home, it should be to get clarity on something or develop a deeper understanding of what their teacher presented in class, like a historical event or scientific process.
I’ve read and heard enough stories from teachers that stopped assigning homework to know there’s little consequence to cutting back: it’s more about time management than anything else. In many cases, I’ve heard teachers report higher performance after they assign less homework or cut it out altogether. I know if I use time effectively in class, there’s no need to send handouts or classwork home. I also like to be present when I ask students to perform a task so that I can provide feedback or quickly readjust the activity.
This is not about giving all students A’s, it’s about giving all students the chance to succeed, even if their life at home (if they are in fact, going home and not to a job) is chaotic and unpredictable. For many students, home is just not … school. Let’s be careful when we put the words home and work together.
Teacher's Workshop, LLC
online PD for Secondary ELA Teachers