Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Homework is Essential?

"Homework is an essential part of learning."  This was just said to advertise a bit on helping your child remember more that will be aired on a local morning show tomorrow morning.  This was said, without qualification, and without hesitation.  Most people, both in and out of the world of formal education, probably wouldn't bat an eye at this.  But it hit me, as I'm sure it will many others, like a slap across the face with a sack of bricks.

Homework, an essential part of learning?  I'm sure many would concede that homework is an incredibly common part of school, if not essential.  I myself assign homework most nights in most classes.  But you know what I'd like to do more than assign homework?

Not assign homework.

I hate assigning homework.  I hate discussing a concept with my students, either through class discussion or group exploration, and then saying to them "Great!  As a class, you guys understand this.  Now, here are some exercises (rarely, they're problems) for you to work on in small groups in class for the remaining 10 minutes, or by yourself at home.  Oh, and the odd answers are in the back; I know that, you know that, so you better not get those wrong.  Have that done tomorrow morning."  I don't understand how this makes sense.  Yet I do it.  My students don't like it (most of the time), they don't do it to learn -- they do it for the grade.

So what's the point here?  Am I just ranting a bit over something I saw on TV while I have a fever (yeah, possibly)?  But are we still doing homework?  Really, teachers?  Homework was a great idea when we got out of the chalk-and-slate world and into textbooks, paper, and pencils.  Learning exists beyond the walls of the classroom, now more than ever.  If we box our students into doing exercises for homework, what are we missing out on?

What if the "homework" (we need a new name for that, by the way) was a way for the students not to take the classroom home with them, but a way for them to bring their world into the classroom?  We can solve equations anywhere.  Why waste time that they could be gathering data and wondering about the world around them on that?  Homework can and should be for students to gather pictures, videos, and other evidence of the world around them to support what's going on in class.  We can't be in all of their lives (nor should we be -- that'd be creepy and potentially illegal).  But they are.  They can bring that to the room (they do anyway, emotionally).  How can we make use of this?

Wow, that got a bit off-topic and rambling.  No more blogging while sick.  But the point is this: is homework an essential part of learning?  Essential?  I don't think so.  If we have it, let's make it worthwhile.


  1. Teaching students with severe behavior problems, homework is a death sentence for them. So, I just don't do it. It is not a battle worth fighting. My goal is to engage these students as much as possible in the 6 hours I have them. Engagement can be tricky, but I try to tie what they are learning into their lives otherwise, they don't care to learn it.

  2. I agree - but don't at the same time. As a math teacher, practice is essential!!! Therefore, homework is needed as it allows the students to practice. It's like a sport - the more you practice, the better you get.