This summer as I saw my niece, who is now a sophomore, we inevitably spoke about her reading life. She used to be a voracious reader, we could not get enough books in her hands. Then she came to the whole class novel, which inspired this post, and since then her reading life has been limping at best. This summer I asked, as usual, “What are you reading?” She told me The Kite Runner and then scoffed. Surprised I asked why the reaction. She then told me that she had read the book and loved it but now had to reread it to annotate it. “The whole book?” I asked. “The whole book.”When I asked her why she was not quite sure, perhaps they would use parts for discussion.
I wondered then, as I often do, when I come across homework assignments that appear nonsensical, whether her English teacher had done their own homework? Whether they had taken the time to annotate the entire book themselves. Whether they understand the labor that was involved with that task and how it would take away from the enjoyment of the book. It seems to me that once again something that is meant to teach kids how to better thinkers, instead is implicit in the killing of their love of reading.
Several years ago I started to do my own homework. From the stories we wrote, to the essays, to the speeches, and to the presentations. I started to experience what I was putting on the shoulders of my students and I quickly realized that what I thought would just take a few minutes never did. What I thought would be easy hardly ever was. What I thought would be meaningful sometimes wasn’t. So I stopped giving homework, except for reading. I stopped going by the formula of grade times 10 minutes. I stopped handing out packets and instead vowed to stop talking so much and instead spend the time in class on discussion and work time. I expected pushback or concern, but have hardly gotten any in the last six years. Most parents express relief instead.
So every year I make a deal with my students; if you work hard in our classroom, you should not have to do work outside of English. If you give me your best then besides reading a good book you don’t have to give me anything more after you leave our classroom. And for most it works. Most of my students come ready to work, ready to learn, and they hand their things in. Not everyone, just like when we have homework we have those kids that do not get it done, I also have kids that do not use their time wisely. So I work individually with them, after all, the acts of a few should never determine the conditions of the many.
So if you are still giving homework, I ask you for this simple task; do it yourself. Go through the motions as if you were a student and then reflect. Was it easy? How much time did it take? What did you have to go through to reach completion? In fact, if you teach in middle school or high school, do it all, truly experience what we put our students through on a day-to-day basis. I would be surprised if the process didn’t shape you in some way.
I still do my own assignments, although I have been slacking lately. Whenever I do, I am reminded of just how much time homework swallows. Of sometimes how little actual practice it gives, or even learning. How homework is unfair because we have already been given hours of their time in school. How those who really need the practice do not need it at home, but instead with us as support in our classrooms. Do your homework, tell your students, and see how they react. Then ask them how they feel about homework. Let their thoughts shape you as a teacher, I promise you won’t regret it.
I am currently working on a new literacy book. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.
9 thoughts on “Are You Doing Your Own Homework?”
While it is important to assess whether work given is really useful or just jumping through hoops, homework is still an important part of school. How much are students now being asked to teach themselves under the guise of you just giving them work time? How will they fare when they get to college and class time for lecture and they are expected to do the work on their own time? Not very well, I’d say. Their *job* so to speak, is homework. I agree it shouldn’t be worthless or super complicated, but it’s still useful, necessary, and important for building lifelong skills.
I would also say that perhaps students who whine about homework should try to see how much work teachers do every day. Students will complain about having homework in 6 classes. They should try multiplying that by 5-6 classes of 30 students each and see how much work their teachers do.
Work time is actually scaffolded teaching, the kids that need more support are getting it, the kids that need enrichment are getting it and so on. I think teaching kids responsibility and time management within our classrooms are also part of what we need to do as a teacher. And I am not sure kids have less homework than teachers, not every day.
My goodness, how many evils in education have been justified by, “But in middle school/high school/college/the Real World….?” Sure, we should be mindful of the future we are attempting to build for students, but students are on a steep developmental curve. What is developmentally appropriate at year N may not be appropriate as recently as year N-1. Furthermore, time management in college is *so* different! Much less time is spent in class, freeing up the very time that’s needed to do all that extra out of class work. In fact, students who continue to adhere to a high school-like schedule, getting up at a reasonable hour and filling the gaps between classes with study and homework time, often find that they have invested plenty of time in academics to be successful in college. This is a frequently recommended tactic for students with executive functioning issues or ADHD.
Although I frequently see students and teachers bragging about workload and competing for who’s had less sleep (especially in IB/AP programs and magnet schools), there is no virtue inherent in this workaholic state. This is not the life that leads to a well-rounded, creative, innovative individual capable of a robust and passionate intellectual life.
Thank you for this.
Teaching responsibility and time management is also parents “job”. It’s about cleanning a house, taking care of a dog, having some responsibilities at home and in family. But when kids spend almost all the afternoons doing their homeworks, parents have no time and space to teach them the non-school and non-job responsibilities.
It is my belief that homework actually be the “practice” of the skills taught in class. I believe that my time spent is the instructional piece, the “I do” portion of the work, and the “we do” portion of learning. The student then works independently later to see what he/she can do on his/her own. I then use the work they do at home as a springboard for the lesson the next day.
Although I have seen many posts over the years which discuss the theory of “no homework”, I find that my students continue to grow with this work. In the beginning of every year, my kiddos and parents complain about the work load (math, reading, and vocabulary reinforcement). By the end of the year, my students are working independently and parents are actually amazed with the growth they have seen in not only responsibility, but independence.
I will note that I teach in the intermediate ages and recognize that I am the center of the their instruction. I am not competing with others for after-school attention and I do work with individuals to modify their work so that they are not spending too much time on any one subject, nor overall. I continually ask students and parents to write me notes on time lengths and problems found in the work so that I can discuss in class.
Although I can appreciate the comment from a child about the drudgery of doing work and the relief of parents from not having to deal with the workload, I also understand that our time in class is not always time in learning the curriculum. I find more time spent teaching those things that should be taught at home. As the structure of family and our world is changing, one thing my parents can relate to is homework and although many struggle with the work themselves (yes, fourth grade math is an issue to the general population ;-). It is my belief that if I am teaching respect, consequences, how to behave in public settings, etc, then my kiddos can spend some of their time off the internet and onto learning about world through reading or practicing their skills in math.
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