Homework: What do you think?

This year, I’m not teaching a class that has homework, but if I was still teaching science, I’m not sure I would assign any homework.

Why? I’m so glad you asked, and I should add that these words are my opinion.

Reason #1. I get tired and burnt out when I don’t take a break from work in the evening or weekends, so I could only imagine how the kids feel. This summer, when I attended the Klingenstein Summer Institute, I was overwhelmed: classes began at 8:30am, finished at 8:30pm, with readings, journal entries, and writing expected to be done afterwards. I was up till midnight regularly, getting up to run or exercise at 5:30am, and progressively more and more exhausted as the two weeks progressed. Mind you, this was TWO WEEKS, and I was blissfully happy, learning/reading/discussing education. I wanted to go further and read more than what was assigned. I wanted to take time to read more background information. I wanted to ask for my peers to comment on my writing and have informal discussions about the readings. But I knew this came at the expense of sleep. When I think about our students having to try to sustain something like this for 8 months, I cringe. If it was this hard for me as a motivated, self-disciplined, eager student, it is a wonder that so many students are as compliant as they are.

Reason #2. What does the research say? This article is a meta-study by Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering, published in Educational Leadership in 2007. I’ll just pick out a couple things that I found interesting:

  • It’s about the quality not quantity.
  • Little/no benefit for elementary, some for middle, and good for upper.
  • Overall, the research is generalized and not very practical, so teachers should rely on professional judgement and feedback from students.

Reason #3. The impact on family life. Younger and younger kids get homework so that they can learn time management and organization, so that they can handle high school and college. What about inspiring them to learn and giving them time to pursue their own passions (which most of our kids have many of)? What about letting them spend time with their family and sleep at night? I read an interesting article recently about unschooling on the Committed Sardine blog… it seems utopian.

The real reason I wanted to post this today was that I found this article (So Much Homework) on the Connected Principals blog in my reader. Shannon Smith linked to an excerpt on homework from Kathleen Cushman‘s Fires in the Mind book. She talkes about her Practice Project and the chapter includes a lot of input from current high school students. They recognize the importance of practicing outside of class and suggest the following:

I hope this doesn’t just come across as complaining. Though I think a lot of the assignments at our school allow for students to develop their interests and understandings, I question the volume and the culture of homework that we have and whether we really know the effect…

What do you think?

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