A few weeks ago, I read an essay in the New York Times by Judith Warner. When she characterized children's homework as "compulsory school "involvement" (that is teacher-delegated busywork packaged as a way to Show Your Child You Care)" I wanted to shout my affirmation out loud. Really, really loud.
I've had a lot of reasons to think about homework of late. I haven't had much time to actually think about homework, however, because that work doesn't get done on its own. And that reality, the reality of assignments for my child that require hours of time and parental help to complete, has got me thinking about homework in the classes I teach.
Most nights, JT comes home from school with an hour's worth of homework. Often, it takes more than that to complete. When you add in additional projects that are an even greater time commitment, we are feeling a little overwhelmed at Sassafras House. And I'm not convinced that the end result of all this work is beneficial to the bottom line goal of sustaining an engaged, independent, life-long learner.
The good news is that my frustration has gotten me thinking about my own classes and how I use homework. And I'm in a mood to put down my thoughts in a more concrete form. Before I assign any homework, I ask myself the following questions:
1. How does the assignment support my instructional goals and the materials we are studying in class?
2. Am I giving the students enough time to complete the assignment and actually think about the ideas?
3. How does the assignment coordinate with other work my students are receiving?
4. How does the assignment serve the larger objective of the course? For example, if I want the students to master the details of a particular event or concept, how does my assignment help to make that happen?
Finally, and this is a deal-breaker:
5. Can my students complete the work on their own? Independent learning is essential at all levels of instruction. Full stop. If the students cannot do their work on their own, then the value of the assignment is so compromised as to make it meaningless because it's not showing the student how to be responsible for his or her own learning.
Asking these questions will make me a better teacher. More to the point, it will help to make more effective learners out of my students. And isn't that a teacher's ultimate goal?