Other teachers aren't sure how to incorporate at-home tasks into class reviews, so they limit themselves to in-school instruction and practice only: "Even if they do the homework, am I really gonna have time to do corrections and class discussion before completing the objectives that follow? How will I stay on schedule?"
I can understand both of those reasons for wanting to give little to no homework, and neither of those addresses another common reason for avoiding homework assignments: "Homework is just another thing to grade, and I already don't have time to grade the papers that I have."
What element do all of these reasons for hating homework have in common? You've got it; it's time. No teacher wants to feel like he or she is wasting that most valuable commodity, the golden goose in every educator's life, TIME. I propose, however, that homework can save you time and energy if it is properly implemented and rewarded in your classroom.
First, let's have a look at what homework is supposed to be and what it is supposed to do.
Homework, for the sake of this blog, is students' opportunity to demonstrate to their teacher what they have learned or known about a chosen concept. It does not ask students to embark on new tasks without previous guidance or explanation; rather, a home task asks students to apply previous knowledge to a direct (obvious) or synthetic (creative, applied) product. The teacher has already given the background information. Every child has the capacity and provided support to complete the task.
Big whoop, right? What does all that mean for homework assignments, how does homework make our lives better and how do we get the children to bring the stuff back? Good questions!
First, the size of homework assignments matters. The widely accepted "10-Minute Rule" (read this one) suggests that no homework assignment should be longer than ten minutes per day per grade level. A fifth grader wouldn't have more than 50 minutes of homework per day; more than 50 minutes wouldn't appropriately fit the average maturity level and attention span of a fifth grader. There would be 20 minutes of homework per day for a second grader, and 60 minutes of homework per day for a sixth grader, etc. Notice, there is no "per class" designator, so teachers would have to consider the amounts of homework given in other classes when assigning their own.
If students believe you are considering their time when you plan homework assignments, they will be more likely to complete the work you send. (The same is true for teachers who are completing tasks for principals or committees.)
Second, the kind of homework matters. It's good to assign homework that allows students to argue their points of view with support. Though this kind of assignment requires some reading and writing, it also engages students in critical thinking, logical organization and sharing when students return. People like talking about themselves (and students are people too, lol). When a safe environment has been established, students feel happy to hotly debate controversial topics. All subjects have controversial topics in them. When students get hot under the collar about class topics, real learning is taking place.
Third, the expected product matters. This relates directly to the amount of time it would take to produce the task. It would be unfair to expect typed papers out of students who have no access to computers or typewriters, and it would be just as ludicrous to require models from students who cannot buy materials. When teachers can demonstrate to students that they have chosen a reasonable product, students are more likely to return with an assigned task completed.
When homework is a functional, social part of the classroom, it's not so much of a hassle. It becomes the "easy 100" part of the grading table, and students like the easy 100s. Also, we must not look at homework as a burden to us, the teachers. It is a means of expression for the children. It tells us right away what the child took away from class discussion, and it shows us misunderstandings that we otherwise might not discover.
Don't just take my word for it. Assign one homework assignment that considers the size/time, kind and expected product for student work, and tell me what happens the next day. I wonder if that kid you've had to chase all year will come to school with a paragraph of reasons why he's right. ;)
Beach Balls and Parachutes,