I Quit Assigning Homework… Too Many Dogs Were Eating It

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Many years ago I quit assigning homework. Too many dogs were eating it and I didn’t feel it was my job to feed the neighborhood pet population. From time to time I reconsider the impact of homework. While not everyone will agree with me, I feel the role of the homework boils down to two essential questions:

Why Assign Homework? 

Students are either going to copy someone else’s work or not do it at all. Yet the problem with the concept of no homework at all is that it sends a message that nothing from class is worth thinking about outside of school. The homework debate shouldn’t be about homework, it should be about exploring opportunities to extend and enrich the classroom experience. For a teacher, homework is a chance to craft something meaningful – something more than a worksheet.

It’s important to remember the purpose of an assignment when giving homework. It must be worth the student’s effort and it has to help make class time more efficient and beneficial. So if something is being accomplished when you assign homework – great, but don’t give it for the sake of giving it. Make homework about moving students forward, not completing worksheets. Challenge students to think outside of school. Make them tackle problems, weigh decisions, and find answers. The traditional homework we think of isn’t preparing students for college; professors rarely assign and collect homework. Encouraging students to think is a real-world skill that will come in handy regardless of the career path a student chooses.

When and Where Do We Learn?

The more control of learning that can be turned over to students, the more creative they can get in sharing, leading, and creating – and this includes homework. Homework isn’t something that has to be assigned, but understood. Students should understand that learning is something that extends far beyond the classroom. We are all lifelong learners. We, as educators, can’t stop kids from learning, but we can unintentionally limit the time they have to focus on the things they want to learn. Assigning homework is essentially the teacher way of telling students that what we want them to learn is more important than what they want to learn.

There is a big difference between assigning homework and asking kids to work on their learning outside of class. If students work on something they are passionate about, it can still be considered homework – even if it’s something they enjoy doing. Apathetic students can fall in love with photography, classic novels, interviewing people in their community, etc. Lots of learn goes on during play – we as educators must encourage that. Students engaged in something they love will naturally want to learn.

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This post was inspired by a 12/30/2012 conversation of #21stedchat on Twitter.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “I Quit Assigning Homework… Too Many Dogs Were Eating It

  1. Very well said. “Assigning homework is essentially the teacher way of telling students that what we want them to learn is more important than what they want to learn.” I totally agree.

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  4. Finally… some common sense about homework! Those who are keen to flip their classrooms need to think about this, too. Their goal is usually to enrich what happens in class, but it is a kind of institutional arrogance to assume that teachers can invade the out-of-school time of their students with “learnified” activities. The right balance, I think, is to leave students challenged to figure out more on their own than they can get from just being at school. Next year I’ll be starting a blended learning program; one of inquiries will be to see what happens when we carve out a bit of space for mainly unsupervised independent and group work within the structure of a school day.

  5. wmartin4

    “If students work on something they are passionate about, it can still be considered homework – even if it’s something they enjoy doing.”

    It seems like the less I assign homework the more students blog, create, or read things they want to for their own homework. Inspire them in school and they take the inspiration home as homework.

  6. I’m headed down this route too. I have really learned a lot since joining Twitter and forming my PLN through it.

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