Let’s be honest – homework sucks for everyone.
Guest Post by Jon Corippo
Recently, Texas Elementary School teacher Brandy Young posted a homework policy for her classroom and a very happy parent Facebooked that policy to the tune of over 74,000 likes (and counting). As an educator, I’m thrilled that people are finally getting this conversation out in the open.
There are PLENTY of blog posts agreeing with this mini-viral sensation, so I’m going to talk about what nobody is talking about, the one thing Ms. Young has REALLY wrong in her amazing manifesto: The hidden danger of teachers saying “if you don’t finish, you have to do this for homework”.
A little background on me first. I WAS that homework teacher. I had my students line up ALPHABETICALLY, graded their work in real time and if they didn’t have it, I trained them to call home and reported themselves to their parents. I had the routine down pat. And I had it all in the gradebook before I went home Friday. Usually about 300-400 pieces of paper per week, not counting in-class work. I once delivered a student his math book, paper, and pencils and a missing assignment report to his house, so he could finish missing assignments over the weekend. And I did it unannounced, a drive-by homework deliverer. I was into homework.
And then one day I realized that every Friday, I was wrecking everything I had built up between Monday and Thursday. I always tried to have a classroom that was fun, friendly, relaxed and had the feeling of being a studio, instead of a place where I was just a “handout hand-outer”, dishing out worksheets. Every day was an exciting adventure, filled with teachable moments, unexpected changes on the fly, and hand crafted projects that featured lots of technology infused throughout.
And then, every Friday morning, I wrecked it all. Every week. And every weekend I’m sure kids spent time wondering why I was all “up in their weekend”. I was the Friday homework maniac, and “checking the box” preempted all the learning we’d done up until then.
Stop the Homework Crazy Train
I decided to stop the homework crazy train. In fact, I got to help develop a high school that actually had a school-wide goal of “no stupid homework” – meaning there was work to do at home, sometimes. But homework just to be busy was not okay. This same high school just had the highest SBAC scores in Madera County – thereby proving it is possible to have a “homework minimal” policy at the high school level.
If You Don’t Finish
SO. What’s wrong with Ms. Young’s no homework plan? Well, it’s that one little wrinkle, “if you don’t finish, you take it home”. Seems fair, right? Do your work now – so you can have the night off. But you have to think like a person who is surrounded by their friends. And their friends will not be there when they get home. So, a fair amount of students will mean to do their work. But they don’t finish. Then, they have a moral dilemma – will they actually do the thing at home, independently, that they wouldn’t do at school with support?
How many kids will be the kid who doesn’t do the homework? Not all of them. But if you understand The Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule, having 20% of the kids off-task can decimate the general productivity of a classroom (if he’s not working, why should we?). And then there’s Parkinson’s Law – “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, so if a student can finish tonight, why would they finish today. And then at home that cycle REPEATS (Hey! They can do it in the morning! Before school!).
In my years of teaching in the K-8 grade range, I sat in on meeting after meeting where students were missing 20, 30, 40 pieces of work. Think about that amount of work, especially in the context that a teacher might typically enter 3-5 items per week. How does a student get that far behind? It’s easy: the “take it home if you don’t finish” effect. The idea of trying to have kids hurry-up to finish so they don’t have to take the work home is a failure on many levels.
A far better pedagogical approach, one that benefits our students is to establish a class tempo that focuses on students finishing work at school – the idea that leaving without the work done is not okay. Nothing aids learning more than fast feedback. Consider this 3 step process: situation, behavior, impact. When a teacher allows the student to “finish at home” – the behavior and impact portions are put “on credit” to be dealt with tomorrow or Monday, if ever. Without this feedback, student learning is hampered.
Bell to Bell
In my own classroom, once I changed to a do this at school, finish now model, my students were far more engaged in the work of the day, because of the idea that we’d all finish. Right now. And I’d get their work feedback to them immediately. No homework for them or me. (At Minarets High School, Daniel Ching calls this working “bell to bell”, I like that phrasing).
Some teachers or parents may be saying “but we need homework” right now. I’d argue that if kids are working “bell to bell”, six hard hours a day, with immediate feedback – most of the minutia we are obsessed with assigning in the homework category can be eliminated. For example, I used to spend at least one full class period a week of ELA time giving out Latin Root definitions, homework, giving and grading the tests. Using a tool like Quizizz, Socrative or Formative, students can take the test twice a day (with automated grading) in about 10-12 minutes per day. My experience is that this classroom flow meant that by Thursday, the class average will be above 90%, with no homework. With data like that, I don’t need to do the whole test/give out homework thing on Friday. It just isn’t needed. That means one day a week is now wide open for new work. Every week.
So all those kids could be getting great academic work done, teachers can give faster feedback and homework could have been a bad dream…if we will just open our minds to the possibility of saying “do it now”. We talk about change being expensive in education, here is a place where we can make a dramatic and positive impact almost immediately and it’s free. Think about making one free change this week: NOT allowing work to be finished at home.