Homework: To give or not to give


Right now this is debate in many schools, coming from educators, parents and students. Those that are on the side of homework talk feel there is a need for skills to be practiced independently before they can be mastered. On the other side many argue that practicing without a coach (teacher) can lead to errors in learning that takes more efforts to unlearn. Handing one assignment to a class of students as homework is troubling. In that class some students might have already mastered the skill while others are just beginning to tackle it. Why should they all do the same assignment? Matt Miller and Alice Keeler address these concerns and present solutions in their book “Ditch that Homework”.

I suggest that instead of ditching homework we might want to SHIFT IT! This idea comes from practice in my classroom. I don’t assign homework, haven’t for many years. I accept work when it is done and grade it based upon the learning standards. A few years back, after a student failed an assessment, he challenged me. “Mr Bloch, you failed to teach me what I needed to pass the assessment?” What, wait, did I? Others passed!! The students and I went over all the material presented in class, all the projects and tasks given. We agreed it was covered but he still challenged: “But I didn’t do any homework to help it stick, you should have given me homework!” I thought about it for awhile and asked these 3 questions of the student:

  1. Did you know what you needed to learn?
  2. Did you receive feedback as to where you were in this learning?
  3. Did you have access to resources to help you learn it?

“Well, yes but I needed more homework to learn it.” I asked him if it would be fair if I gave the entire class more homework, since as a class most students mastered the content. “Well no, they would hate me if I made us have more work!”

Teachers shouldn’t be the ones assigning homework in the classrooms, students should be assigning it to themselves! Teachers need to set the learning targets, give feedback and provide the resources students need to learn but the learning and homework belongs to the students. Each student has different needs because they are in different places in learning. Schools have to stop thinking one size fits all and model how learning happens in the workplace and in homes.

In the workplace new skills are presented all the time. If a worker wants to get ahead and master the skill they will work on it at home. Those that don’t add the extra efforts might now advance in their jobs as quickly as those that work. At home when we don’t understand why the lawn mower won’t start or how to landscape the yard we assign ourselves homework to figure it out. Schools need to start modeling the skills students need to succeed in life. One of these skills is for learners to know how to assign themselves extra work to reach mastery!

This image of my daughter show it:

Grace knew that she was struggling with fractions in math, so she accessed Kahn Academy to study on a snow day. She could have been sitting on the couch watching TV with her brother but assigned herself homework to fix a perceived weakness. This is a life skill.

Time to shift homework, from teachers to students!