Friday, March 19, 2010

Homework shouldn't be assigned, it should be inspired!

flickr CC image via ultrakickgirl

My good buddy and colleague, Joe Bower, is a passionate and intelligent person. I just finished reading his last post at his education blog, 'For the Love of Learning'. In The Destructive Forces of Homework, Joe states that,
If we are to walk the talk of life-long learning, we must care how kids feel about their learning. If ever there was a consensus among people, it could be found among kids and their hatred for homework. So if we truly care about students' attitudes towards learning, and we are doing something that is sabotaging that attitude to go on learning, then we have a professional obligation to stop.
OK Joe, I'm going to challenge you on this statement... I totally agree with your first point, "if we are to walk the talk of life-long learning, we must care how kids feel about their learning." This point is inarguable. Perspective is the key to motivation. I would also agree that there is a wide-spread (almost cliche) negative perspective toward homework among the student set, but I ask myself why this is. Do students hate homework, or do they hate what we call homework? I submit the latter is more true.

We need to contextualize homework. If students love what they do in school so much that they want to continue to do it at home, can we not call that homework? The logic you suppose is based on your position that homework is inherently bad, and therefore "sabotaging" student's attitudes to go on learning. I can't necessarily agree. If teachers are engaging students in meaningful and authentic ways at school, and that learning continues at home, (a good thing in my opinion,) I don't think my definition of homework sabotages anything; I actually believe it would enhance learning.

After reading some of the comments on your post, and considering the litany of comments in various teacher circles related to the homework debate, I must say that teachers have done an incredible disservice to the topic of homework in general. True life-long learning as an attitude is something that we should embrace to be sure, but I can't see how that can perpetuate if we are saying learning is defined in such narrow parameters as whether homework is either good, or bad. I cringe when I consider that homework as most people define it, (unfinished work, worksheets for drill or memorization of facts,) is really just more of what already happened in school on any given day, and if we're saying homework is inherently bad, what are we saying about school?

I would like to pose the challenge that homework doesn't have to be absolutely bad. It doesn't even necessarily have to be done as an "assignment" that everyone is expected to do, and that those who don't are somehow punished for as a result. For example, if I asked my class to go home with some basic instructions on how to build a cell battery out of some paper towels, pennies, copper wire, tape and salt water, and the majority of them actually do it, (not because it was for marks, or because I said they had to,) and then brought their excitement and batteries back to class the next day wanting to show the kids who didn't build one, for whatever reason, how they worked, I'm going to say this is a good learning situation, (a true story from my class this past week.) This is also a process I would call homework that certainly doesn't damage attitudes toward learning, but rather improves them.

We don't have a professional obligation to stop sending homework; we have a professional obligation to start sending homework that is meaningful to students, applied to the exciting teaching and learning going on in our schools and that students will do because they want to, not because they have to.
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