Homework is a hot topic in the middle school at the moment. I have introduced the idea that we need to think about why we set homework and if students do take learning home, what should it look like. After reading much research, articles and books such as Alfie Kohn’s “The Homework Myth”, Sara Bennet and Nancy Kalish’s “The Case against Homework” and Harris Cooper’s “The Battle over homework”, it is clear to me that we need to re-examine and discuss our current practice. I don’t think there is a huge problem at our school, in fact the excellent teachers we have are very open to ideas and change. They are also doing a great job and really have the student’s well being at heart, but I think that we all just assume that homework should be set and all have very different ways of setting it.

I am not saying that there should be no learning done at home, I am simply saying that the learning should be relevant, interesting and personalized. If a student is really excited about their learning and they want to continue their learning at home, they will!

One point of discussion is to look at the curriculum content of each subject. If a teacher feels that she or he needs to set homework in order to “get through the curriculum content” then I would say we need to look at the curriculum and see if things can be re arranged to enable it to be taught primarily at school.

Another area is the awful practice of saying “Here’s the work for today and if you can’t finish it, you have to do it for homework”. Who does this benefit. The kids who find the work easy don’t have any homework and are not stretched and the kids who are struggling or just simply take longer, end up with homework.

The students at our school, through the student leadership body are also looking at homework through surveys and interviews. It upset me yesterday when I saw a video interview with a 6th grader who said “Home is for fun and school is for work”. When I hear comments like this I feel we have failed this student and need to try to get through to him that learning should and can be fun. This student needs to be excited about learning at school at home.

I visited the Bronx Guild School in New York last year, which is a big picture school. I asked a student there whether he had homework. He said “I don’t get given homework, but I do a lot of my work at home”. If people get excited about something they are doing, they’ll just want to keep doing it.

I read an interesting response to the opinion of some educators that kids can’t always have fun and they need repetitive practice homework in order to teach them discipline and organizational skills. They also sometimes compare this opinion with Musicians and Athletes who have to do a lot of preparation and repetitive exercises to get better. The response simply said “The difference is that the musicians and athletes WANT to do it”.
I’d happily give a student 2 hours of Math practice questions to do at home if they were interested in doing them!

More to follow….!

5 Comments on “Homework

  1. Absolutely. And such a valuable touch-point with parents too. Why aren’t we using homework to excite and engage parents?!

    I think the problem is a bigger one: about the nature and purpose of schools. Often when you ask the teachers in a school almost any subject (what’s homework for? why do we wear a uniform? what kind of detentions should we set? etc…) they all have different answers.

    And with a subject like education you can see why this is.

    But in any other organisation with something to achieve this level of disunity would be unacceptable.

    I’m not saying Heads need to be dictators. But they need to lead the discussion of these topics with the school (easier in a small school), keep the discussion focused – the key questions are ‘what are we trying to achieve’ and ‘how many other opportunities are there to achieve this same thing’ , and the come to a conclusion. (and hold teachers accountable to it).

  2. This is really great! Though I cannot help thinking about a Hungarian proverb (I am from Hungary), maybe for the sake of argument, that goes like this: “teher alatt nő a pálma”. That is, pressure makes diamond.

  3. Hi Ben,
    Nice blogsite. Here’s a few questions that teachers might ask themselves before they set HW.

    1. How will this HW benefit my students’ skills and understanding?
    2. Does every child in my class need to be doing this?
    3. How will I follow up on the homework?

    The research I’ve read in relation to Q.3 indicates that if teachers do not follow up on HW there’s not much benefit to the student.

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