Homework: To Do or Not To Do, That is the Question

Hannah just graduated high school and going to be in university this September. I looked after her when she was 2 months old and was there until she’s 12. If not with the homework she did independently or with some help when she started school, I would not be able to give her some practice tests that prepared her for some skills she will be needing in life.

This post may sound more of like Dear Diary.

A. Howework. Divide.

A few days ago, I got myself involved into a (tweet)chat about homework that really made me reflect on this century old way of learning. I am a product of it and proudly, will say it out loud.

With the digitally connected environment we are getting used to that brings us to a vast amount of resources to better our teaching, as educators, we have been really thoughtful of how we teach. Growing up with no internet, but having pen and paper, textbooks and notebooks for every single subject, and a typewriter on hand, were what my childhood looked like. If I consider how I view homework today, it will be a homework overload. But, it was the norm back then. No question ask. My parents would not question my teachers if I have to sit for an hour or so to finish it. Get it done. Period.

As a teacher in the elementary level, I am not going to do the same. I am more conscientious, more reflective, more considerate and connected. There’s a shift in the way I teach, the environment in my classroom, the way I deliver the curriculum,  and the kind of homework that I give.

It’s a working family these days. That’s the norm. Parents are doing an 8 to 5 job or shift work to make ends meet and provide a better life to their children. Sometimes, I question the statement, “Technology makes our life easier.” Does it, really? How come we still say, we live a busy life?

I only had my students for 2.5 hours a day and they had to go to French class in the afternoon. That time was without rotary subjects like Music, Drama and Physical Education. I wanted my students to take the learning outside school hours.

For me, homework will do that but in a different context. Last school year, when I came on board after a month of school had started, my Grade 2’s were already doing Spelling: Words of the Week (8 words a week) as homework. Spelling folder was handed out on a Monday and returned on Thursday. It consisted of 9 activities varying from bubble letters, definition, sentence usage etc. The last few months of school, I gave them the option of doing it on our class blog, http://kidblog.org/class/miss-manahans-class/posts, or on paper. A small number of students did 3 or less activities because that’s what they could only handle. And that’s okay.

Most students developed the independence over time through repeated practice. Their work was handed in before Thursday or done online right away. They would tell me that they’re already done with their homework because they know how to do it on their own. Some would say that their mom, dad or sibling help them out with one activity or two. Some would ask me, “Did you see my spelling on our blog?, with excitement in their eyes. There’s always one or two that would not get it done and when asked, they’d say, “I forgot… We didn’t have the time because… I was in my dad’s house over the weekend…” These are the realities of life.

In my heart, I understand why things don’t get done in time. They happen to me all the time. But as their teacher, I also need to teach them a sense of responsibility at an early age, not in a form of punishment but encouragement. Repeatedly and it gets tiring at times (with all honesty), I say

  • Let me know if you need extra time and need help (parents wrote notes for me to explain it again to their child because they didn’t know how to support their child).
  • You can use the dictionary here at school if you don’t have one at home.
  • Do 3 activities of your choice.

On a Friday, they got 2 worksheets to work on over the weekend. One on math and the other one was for Language. At the beginning, they were the old school, typical homework worksheets. Slowly, as I get more connected, the assigned homework became more flexible and reflected individual learning. Open-ended math problems and more real life connections were given. We also use our class blog when possible.

The homework given was not a new lesson. It’s what was discussed and shared in class. Out of 31 students, only a few needed help. The rest can do them independently. Some were not able to do them all the time because of internet accessibility and the environment at home.

Before the end of the school year, I can tell who have developed good study habits, a sense of responsibility and ownership of their learning. The homework stayed. What were changed? The type of homework and the tool on how it was done. A student went to China for a vacation and was very worried about missing the spelling lists and other lessons. I told him that I would post it on our blog for him to see and he can do it if he finds the time.

Alice Keeler,  Mark Barnes and John R. Walkup have strong views about homework. They challenged my views, beliefs and thinking.

Moving forward, after doing some reflective thinking, homework is staying. It will not be how it was given to me. It will be more flexible, open, beyond worksheets that will produce the same answers, and challenge their thinking. I need to strike a balance.

At an early age, a little bit of structure is needed to develop good study habits. In my case, the old school type of homework was given because of limited access to resources and teachers connectivity but I looked back and somehow, one way or the other, it contributed to the skills that I am using today: to persevere, more responsible and how to manage time.

My self-reflection on this topic cannot be done in 140 characters. What’s yours?

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