Monday, January 15, 2007

The Homework Debacles

Update: I've put the forum url on here. Enough is enough.

I am being burned alive over on a teacher forum (this one) over the concept of homework in the public schools. I never gave much homework, but what little I did assign, I expected to be done, and it counted the same as a quiz. (I still do!) I know that many teachers give far too much homework, and that many students are struggling so badly, they are unable to get it done even with effort. I know that many households are so dysfunctional and scornful of education that they put obstacles in the student's way and as good as forbid him/her to take pride in a job well done, all on one's own. I know that many students bring home huge assignments from every class, every night. I do not believe that is what the concept of 'homework' is supposed to be all about.

I do believe, however, that homework, sensibly assigned and properly done, can be a real help to both the student and the teacher. Often, when something new is taught in class, it's easy to think you've 'got it' while in the room, with lots of other people who think they're 'got it,' too, and the teacher right there. But once at home, with the same thing in front of you, suddenly you begin to wonder if you've really understood. Doing a few problems, pieces of writing, question-answering, etc, all on your own, by yourself, at home, away from the teacher and the other students, will often let a student know that YES, he/she understands and YES, I can prove it! or "oops, maybe I didn't understand after all, but I'll give it a try" which means the teacher can look at that attempt and be better able to help the student REALLY get it, or maybe the student will just give up or not try at all, which tells the teacher that this student isn't a go-getter, and gives up quickly, or has other problems. The point is, without the homework, how can a teacher know who can do it out there in the world, and who can do it only within the confines of the classroom? And, most important, who can't do it at all, on his own?

By my way of thinking, almost anything done in a classroom is a kind of practice. It is out there on one's own that things learned in school become useful. Someone who can do the work only within the confines of a school hasn't really mastered it.

I am NOT an advocate of LOTS of homework. I think too much homework cuts into personal and family time, and turns the wonder of learning into a burden, and many children have such dysfunctional homes that there is no way in hades they could ever find the time or place or opportunity to do homework. Assigning a little homework and finding out a child just can't do it, for whatever reason, is something that can't be assessed in a classroom.

Remember, I do not believe in huge, crushing assignments, costly projects, or last-minute rushed assignments that put a dent into a planned family activity.

We planned our activities around homework and school, but a last-minute thing might really have ticked me off. Fortunately, my children's teachers didn't do that. Frankly, I think a good teacher would NEVER toss off a last-minute lengthy assignment, due so soon it messes up a family's plans. That is poor planning on the teacher's part, and completely unfair to both the student and his/her family.

I do know for a fact, though, that many students have an assignment for a week or more and don't do it until the absolute last minute, causing the parents to think it was hastily assigned and not given enough time. (Parents, before you call and complain, find out how long your child has known about the assignment!!!)

Over on that forum, I have been told that I am heartless, without either sympathy or empathy, overly strict, elitist, compassionless, and countless other things that have really hurt me and caused me to wonder if maybe. . . . they're true? The other teachers there, with just a few exceptions, believe that homework is not necessary at all, that it cuts into family time, that there should NEVER be any homework, and that if a little homework is necessary, the choice of doing it or not is entirely the student's choice, and choosing NOT to do it should have no bearing whatsoever on the final grade.

I maintain that a LITTLE homework is often extremely helpful, both to the student and to the teacher, and that homework not only reinforces skills, it teaches the student about cause and effect, consequences, organization, accountability, and dependability. I also maintain that a student who does his/her homework is also obeying the teacher and demonstrating good character, as well as re-enforcing new concepts and getting a little practice in.

TOO MUCH homework is a bad thing. Occasional homework is a good thing. I believe that homework should have purpose; busywork is not a good homework assignment.

Some of the teachers on that forum are also saying that anything in the form of drill or memorization is unnecessary because it isn't any fun. I maintain that often we must first learn HOW to do something before we can jump and and DO it. Can musicians leap right into the hard stuff without paying their dues with the easier stuff? Do they not drill and practice constantly, even AFTER they're considered great? How can we master the fun stuff if we don't LEARN it first? Are athletes just born that way, so they don't need to practice? Dancers? Singers? Any kind of skill at all? Are some people just born talented and so they never have to practice? How many of us are struggling now because we weren't required to learn our math facts in second grade? I am, that's for sure. How many of us fall into that unfortunate category of people who never had much geography, and now we couldn't find Taiwan unless it animated itself out of a computer screen? I had to memorize dozens of poems in 7th grade (the forum was appalled) and at the time I hated it but now? Wherever I am and however bored I might get, I've got literature in my head and it will entertain me.

The debate isn't about how too much homework is bad. It's about any homework at all. They say, none. I say, some, and it should count, and mean something, too. I also say that kids who do their homework deserve more credit than kids who refuse. (The forum says no difference should be made.)

Okay, please take sides.

P.S. There are a few teachers on the forum who agree with me. Most of them, however, think I'm Cruella de Ville and I want to skin their puppies and wear them in winter.

P.P.S. I've always been more of a cat person, myself. :)

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 3:27 PM | |


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