Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is Homework Dead? | September 27, 2013

Seth Furlow

"We need a whole Teacher Leadership Challenge on why homework should not be graded!"

First, let me sum up my basic philosophy on homework:

  1. It should ALWAYS be checked, it SHOULD NOT be graded, ever
  2. It has a role, especially with skill-based concepts like calculations
  3. It should include more thinking, and less doing

I am happy to see in my 11 years of teaching the shift has pretty dramatically shifted to the side of "homework shouldn't count". But should it exist at all? Yes. Students, learners, and people in general, need to practice. What that practice looks like will not be the same from class to class. We spend some time doing extra practice in my classes, but never without doing the same skill in class first. In my advanced class (AP and IB Biology) a lot of the "homework" is simply reading and or research. Look at the concepts, study them, then let's discuss them in class, where the real learning will occur. The real meat of a good learning experience, hearing others' opinions, justifying your own, breaking down preconceived notions, cannot happen in a vacuum. You need others to do this. This can't happen as homework.

One thing I have shifted to recently in my classroom is a focus on more reflective though in my classroom. This has taken the place of a lot of the homework we used to do. Let's do the work in class, discuss our struggles and realizations, then think about it home. Yes, just think. One way I have found I can encourage this is through reflective bogging. Thanks to Gary Abud and a workshop he facilitated on Modeling Instruction in Chemistry this past summer, I learned a great structure to implement this fully into my classroom. The results: impressive. After the first month of school my students have had maybe two assignments to take home and finish, but a weekly blog to write. The focus on what we did the previous week, how it ties to our learning goals, and what they personally felt/thought/saw during the activities we completed. Their writing has impressed me. Of course not every student has finished one every week, but only a few haven't followed through with the weekly task. The writing I have seen has been awesome. I believe it has forced my students to be more cognizant during class activities, and has really pushed them to think about what is the purpose of our day to day activities. I feel this has been extremely valuable.

I have a hard time believing the same level of engagement and thought is possible with doing the odd number problems on page 117 tonight. Keeping up with the skills necessary to be successful is clearly important in a classroom. I would argue that the skills are more effectively taught and practiced in the classroom. Thinking about the application of these skills and why they are needed have become my go to homework assignment. If you ask if these blog assignments are graded, we need to talk.