When reviewing another article in the seemingly endless debate about homework (“Are You Down With or Done With Homework?”), it struck me that educators and parents would be better off using this time-honored educational tradition as a way to zero in on an individual student’s approach to learning or their grasp of the work being covered in class.
Homework has far more potential as something to start the conversation between a teacher and a student than as the key to promoting greater academic achievement. Rather than being described as a futile, largely rote exercise or as an important ‘rite of passage’ holding the key to academic success, the two poles which seem to define much of the debate, homework should be seen as primarily diagnostic and supportive of a truly student-centered approach to education.
We know that for some students, the ritual of homework quickly becomes a contest of wills and a source of tension within the family. Tears, stress and tantrums follow. In some cases, the homework is clearly not being understood (a useful thing for a teacher to know); in others, the student is simply unable to organize their time to get it done (think ‘executive function’). For still others, it is a meandering waste of time … something to be done in front of a television, with cell phone and/or laptop in hand… and has little, if any, educational value. Occasionally, the activity does its job of effectively reinforcing classroom learning and/or exciting a student’s exploration into new areas of learning.
Clearly, it is the way in which homework is assigned and used that will determine its ultimate value. Educators need to be encouraged to evaluate the age and the developmental level of their children before assigning work to be done out of class. Effective teachers of older students, for example, are aware of the assignments being given by other members of the teaching team. They attempt to gauge the likely impact of their assignments on the already overcooked schedules of their students. Most importantly, when assigning homework, the most effective teachers have committed themselves to using what comes back to help refine their own future lesson planning. Their goal is to understand how best to teach (and reach) each particular learner. Homework given with such mindfulness can be a valuable educational tool; without it, it can only be a mind-numbing exercise in frustration.Photo Credit: amacord