When you think of school, what comes to mind? Teachers? Friends? Classrooms? Sports?
Oh, yes… and Homework.
Homework is synonymous with school and teaching. But it doesn’t mean that you must assign homework to guarantee learning or to show you are doing your job. There are schools and teachers who assign little to no homework and whose students perform just as well in testing and learning environments.
However, homework is very useful in a purposeful and directed manner. If you must assign some, here are 5 rules to keep in mind before giving it out to your students.
Rule #1: Make the Homework Relevant to Your Lesson.
The first question you should ask yourself is “Will this further the learning of what was taught in my Classroom?”
If you must assign homework, it should serve a purpose and match what your students are learning. Assigning homework for homework’s sake is wrong.
All too many times, a teacher will send out a random worksheet or assignment that does not match what they are learning. It is only busy work to add to their grade books or what the teacher may think of as a “fun” assignment. Students often appreciate the fun, but not the extra work.
Putting it in perspective:
What if your Principal assigned something that was not relevant to what you were doing?
While you are busy preparing your first-semester report cards, your Principal asks everyone to write a report on what changes you will make in your curriculum next year or reasons why there will be no changes. Oh, and you are free to present it in a fun way like a skit or puppet show!
This might seem like a worthwhile assignment, but is it appropriately timed and relevant to what you are doing now? If homework was necessary, wouldn’t you appreciate working on sample report card comments instead?
Rule #2: Adjust the Amount of Homework You Give based on Student Need
Ask yourself “Will my students, who already mastered the concept, appreciate the type or amount of homework I’m assigning?”
Telling yourself that your homework is extra practice because we all need extra practice is not good enough. If a student demonstrated mastery of a concept or lesson, consider cutting their homework in half or remove it completely.
You can have students demonstrate mastery with an ungraded quiz. This will also give you valuable information on what the whole class still needs, what can be considered already taught, and who is struggling and in need of extra attention.
A good practice is for those who already learned the concept to be exempt or have to do the odd problems for the next few homework assignments. Your students will appreciate this.
Putting it in perspective:
If the Principal were to ask all teachers to complete 500 addition problems at home (due tomorrow) because there were some recent accounting errors, how would you feel about it?
Would it be rote work for you since you mastered addition and were not the one who made the mistake? Is the number of problems assigned appropriate or excessive?
If you could show mastery of addition with a quick 5-minute quiz to be exempt from the assignment, would you appreciate that?
Rule #3: Avoid Homework Over the Weekend, If Possible
Ask yourself “Does this homework assignment trump both weekend-family-time and a break from a full work week?”
You deserve a break with an entire week behind you, and so do your students. Five subjects worth of homework adds up quickly. Families will appreciate having time with their children without an assignment looming over them. Also, on Monday, your students will arrive happier with more sleep and rest under their belts. Your students will have less to look forward to in your classroom if a weekend homework pattern is established. Obviously, long-term assignments and make-up work can be encouraged over the weekend. Also ask yourself, if you are behind in the curriculum, is it your student’s fault? Even if you lost time due to snow days, this should not be a reason to pile on the homework over the weekend. Your students need their time as well.
Putting into perspective:
The Principal calls a meeting on Friday and asks all teachers to create a budget for their classrooms for the upcoming year over the weekend. The Principal also mentions that you must complete it by Monday and that it will be graded (affect your pay).
Would you welcome the assignment and input into improving the school? Sure. Would you appreciate working on it over the weekend? Probably not. What if you were taking a weekend trip with family or just needed to relax after a long week? How would you feel?
Rule #4: Be Aware of Other Teachers’ Homework Assignments
Ask yourself: How much homework, in total, do my students have tonight?
If you have an upcoming project, science fair, or test, please let your fellow teachers know. If your students have 5 classes with 30 minutes of homework each and a large project due next week, how much time do they have for sports, family, eating, and sleep? What if the assignment takes longer because they are struggling with the concept? When you allow for the fact that your students have homework besides your own and activities outside of the classroom, this will make everyone’s lives smoother.
Putting it in perspective:
The Superintendent comes in and asks you to attend a very important meeting this evening with the Board regarding your subject. An hour later, not knowing that you have this meeting, the Principal pulls you aside and ask you to add more to your PowerPoint presentation that MUST be included for your presentation to the faculty tomorrow. Then, you receive an e-mail from the H.R. department asking you to fill out forms for your retirement that must be sent out tomorrow morning or you will lose a lot of retirement benefits.
Notice that everything is required and must be completed tonight. With just 3 assignments, how do you feel that night might go after a long day at school? Not to mention, that you have papers to grade, prep for you class, and your day-to-day life to live.
Rule #5: Use Homework to Guide Your Teaching, Not to Fill Your Gradebook.
Ask yourself: Will this homework assignment help me recognize if my students understand the concepts being taught?
You reviewed or graded the homework. Do you just give a grade and forget about it? If so, THAT HOMEWORK WAS NOT NECESSARY!!
Homework should guide your future lessons. Is the class ready to move on? Is there a concept that still needs to be retaught? Are a select few in need of extra attention to help with a concept?
If you give a grade for homework, that is fine. However, it must guide your teaching or it was less necessary that it should have been.
Did you give a letter grade for the homework and not a complete/incomplete grade? Then, perhaps, this should have been a quiz and not homework. Your students should feel that homework is practice to shore up concepts or let you, as the teacher, know who needs help. Have you ever had a student get an A+ on homework and perform poorly on tests? Some may have test anxiety, but others have learned to just get help with answers for a good grade and rather than show you that they don’t know the concept.
If you assign homework that includes new material first covered in the classroom, be flexible. This is new information not mastered concepts. If a student has difficulty that night with this new concept, who can/will they turn to? For some, they will have no one to turn to and all they can look forward to is getting both a bad grade and feeling behind as the class moves on with the lesson.
Concerned that your gradebook is light on assignments? Being checked by your Principal or dean? Principals need to understand that the number of graded assignments is not reflective of the amount of teaching going on in the classroom. All it says is that you have grades to show at the end of the year full of busy-work homework.
Putting it into Perspective
The Principal arrives and assigns everyone to read a book on new teaching methods and complete a review and chart highlighting the main points.
After collecting your reports, your Principal looks them over in front of you, says “Good job everyone, I hope you learned something new” turns around and drops them in the recycling bin. What did you learn and what will you do the next time this kind of assignment is given? Did it really guide your Principal’s direction for the school?
Homework is a necessary component of teaching but needs to be assigned in an appropriate manner to be effective. Basing your homework assignments on its relevance to your teaching, needs of your students, importance over weekend breaks, in light of other teachers’ work, and its use in guiding your teaching should all be taken into account. With those points in mind, you will be appreciated for your homework assignments rather than despised for it. You will also appreciate what homework can do to guide your teaching and not just provide more work for you as well.