11 September 2014

Update on Our Homework Conundrum

As I prep for an upcoming conference presentation titled Wonderwork Replaces Homework, I'm visiting some of my previous blog posts on homework. My post at the end of last school year about not making my son complete a word search worksheet assigned for homework stirred some controversy, so I thought I'd take some time to address some of the statements that were presented to me after people read my post.

1)  "You should always make sure your child completes homework as a way of teaching him responsibility." We have never before supported our sons skipping homework assignments, and the only reason we supported it this one time was because we wanted our son to learn about consequences on an assignment that was not adding value to his life.  It was a meaningless word search worksheet that didn't require any thought--mere busy work.  At the same time, please recognize we have required our sons to complete busy work in the past as a minor way of supporting teachers and the school. 

2)  "Letting students determine if an assignment is meaningless is a slippery slope."  The definition of meaningless in our minds is any work that can be completed without thought and that is assigned with no intentional purpose.  A word search worksheet falls into this category because it's simply a search for random words in a scramble of letters.  In previous situations, we have required our sons to complete even these meaningless word searches. Again, it was this one time that we allowed our son to make the decision.  He made this decision not so he could spend time playing video games (we don't allow our sons to play video games during the school week).  He made this decision after returning home late from an athletic practice and after studying for a math test.  (For the sake of anonymity for my son and his school, I'm not mentioning which sport, which son, which school, or which subject assigned the word search.)

3)  "We all have to do things in life we don't enjoy."  It is true that we all have to do things in life we don't enjoy, but when school continually falls into this category, I believe we have a bigger issue to consider.  Why does school have to be un-enjoyable drudgery?  When this happens, we run the risk of having kids feel like captives in an inflexible institution.  I don't believe school should be viewed this way.  School should be a place where kids look forward to going and look forward to learning topics of interest, topics that expand their understanding of humanity, and topics that teach them skills they need to be successful in life.

4)  "How are you teaching your child high expectations?" We are not opposed to the concept of homework, responsibility, or high academic expectations.  We understand that the right homework can extend learning and can be a powerful way for our sons to practice skills they learned in school or to finish research projects or papers. We also believe in studying regularly for any unit exams because we know content stays with you longer if you don't cram at the last minute for a test.  On the other hand, homework should not be assigned just to raise standardized test scores or to prove that a school has high expectations.  Homework should be assigned if it's genuinely improving learning.

5)  "You are an educator, so you should support teachers and not question their assignments."  Actually, the fact that we are educators is precisely the reason we question assignments.  We believe assignments should move learning forward, and we don't believe a word search worksheet moves learning forward. We have learned over the years that flexibility is a key consideration with assignments.  Yes, there are due dates we should aim to reach and should reach on a regular basis.  However, when life and its responsibilities get in the way, flexibility from time-to-time helps students understand human nature and reduces stress related to trying to be perfect.  None of us is perfect (even though some of us have perfectionist streaks).  Fixed mindsets and harsh penalties do not help students; they merely make them think life is rigid and inflexible.

6)  "How are you making your child accept responsibility if you allow him to skip an assignment?" Personal goal setting increases responsible behavior.  By encouraging students to set their own weekly goals, they can attend to issues that pertain to them individually.  For example,  if a student regularly turns in assignments late or not at all, that student could be encouraged to set a goal of completing all assignments on time for a period of time.  Meeting this goal would bring individual feelings of accomplishment.  Since every child is different, maybe another child should set a goal to be more balanced and less fixated on perfection.  Completing all tasks assigned on Monday when they're not do until Thursday might not be the best goal if it's bringing undo stress and causing a child to experience anxiety. 

Note: There have been more word search worksheets to come home this year, and we have required our sons to complete them because there are too many and we don't want them to fail a class over something like this.