Sunday, August 05, 2007

Homework Reflections

Tim, over at Assorted Stuff, posted about Jay Mathews' article in the Washington Post about homework. Tim's opening thought echoed my response to the article.

It doesn’t happen often, but this morning I find myself in agreement with Jay Mathews.

A colleague emailed the article to me and a couple of other teachers, stating that she likes the idea. I had to agree. Mathews is recommending that we back off of homework in the elementary school. His main point is that we should just have kids reading and not spend time on other busy work. He doesn't believe this is a good idea for middle schools or high schools; which feels to me like someone who is still clinging to his old beliefs and is unwilling to break with tradition too quickly.

I have struggled with the idea of homework for ten years now. The first issue I faced was that I don't want to grade all of it. I can find work for my students to do at home, and most of it will be at least somewhat worth their time. But then I need to do something with it. And I don't want to. There are more important things for me to be doing as a teacher.

So, last year I drastically changed my homework expectations and requirements. My students read every night (that's been true for years) and complete a math log (this involves playing math games or reflecting on a 'math moment' in their day). The only other homework they have regularly are quotes and riddles. I give them two quotes a week to respond to. They write reflections and share their thinking about the quotes. We discuss their thoughts on Fridays. The riddles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but are essentially brain teasers of different sorts. I don't expect every student to find the answer to all of them, but I hope that attempting them is stretching their thinking a little. My goal with this homework is to have students who are thinking more deeply.

Tim's post hit on one thing I've been debating for this school year. He is talking about what high schoolers should be doing, but I think it applies to my fifth graders, too.

And that writing should be for an audience outside of the closed classroom and go beyond the formal, structured assignments traditionally imposed in class.

Whether this is on a blog available to the whole world, a closed discussion board, or somewhere else isn’t as important as students having the experience of reflective writing in a format that can be read, and commented on, by other than the teacher.

I know that many of my students don't have access to the internet at home, so I haven't been able to figure out how to make this work. But I would love to have them writing about these quotes on a wiki or blog. Tim's comment that what is important is having writing read by people other than the teacher really hits home for me. I'm going to keep mulling over how to make this work.


Jeffrey McClurken said...

It seems to me that this last notion about writing for an audience is a big change. We (educators) always seemed to know that students would eventually have to write for other people, but seemed okay with them just writing for their teachers. [At times, people actually seem to be afraid of having student work seen by anyone else.] In reflection, only writing for the teacher (and the shaping of writing that occurs as a result) is a pretty bad idea, especially if done exclusively. Writing for public audience may be one of the most important skills students can learn.

skhatcheressian said...

What an interesting article and blog comment, I bet parents are fighting on getting their kid in your class :) I truly wish they could pass this on to high school teachers as well. I am always shocked at how much homework my students have from their core teachers, it really does just seem like an insane amount.

Anonymous said...

Offff topic. Sorry. I read a Christian Long twitter that said you did some good PowerPoint work recently. Love to see it if you feel like posting it or e-mailing it. dan at mrmeyer dot com. Cool!