Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Homework Debate

"If you can't complete this assignment in class then please do it as homework!" Students groan and the bargaining begins.

"Do you know just how much homework we already have?"
"Why does every teacher think their assignments take priority?"
"Will we have more class time for this?"

My grade 11's are, for the most part, motivated and hardworking students, so when they complain about too much homework, I try to listen. Personally I'm not a big fan of homework. I prefer to have assignments completed in class where I can monitor them for progress and understanding. There is very little point in sending work home if students don't know what to do in the first place. Practice done poorly is worse than work not done at all. However, I'm not against students taking work home to complete it in a more polished and complete manner.

The debate around homework must be as old as school itself. Those in favour argue homework remains a valuable tool for reenforcing presented concepts and instilling a healthy work ethic. Opponents say homework is overused, has limited value,  and that drill and kill is a counterproductive learning strategy.

Cory Armes gives a fair and balanced view of the issue in her blog post The Great Homework Debate Is Homework Helpful or Harmful?.  Amongst her key points is that time spent on homework should be age appropriate with 10 minutes per grade guiding the maximum. Other take aways include keeping homework tied to specific learning outcomes and ensuring that if its assigned, its also checked and prompt and effective feedback is given.

The homework debate really hit the news earlier this year when the newly elected President of France vowed to ban homework outright. As reported by Global tv Edmonton, Francois Hollande told reporters that students aren’t on an even playing field when it comes to homework because some kids get help from their parents. "Education is priority. An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school rather than at home,” he said, according to French media reports. Hollande's comments need to be viewed in the context of a proposed overhaul of the entire French education system. Some of his other proposals include adding an extra day of instruction to the week and shortening summer holidays, but given that BC is also looking at radical changes to its education system through the BC Ed Plan,  his ideas warrant some consideration.

Ultimately, I'd have to say that homework shouldn't ever go away completely. Provided students are given a good grounding in what is being taught in class, and that homework is checked, evaluated and given proper feedback in a timely manner, homework will always have a place in my classes. Time spent at home refining and practicing skills allows student to "polish the rock" as it were, and turn their initial efforts into work they can be sure of and be proud of. Hopefully what students are taking from my class can be used beyond the classroom, and the homework that that they complete proves to them that their education matters.


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