Homework, homework give me a break.
Let me get to the punchline right away and tell you that I’ve noticed achievement rise in my classroom since I stopped assigning homework. Let me repeat, not only have I not seen a decline in learning since I quit assigning homework, I’ve seen learning accelerate in my classroom. The debate is over for me, and the evidence in front of me daily is clear. Not only is assigned homework not necessary for kids, it can hinder motivation. There’s much more to it than just that!
This is my story.
I’ve never been a fan of homework, but mostly for the wrong reasons related to being lazy. I never felt like prepping it, collecting it, grading it, or even passing it back. It always felt like that one chore I hated as a child, but my folks made me do anyways. So, begrudgingly, I did it. Besides, everyone else was doing it, right?
Has this ever happened to you? Every year, without fail, I would get at least one or two parent complaints about their child spending HOURS each night on homework. I swear, one year I had back to back conferences where one family complained about too much homework, and the next family complained I wasn’t sending home enough! Yes, those families are out there. Oh my goodness, talk about failing to make anyone happy. Needless to say, homework was a huge thorn in my side.
About ten years ago I actually went through a short season of not assigning homework. The season was short because, once again, it was for all the wrong reasons. As proof, when a colleague pulled me into her room and said, “You have to send home homework,” I had no reply. She certainly wasn’t going to be persuaded by my whiney, “But I just don’t feel like it” voice, regardless of how eloquent I could make it sound. So, off I went back to the copy machines with my reams of paper.
Skip ahead through a few years of unmotivated burnout, a three year BORING break from the classroom, and a new beginning at a new school. I reached my bottom and decided to change my mind about teaching. I was not going to be lazy about anything. Instead, I was going to pour all I had into teaching like my mentor had been modeling for me for years (That story is for another day. Here’s a hint though. I’m married to my mentor, who also happens to be my hero). Don’t get me wrong. I still had daily struggles and poor attitudes to overcome. But something was different this time. I said “NO” to my natural desires! One of the first things I noticed was I started to look at my students more. I started to see their eyes, their smiles, their differences. I started to see the children as people who deserve my best. I had a mission!
I know, I know, what does this have to do with homework? Well, part of my mission was to make homework meaningful for each individual student. Yep, you guessed it, I quickly got that burnout feeling again. I told myself it was for the kids and pushed through, but I knew in my gut this effort wasn’t sustainable. Moreover, I wasn’t seeing the happy, smarter kids I was expecting to see. I wasn’t getting notes from parents thanking me for all my efforts. In fact, I still heard from parents about too much or not enough homework. My heart was sinking again. Still, something told me not to give up, but to listen more closely to my students. And what I heard eventually changed everything.
It was nothing I did in the beginning other than listen. It started with two zealous learners in my first ever combo class. Two of my third graders were hungry to learn as much math as they could. My typical lesson a day program was so boring to them. They finally asked if they could take their math books home so they could go faster. My initial response was fear. What will I teach tomorrow if they already finished the lesson? What will I teach EVERY day from now on? But then I heard in their voices and saw in their eyes that I couldn’t say no. How could I hold these kids back just to make my job easier? So I said yes, and my job as a teacher changed that day.
As I thought about these two ferocious learners, I looked around the room and had an epiphany: each and every one of my students had a passion for learning. Not all of them were passionate about math. Some loved reading most. Others wanted to write instead of do anything else. Moreover, I simultaneously realized some of these kids couldn’t do anything else first thing in the morning until they showed me the book they were reading at home, or the story they wrote at home, or the picture they drew at home. Could the homework I assign be hindering their passion? If I stopped giving them extra class work to do at home would they read more? Questions like these swirled around my mind for days. But the loudest question was, “What if …?”
Stay tuned as my story continues on my next post …
Please follow me on Twitter @MrCoppola