Thursday, March 22, 2007

Questions and Thoughts about Homework

As I was reading the article for today, I agreed with some aspects about homework, but disagreed about others, which I guess is the whole point! My views on homework have changed quit a bit this year. In chemistry I used to assign the homework from the book that is assigned each night from our common calendar that each chemistry teacher uses. Most of the questions in the book that were assigned were terribly worded and confusing…I was just assigning homework to assign homework. I rarely assign “homework” unless I feel that the extra practice is necessary to help them learn the concept.

In my freshman classes however, I assign more homework than I do in chemistry. In contrast to the article, I still feel that homework does demonstrate something about responsibility. The article disagreed with this and I guess that is what I struggle with. Most of my little assignments that I give in ERE are categorized as “responsibility” in my grade book. There are a few assignments that I have split up the point values and allow the students to re-do to get points back on the “content knowledge” grade category.

I do think that the homework given should focus on enhancing the learning, but I also get frustrated with our common assessments because I feel that I am just “teaching to a test”, rather than helping the students learn the main ideas that are important in chemistry and ERE. But this brings up another point, what ideas ARE important in chemistry? Is it to relate it to real life, to prepare them for college science courses, or to help them understand the material on the test? This then opens a whole new can of worms, which is “are we assessing the right information? What is important for the students to learn?

I guess I really don’t know where I stand with the homework issue…maybe somewhere in the middle. I think the homework assigned also depends on the type of class and material being covered. By not assigning homework though, are we asking the students to get the new information, understand this information and apply it in a 55 min class period?

2 comments:

Karl Fisch said...

I think we all felt that way about the articles!

I just commented this on Lary's blog, but I'll repeat it here. I really like what Alfie Kohn says later in the book (I think in one of the chapters we handed out yesterday), that he thinks the "default" should switch from "homework is assigned" to "no homework." He thinks - and I tend to agree - that when the default condition is that there will be homework everyday, then often that homework is not meaningful. But if we simply switch the default condition to "no homework," then it really forces us to evaluate each and every assignment to see if it makes sense to give. A teacher might still give homework fairly often, but at least it would be very thoughtfully considered before assigning it.

I still struggle with this whole idea that homework helps teach responsibility. I know we've all professed to believe this over the years, but where is the evidence? There apparently is none. And in our experiences as teachers, where do we see the evidence? I would argue that our experiences tend to contradict the assumption that homework teaches responsibility. The vast majority of teachers assign homework and have due dates. Yet many students still don't do the homework, or at least don't do it on time. If it teaches responsibility, wouldn't they have learned it by now? And if they haven't learned it by now, do we really think doing more of the same is suddenly going to start working?

As far as your question about the 55 minute class period, I think we need to be careful. If we start making decisions based on "the system is poorly designed so I don't have any choice," then I think we've lost the battle - and the war. We are the system - if it's not working, let's change it.

Truitt/Winger said...

Hey, ran across your blog today so thought I would send this belated comment. One of your statements was: "I do think that the homework given should focus on enhancing the learning, but I also get frustrated with our common assessments because I feel that I am just “teaching to a test”, rather than helping the students learn the main ideas that are important in chemistry and ERE."

My hope is that our common assessments could focus on asking students to demontrate that they have the main idea - i.e. the essential learning. My worry about PLCs is that our common assessments will simply ask for recall. I hope that if we design the right type of test that asks students to understand then we could all feel very comfortable teaching to the test -

Tony Winger