Homework has long been the subject of intense debate, and there’s no easy answer with respect to its value. Teachers assign homework for any number of reasons: It’s traditional to do so, it makes students practice their skills and solidify learning, it offers the opportunity for formative assessment, and it creates good study habits and discipline. Then there’s the issue of pace. Throughout my career, I’ve assigned homework largely because there just isn’t enough time to get everything done in class.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
Since classes have gone online, the school where I teach has made a conscious effort as a teaching community to reduce, refine, and distill our curriculum. We have applied guiding questions like: What is most important? What is most transferable? What is most relevant? Refocusing on what matters most has inevitably made us rethink homework.
We have approached both asking and answering these questions through a science of learning lens. In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors maintain that deep learning is slow learning. Deep learning requires time for retrieval, practice, feedback, reflection, and revisiting content; ultimately it requires struggle, and there is no struggle without time.
As someone who has mastered the curriculum mapping style of “get it done to move on to get that next thing done,” using an approach of “slow down and reduce” has been quite a shift for me. However, the shift has been necessary: What matters most is what’s best for my students, as opposed to my own plans or mandates imposed by others.
As always, I ground this new pedagogical approach not just in what’s best for students’ academic learning, but also what’s best for them socially and emotionally. 2020 has been traumatic for educators, parents, and students. There is no doubt the level of trauma varies greatly; however, one can’t argue with the fact that homework typically means more screen time when students are already spending most of the day on their devices. They need to rest their eyes. They need to not be sitting at their desks. They need physical activity. They need time to do nothing at all.
Eliminating or reducing homework is a social and emotional intervention, which brings me to the greatest benefit of reducing the homework load: Students are more invested in their relationship with me now that they have less homework. When students trust me to take their time seriously, when they trust me to listen to them and adjust accordingly, when they trust me to care for them... they trust more in general.
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