Monday, May 24, 2010

Better Work vs. More Work

What's the point of assigning homework?  Why must a student take work home with them to complete and bring back to school the next day?  As a professional, I know I try my hardest not to bring any work home, getting as much done as I can while at school, and only bringing things home if it's absolutely necessary.  So why do we force our students to do this?  I think we've been had once again by the school that is a grading institution rather than a learning institution. 

Homework is the ultimate status quo preserver.  The students that have learned the material go home and receive verification that they in fact know the material.  Or, the student that has already learned the material will copy the answers from a classmate during homeroom so that they do not jeopardize their "grade".  What about the student that hasn't learned the material.  I've witnessed firsthand the "benefits" that a student that is still learning material gets from homework.  They receive confirmation that they are still learning.  Some of them use outside resources and textbooks to get their information, and continue their learning process.  Others just jot something down so that they get "credit", however there has been no learning that takes place.

Does a set of problems to be completed and turned in the next day really generate a high quality learning experience?  Most of the homework that gets done is done out of compliance, which is hardly a learning experience.  I think we should start making our homework assignments things that matter to a student that will enhance their learning experience, assignments that do not necessarily require a product that can be checked the next day.  I think kids should be completing homework that involves experimenting with web-based applications, reading interesting articles, watching videos, sending an e-mail to a professional in that field, organizing their thoughts with two or three of their peers, participating in online discussions.  All of these things enhance the learning experience, but will lead to better discussions between students in class the following day.  How often does 1-25 Odd lead to high quality discussion the next day? 

I really do not think that "more work" leads to improvement of an individual's ability.  Yes, a student can probably go from basic skill level to slightly less basic skill level by doing more work, but we see all the time that "better" work leads students from basic to advanced in much less time.  I have yet to see a presentation at an education conference titled "Assignment Overload: Enhancing Student Achievement Through 100 Exercises a Day".  Every presentation at an ed-conference revolves around the exact opposite thought - getting your students to participate and create in "better" work. 

1 comment:

Malyn said...

I struggle with the same question constantly. Assigning homework is expected in my maths faculty. I comply...mostly...though I don't assign as much as others do.

I like the discipline of doing a bit of maths outside of school.I try to assign differentiated homework to allow students to explore their limits. To be honest, this strategy is really only effective with above-average students. I also vary my homework to include technology-based interactives.

Thing is, I believe learning maths is like learning a new language. Fluency does require practice. Fluency instils confidence which empowers students to push their learning further. With more curriculum content crammed into lessons + time for exploration, collaboration and enjoyment, sometimes practice is pushed out to homework.

I believe there is room for homework. But what, how and when (or even how often) need to be considered when assigning them.