There, I said it. I'm one of "those teachers". One of those teachers who gives homework. It isn't the best part of my job. On the contrary, it's one of the least favorites. I don't relish in the opportunity to make my students continue their classwork because I couldn't cover everything during my 51 minutes with them. It doesn't bring me joy to know that there are times that they will have band practice, soccer games, and siblings to care for when they get home, leaving homework time to the 11:30 p.m. range. More importantly, I don't feel like the work that my students are doing outside of my class is going to drastically improve 100% of my students' abilities to master any given standard.
There are plenty of opponents of the homework structure and I agree with the majority of what the majority of people are saying. However, there are some sincere flaws with the "no homework" model in an Algebra 1 (and many other) setting that need to get explained. So, here's my best poke at it:
We have 180 days of school to reach our students. Sounds like a lot, eh?
- Subtract 35 (or more) days because testing usually happens in early to mid-April (at least in our district)
- Take off 8 to 10 days due to minimum day schedules (what can really get taught effectively in 29 minutes?)
- Remove the first 5 days of school due to checking out textbooks, getting to know the students, setting expectations, reviewing class procedures, and shuffling schedules
- Erase the next 10 days to review non-grade level standards to build foundations for the upcoming standards that students will need refreshing on
- Get rid of 12-15 days of assessment and review for district-issued benchmark exams and/or Chapter assessments created by the department as common measuring sticks of student progress
- Delete a minimum of 5 days due to spirit days, assemblies, fire drills, and any other class distractions
- Right before that ever-so-important standardized test comes at the end of the year, reserve 10 days to review so that students have been refreshed on the content that they have learned from August through April
When these numbers are taken from the 180 days given to us at the beginning of the year, we have, at most, 95 days of uninterrupted instruction to reach our students and have them reach mastery of all 21 Algebra standards laid out for us by the state of California. Give or take a few, this is what most states in the U.S. are dealing with.
Now, divide the number of days (95) allotted for uninterrupted pre-standardized test instruction by the number of standards (21) we are being asked to have our students master. When doing this, you realize that we have an average of 4.52 days to teach each standard to a level of mastery and be expected to have our students retain that information. This doesn't account for standards such as CA 13.0 that reads:
Students add, subtract, multiply, and divide rational expressions and functions. Students solve both computationally and conceptually challenging problems by using these techniques.
In 4.52 days. Right. Yeah.
So here's the crux of the argument:
How can my students receive ample practice with the standards we are supposed to teach them if they don't have enough school days available to do the work in class?
I can't find the justification to spend 3 weeks on the exponent rules, especially when the application of the standard doesn't directly relate to something my students are passionate about. Therefore, my students receive homework that extends the classroom just enough for them to receive the practice that they need in order to feel comfortable enough with each portion of the standard. Is this for every standard? Absolutely not. Is it long and tedious? Absolutely not. The word "homework" needs to be redefined.
Homework - an opportunity for students to practice and/or enhance the learning that occurred in class through a series of brief and directed exercises aimed at reinforcing a key concept. Homework should be limited to a maximum of 15 minutes per subject area and given only when reinforcement is necessary for current and/or future learning.
While there are plenty of articles that shun the assigning of homework, the new definition puts many critics on the outside looking in. I am not, and will not, be like my Algebra teacher from 1998. Those days are long gone and the desire to grade such homework is as far from my desirable list of things to do that I don't even want to think about it. As an example, we just finished our unit on the exponent rules. Tedious, boring, and not very applicable, yet the state of California says that all 8th grade students will know and apply the rules of exponents. Instead of spending 3 weeks on this standard, we spent two (which, when reflecting on it, was more than twice my allotted amount for that one standard). My way around it? Give the kids 3 to 6 practice problems, 2 to 3 times each week (a total of 5 homework assignments during the two week span). Students who were efficient with their time were finished before they left campus for the day. Completion rate was high. Learning was happening. Reinforcement was proven the following days when we had discussions and extended the learning.
What do you think? Is homework necessary? Is it evil? Should it be banned? Can it be justified?
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