Does Homework Always=Learning?

This post is in response to this week’s question from the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge

hwThis summer, I experienced first hand a small taste of what some of my students experience on a nightly basis from their classes. I took a graduate class from 8am-4pm for six days. Each night, after returning from the eight hour class, I had on average three hours of homework. The first night I returned home, I was exhausted. My brain was spent, but I had to push through the task…and it was one of my least favorite memories of the summer. Luckily for me, I only endured this for six nights. High school students experience this often and for their entire high school career.

The idea of homework is definitely controversial. Some teachers feel they must give it in order to have something to grade or feel that students need the practice outside of school. Some teachers only grade for completion, but don’ t even check the homework. Parents become angry when their students are not bringing homework home, as they feel their student needs the homework.  So where do we draw the line?

In my opinion, the amount and type of homework many students receive on a nightly basis is outrageous. We expect students to be in school for seven hours a day, and then head home to work on an additional two to three hours of homework a night. And for the struggling learner, that number can increase two fold.  My biggest complain with homework comes from the excessive amount of “practice” of a particular skill and the type of material covered. When a student takes home homework, the material should be something they know how to do. Students should not be teaching themselves the material. At that point, the “practice” is simply “self-teaching” or lack thereof of the material.

For the student that struggles with the homework or is more advanced in the skill, homework many times=failure. For the struggling student, when they don’t complete the homework, they earn a 0 for the assignment. And the determinant of zeros on a student’s grade is so great. For the student who is more advanced, and does need this “practice, ” they too are impacted grade wise like the struggling learner. Only they often have the stronger test taking ability, and can do well enough on tests to where they can still pass.

Homework does not always=learning. And in fact, the time during which students are in the classroom working with and learning from their teacher and class mates is much more a time of learning then doing homework to get the grade. When homework goes home, how are we sure the student is actually doing their own work? What if no one is home to assist with the homework or doesn’t have the skill themselves to help the student?  What if the student doesn’t get the homework? How are we setting students up for success when they experience one or more of these situations?

As Allen Iverson said repeatedly at a press conference, “We are talking about practice?….we aren’t talking about the game?” We need to be more focused on how students learn the material and can apply what they learn, and not be so hung up on the need for repetitive “practice” (homework.) Let’s focus on the game for students, recognizing what they know and have learned and how they can apply this information.