Sunday, February 12, 2017

Making Homework Meaningful

Near the end of my final year in middle school, I was very worried about the time commitment high school required.  I was concerned that when I came home, I would be slammed with an immense amount of homework that ate up all of my free time.  In middle school, most of my homework was repetitive and basic.  “…homework is sometimes seen by the students-and the parents-as a tedious waste of time.”  (The One World Schoolhouse, 2012) We believed the homework in high school was just going to get worse and take up even more time.  However, I have two teachers this year that completely changed my view on homework.  Instead of making homework a bland review of material we covered in class, these teachers made homework much more meaningful.  Their assignments required students to use their critical thinking skills to learn new things and shake off bad habits they possessed.
My math teacher has a unique concept that I really like.  He never checks our homework assignments to make sure they are completed.  When everyone in my class heard he wasn’t going to check our homework, they were very excited.  They thought that they wouldn’t have to do as much work as they thought to succeed.  A few weeks later, their grades plummeted.  My teacher knew that most students in my class were not doing their homework and he believed that was the reason their grades were suffering.  He explained that if students don’t do their homework, they are just hurting themselves.  This more relaxed view on homework is a very interesting one because it is so different than students normally experience.  When not forced to do their homework, students tend to not do it.  However, when teachers show them the consequences of not completing their assignments, it shines a light on how important homework really is.  This approach really empowered our class because we felt we were being treated with respect and trust.
Another concept my math teacher uses is time for questions about the homework.  At the beginning of every class, he provides us the opportunity to ask questions about last night’s homework assignment.  This is my favorite part of class because it eliminates any confusion someone might have.  The discussions we have about the homework last as long as people have questions.  Once our class is finished with questions, we start the next lesson.  A brief review of material covered in the last class helps tremendously with the next lesson because it provides us with a starting point to build off of throughout the lesson.  My teacher prefers giving out shorter homework because he feels there is no need to give an extreme amount of unnecessary work.  However, the problems we complete are more difficult.  Many students appreciate this because they feel they actually accomplish something when working on homework.  “We should be getting harder work, not more work!” (The One World Schoolhouse, 2012)
Last summer, my English teacher as well as the English teacher across the hall co-developed a new method of delivering homework.  In fact, calling what we do in English class “homework” would take away from our experience.  We operate in office-like groups which each have their own tasks to complete by the end of the week.  Every group has their own website where most of our work happens.  Some groups run weekly online discussion boards while others design and present lessons to the class.  Another is required to send a weekly newsletter home to the parents about what we were doing in class and what Virginia standards we had covered in doing so.  Almost all of this work is completed at home with the members of each group working together via text messages and phone calls.  The projects we work on completely redefine the definition of homework.  They promote real thinking and encourage creativity unlike standard assignments.  The grading of this work is much different than anything I’ve seen before.  “I grew tired of slapping ‘8/10’ on homework assignments.” (The English Teacher’s Companion, 2008) We are ranked in positions first through fourth based on our performance.  This gives us immediate feedback on our work and shows us how we can improve.
Our work in English also promotes real life application.  For example, we are taught how to work and collaborate with others throughout the course.  Even if we don’t particularly like the people we are working with, we have to put aside our differences to get the job done.  Only failure awaits if we cannot work together effectively.  It is great that we are learning these skills through homework now because it teaches students that you will have to work with people you do not like from time to time.
Although both of my teachers have very different teaching strategies, there are similarities between them.  For example, they both show a clear end goal when assigning homework.  My math teacher shows us that in order to achieve a passing grade in his class, students must do their homework.  If they don’t, they will only set themselves back.  Many other students will move on to higher level courses while they are left behind.  My English teacher provides examples on how the group projects we do in his class will affect our future.  Imagine going to apply to a college with having experience in developing and publishing websites for the world to see.  Both of my teachers also make sure their homework isn’t repetitive or bland.  They make sure each portion of the assignment is recognized as an individual, unique problem to be solved.  They also make sure to stress that homework represents a specific portion of the student’s grade.  “…what gets graded is what gets done.”  (The English Teacher’s Companion, 2008) This mindset when assigning homework should be widely used by teachers.  If this can be accomplished, homework can become more thought provoking and beneficial to the students. 
While homework isn’t the best way for students to review and reinforce material, it is a good tool.  It is a great way for students to recall information and prepare for assessments.  There are many ways for teachers to assign homework like standard textbook problems in my math class or the idea of group projects in my English class.  Both rely on teachers and students collaborating more than normal.  Assigning standard homework like worksheets or readings can also be brilliant if executed properly.  My math teacher did this spectacularly and all students in his class are motivated to do their homework.  Most students disagree with their teachers on the type of homework given out.  “…students themselves tend to disagree as virulently as their parents and teachers about the proper amounts and uses of homework.”  (The One World Schoolhouse, 2012) There has to be a compromise between both groups of people.   Once this has been achieved, a mutual respect will start to form between the students and the teachers.

Work Cited:

Burke, Jim. The English teacher's companion: a complete guide to classroom, curriculum, and the profession. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.

Khan, Salman. The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Sean,
    Thanks for sharing some different ways that your teachers are handling homework in both math and English. I've been reading some of those posts by Mr. A to see the changes in his classroom so it's nice to also hear about them from the student view!

    Homework is such a HUGE topic. Thank you for tackling it! :-)