Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Homework or not

You know, as I watch the Olympics and see athletes getting in trouble for saying dumb stuff on Twitter, I'm like, seriously, don't go on Twitter, or at least maybe not during the pinnacle moment of your career.

Then as I'm waiting for #flipclass chat to start up, I see a lot of folks that I follow and respect on Twitter commenting on homework.  Really, I started to get a little heated and really wanted to comment, but since it was specifically in #sschat and I don't teach ss (though I do have a degree in History, maybe that counts) I hesitated.

After a few minutes the benefits of age and experience kicked in for me and I recognized what I always do, which is that if I feel that sort of visceral reaction, I should back up and examine my own thought processes and convictions.

You see, one of my great beliefs in life is that we diminish things when we make everything a solely two sided issue, a false dichotomy.  I will grant you that there are a few things where you are on one side or the other, and that one can make the argument that one side is plainly evil.  But let's be honest, most things are a bit more nuanced than that.

I think that is especially true in education.  I don't think I'm ever a worse teacher than when I get some philosophical idea lodged somewhere and believe that I must act it out in every class every day.  I'm a fan of PBL, of flipped classrooms, of inquiry based learning and am beginning to do some tentative explorations of modeling for my classroom.  But the second you tell me that I have to pick one of those teams and stick with them no matter what, every day or I'm a heretic, then I tune it out.  In fact, it generally makes me want to go the other way (it did with PBL for a while).

There was a comment about the hubris of a teacher assuming that they control a kid's time outside of school. I think there is no small amount of hubris in one teacher telling another what is best for his kids in his classroom.

Example: I've taught AP for the past 4 years, and will teach a different AP class this year.  If I assign my students no homework, I am actively doing them a disservice, their chance to do well on the test is pretty minimal then.

This obviously is an extreme example, but the idea that all homework is evil is rather extreme also.  Let me lay my cards on the table.  I essentially agree that I want my kids to have lives outside of school.  The assignments that I give to be done outside of my classroom are pretty minimal.  In fact, for the past 5 years, most of my students did very little work outside of class, maybe on the order of an hour a week (excepting my AP students).

So at heart, I agree that we shouldn't have students up til 1am every night doing work for me.

What I don't agree with though is that by assigning 10 pages of reading or a 15 minute video that I am draining the souls of my students.  I don't say this blithely or without thinking.  I have 3 young boys myself, and I want them to enjoy themselves when we are home at night together, so I hope they don't get overloaded with homework.

Another comment said that teachers doing work at home isn't the same thing, that we do it because we want to excel and improve.

Yes...complete the analogy...

True, one could argue that the work teachers do isn't required, but I've been at schools where your plan period was called a duty period, and so the only time you ever had to grade anything was outside of school, essentially required.

To sum it up since I'm taking my wife to work in her room in the middle of the summer two weeks before school starts, I can get behind the idea that we shouldn't burden students with boring, meaningless homework assignments just to get grades or whatever.  I agree that assignments should be relevant and that in many cases can be made optional.

But I don't believe that assigning homework makes you a bad teacher or a dementor of student spirits.  My best teachers were ones that gave tough, challenging assignments, to be completed at home usually.  Under the new regime I guess they'd be behind the times and maybe even evil...I refuse to buy into that.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had read this yesterday :) You are giving words to what I was feeling and struggling with over the last day. I appreciate your wisdom in recognizing the visceral reaction (said with sincerity), I will remember that feeling so hopefully next time I feel so strongly about watching a Twitter stream, I will pull back a bit. I agree with so much of what you have articulated and I was Tweeting with Crystal Kirch last night and again (thank goodness for my solid and supportive PLN) this AM about how it seems like this homework vs. no homework divide was being vastly over simplified. It is like ALL the problems of ed. can be reduced to this one simple and drastically divisive issue. I just don't believe that to be accurate portrayal of reality in the classroom (issues are not always either or). Mainly though, I feel confused by the implication that if I give "homework" of any kind, and that I am somehow a "bad" teacher and that I need to explain myself.
    For exmaple, when students are asked to find pill bugs for "homework" in AP Biology and to make general observations about these critters before they come to class. From this "homework" I see students posting with unabashed excitement over their hunt for pillbugs on the class Facebook page at 9:30 at night, then they come to class a half hour early to set up the experiment, stay in at lunch to make some modifications. I could go on, but I am sure you understand what I mean; I try my very best to give "homework" that is meaningful, relevant and interactive. But yes as you, in AP Bio I do assign weekly readings and videos, but for the most part I find that students love being immersed deeply in a topic they (and I) have a passion for. I have students that ask if I have more for them to read on certain topics, or ask if their are other more in depth screencasts on certain topics of interest.
    I was also feeling quite emotional over this topic, as for me (and all teachers) my teaching practice is a big part of my life and I invest a lot of myself into trying to change, grow and evolve to meet the needs of my students. The implication that if I employ homework in any shape or form makes me a "bad" teacher, just kills me. Moreover that I feel that having to defend myself for being enthusiastic about "flipclass" since the standard definition of it uses the word "homework" just offends to my core. I do not want to be branded as a type and feel pressured to defend the type. I have a large teacher tool box that I am proud of, and at the moment "flipclass" is one of the tools in it. Your statement "But the second you tell me that I have to pick one of those teams and stick with them no matter what, every day or I'm a heretic, then I tune it out. In fact, it generally makes me want to go the other way (it did with PBL for a while)" is 100% true and accurate of my experience with educational change in general. An ed. "specialist" comes to town and gives a miracle cure for all of the ed. problems and gives us a stack of "useful" forms to fill out and implies that this process will magically" fix it all, just has never worked for me (or for most teachers I have talked to and worked with). For this very reason I was drawn to flipclass, as it was not prescriptive in nature and allowed me to use the tool of the videos in a way that best suited my students.
    I want to support and embrace many different techniques, but please don't tell me (ed. world) that I have to convert to one sole pedagogy.(I have been resisting PBL for a long time too, as I feel it is very prescriptive, I am slowly start to shift my point of view on this.

    Anyway...thanks for your thoughtful and timely post and reflections, it has helped me reflect and grow!

    Carolyn Durley