Natural Consequences

Published: 2015-10-12 03:15 |

Category: Comment | Tags: teaching, homework

This is the hardest part of teaching, if you ask me. What are the natural consequences of not completing a task in the given amount of time?

It started with a tweet from Alice Keeler:

STOP THE MYTH! Not one shred of research supports homework teaching responsibility. It is not true. Stop saying that.

—Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) October 11, 2015

…and it really snowballed.

Homework – and whether or not to assign it – is extremely personal. It’s a methodological decision that (often) is tied very closely to the culture of learning a teacher tries to set up in their room.

Homework is divisive.

I teach high school…mostly 10th and 11th grade. Part of my responsibility to to teach responsibility to my students. Everything I do in my class rolls back around to life skills (this is called organic curriculum in the literature. See Glatthorn (1999) for more) and preparing them for their obligations once they leave the building.

I’m not naive. I know students are dealing with much, much more than I ever have. I have multiple students with children. Many with jobs. Most with clubs, athletics, and other extracurricular work. I also have some homeless, transient, and students dealing with significant adversity.

And it is my responsibility to make sure they’re learning.

We use class time to make sure that happens. I give plenty of time to work through content. I’m here to help. They work in groups. They can ask questions, make mistakes, reflect, and revise in a safe place.

But sometimes, students make decisions to not use the class time. That’s when it becomes homework.

Justin Aion wrote a great post which summarizes many of my thoughts on teaching responsibility. In particular,

At some point, the role of a teacher, in my opinion, slowly shifts to support, gradually handing off the responsibility for education to the student, helping them to become more and more independent before we release them into the world.

I struggle regularly with finding that balance. This year, with juniors and seniors, I am much more inclined to leave the responsibility up to them. I make myself available and do my best to support them, but the responsibility for learning and decision making is on them.

Is it irresponsible of me to ask that work not finished in the time given during the day be finished outside of class? For high schoolers, I don’t think so. Mainly because I know what support they’ve had during the day(s) of work on the task and really, anything leftover, should be minimal.

Here’s the problem: none of these conversations about homework consider the support already given.

It’s dogmatic. A kneejerk. And it’s hurting education discussions.

If I don’t finish work, I have to find time to do it. Period.

Why is it different for our students?

I’m here after school. I’m here before school. We have an advisory period. I can implore, beg, and even assign, but there is still a conscious decision made by a student to either take advantage of those opportunities or not. If they don’t, the only reasonable expectation that I have is that they do it at home.

Blaming the teacher for a student’s indiscretion is like blaming the principal for not getting your grades done on time. There is a set time period and it needs to get done.

Does homework – in and of itself – teach responsibility? No. Of course not. Neither does bringing a pencil to class. All I ask is that we start to look beyond the action and include the support system in place. What else is done? What could be improved? What might need to be dropped?

I left that discussion feeling angry and frustrated because we stuck to the idea that “all homework is bad.” To someone new to Twitter – and even someone old on Twitter – it comes across as a personal attack. I think Glenn Arnold said it best afterward:

@bennettscience no, old me would have too. But then I realize I'm not accountable to them, but to my Ss. And I still want to engage…

—GS Arnold (@arnoldscience) October 11, 2015

I (usually) enjoy the discussion…this time, I’m enjoying the reflection (again, Justin’s post is great). We need to think big picture. Forget homework – it’s a single thing that can influence learning. Let’s talk about the larger systems or cultures we’re building…that’s a discussion I can get into.

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