Voices of Experience: Homework - A Place For Rousing
Education World Online - Voices of Experience
It was exactly a year ago that my vice principal
came to our team and announced that we would be re-evaluating our
homework policy. Having had plenty of negative feedback regarding
homework, we were being asked to consider
what constituted appropriate homework
the amount of time each night students spent on
a communication system that would track how much
homework each teacher assigned
the value, relevance, process, and clarity of
homework assignments and project work.
I clearly remember the negative body language
exhibited by the teachers upon receiving that message. (I'm sure my
body language was no different!) I recall the begrudging attitude we
brought to the assignment. We didn't believe our homework expectations
were out of line. We liked the wonderful projects we were
assigning. And we couldn't imagine getting through the curriculum
without the assistance of homework.
THE PROCESS OF SHAPESHIFTING
During the next two months we discovered a truth
about education reform:
The better the idea, the more resistance it will
As much as we resisted changing our homework
approaches, as we discussed the purpose of homework we discovered a
number of outdated mental models existed among us. With hesitation, we
began to question our homework practices -- and even our favorite
assignments. We were shapeshifting.
Our shapeshifting adventure led us to consider the
changes that had occurred in families in recent years. We thought
about all the single-parent families, the working moms, and the
students who were deeply involved in ballet or hockey or other
activities. We realized that many students did homework in a very
unsupportive environment or in the car on the way to piano lessons.
Reflecting on the homework we were assigning helped
us see that our assignments were sometimes unclear or complicated;
parents and students had difficulty making sense of assignment
expectations when working on them at home. Equipped with this new
understanding, we began to restructure the methods we used to
articulate our assignment expectations. That resulted in improved
assignment sheets with clearer benchmarks and rubrics.
We also discussed whether students were doing the
homework assignments alone or with parents' help. Did we really
know that the work we were marking was an accurate reflection of
our students' knowledge and ability? As a result of that
question, we decided to start having larger parts of written
assignments done in class, so teachers could observe the
thinking/writing process in action.
Finally, we discussed whether lengthy projects --
some of which took several weeks to complete -- merited the time and
effort involved. We evaluated what learning actually happened and
whether the same learning could occur with less time-intensive
assignments? The result was that many of us gave up favorite
assignments. No one mandated it, but honest evaluation forced us to
admit that some of our assignments amounted to a lot of fluff.
SHAPESHIFTING CAN BE MESSY
As shapeshifters, we debated -- and sometimes even
argued. Nothing was sacred ground. It became common for us to
challenge each other's thinking; we were on a search for relevant
truth. Changes in homework policy resulted. For the rest of the year,
homework tension among teachers, students, and parents became a
What my colleagues and I learned along the way
didn't have as much to do with homework as it did with discovering how
to implement meaningful change by reshaping the learning environment.
This shapeshifting, we discovered, could be a messy and
exciting process -- but well worth the effort!