The homework question — how much to assign? how to encourage students to do homework? — continues to intrigue me.
A recent blog post in The Washington Post, “The Homework Trap and What to Do About It,” by Kenneth Goldberg, offers a modest proposal to solve the homework problem.
Among the ideas: (1) Assign time-bound homework, (2) Reduce penalties for missing homework.
I agree to #1 in theory. It’s true that students work at different paces. If the goal of homework is to extend learning past class, then it makes sense to ask students to make a commitment of time rather than to demand a complete product the next day.
On the other hand, assigning time-bound homework does not sound as urgent to students. If my teacher tells me to go home and read for 30 minutes — which I did last year — will I actually do it? In other words, would more or less homework get done? I’m going to ask my students, as a hypothetical, about time-bound homework and what effect it would have on their habits.
As for #2, I also agree in theory. It makes sense that homework factors in as a modest part of a student’s grade. But I also know that if my students weren’t doing significant homework, they’d be writing their eighth essay next week, not their 16th. We’d be on our fifth novel of the year, not our 10th. Sure, a class is rigorous and memorable not because of the number of assignments that students complete. But the fact remains that, in any college-prep class, homework is a big part.
The other problem with reducing penalties for missing homework is that even more students would miss homework. There is no flow to a class when 25 individuals arrive to class in 25 different places. The secret to a successful class is to build a unified story, a sense of a common experience.
The answer to the homework problem, then, is not whether to assign more or less — or whether to assign time vs. completed products. I think the most important thing is to make sure that homework is a meaningful, critical piece of my curriculum — that it’s valued by students. It’s also crucial to monitor homework completion so that it never falls below 70 percent. If it goes lower, then it’s time to rethink and regroup.
What do you think about Goldberg’s ideas for homework?