Monday, June 4, 2012

Thinking About Homework

I wanted to share a recurring conversation from this past week. I am in the process of reviewing 504 Plans.  A determination has to be made as to whether or not a plan will continue into next year and if so, do we need to revise accommodations to better address needs and the academic environment.  To ensure that an informed decision is reached data is collected from various stakeholders.  Included in the data collection process is a meeting with parents and students.  We ask parents to come in and share their own observations about what transpires after the school day ends.  On several occasions the conversation drifted towards a discussion of homework.

For a variety of reasons, several students struggled to hand in homework assignments. Unfortunately, students were receiving zeros on these assignments.  Overall grades were being adversely impacted by a failure to complete homework.  What was interesting is that a majority of these students performed well on formal summative assessments. In a fair amount of cases there was disconnect between homework grades and summative assessments.

This disconnect has been a recurring theme throughout this year both in discussions about 504 Plans and with other young learners I routinely work with.  I work with bright and creative students who perform well on tests and performance-based tasks.  However, a progress or marking period report grade does not mirror this high level of academic achievement and a comment often refers to a problem with homework.

The concern I have is why, at high school, we still attach weight to the completion of homework.  I fail to see the value in assigning points to homework assignments.  It seems that weight should be directed towards measures that assess growth over an extended period of time as opposed to a quick turnaround between instructional sessions.  Moreover, homework or work completed outside of class presents an opportunity to cultivate a sense of ownership amongst students.  In contrast to dictating to students what should be accomplished, an avenue could be established where learners are making critical decisions about work flow and how to address specific needs.  The definition of homework  should change as we further distance instruction from the industrial model of schooling.

In my conversation with families from last week I tried to draw distinction between compliance and performance.  The idea is simple we should acknowledge growth and comment on performance and refrain from assigning academic rigor to compliance. For work to be meaningful there needs to be a sense of personal onwership and empowerment as well as motivation that is intrinsic and not solely extrinsic