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Why bother with homework

March 13, 2007

A very good friend of mine is a grade 6 teacher. I’m continually amazed by how much homework grade sixes are doing these days. Perhaps it has something to do with provincial achievement exams (we run our kids through a battery of testing at grades 3, 6, 9, and 12), but I cannot remember doing any significant amount of homework when I was in grade school, some thirty years ago.

Have times really changed that much?

On the other hand, I’ve turned out to be a bit of a hard-ass when it comes to homework (quelle surpise); I give it and I offer few apologies for it.

But I remain conflicted… do kids need to be doing two hours a night in grade nine? Are there true pedagogical benefits to homework?

First, a story. A parent, a few years back, came to see me after school. She’s on parent council, is in and about the school quite often helping out, and is generally a really nice person. To boot, so’s her kid; pleasant, polite, witty. He makes me laugh.

Anyhow, the parent wanted to discuss an upcoming family trip to Europe which would mean that Simon would be missing a month of school. She was surprised that I was so supportive, and later admitted that she had been very apprehensive about discussing this with me, given the seriousness with which I treat grade nine.

Pleasantly surprised. Don’t let school get in the way of an education, I had told her. The month spent traveling around Europe would be well worth (in fact, worth even more than) missing a month of my class.

Who said that I wasn’t humble?

So… about this homework thing. I am (otherwise) a fan of Alfie Kohn. But this article, Rethinking Homework, was popped into my cubby the other day In response, I wanted to ball it up and throw it at who I suspect is responsible. (We have, on the admin team, a little Principal’s Pet who loves dropping this shit in our laps, the suck up lap dog that she is.)

In some future universe I shall respond to the article, but in the meantime it behooves us to read it and become familiar with the issues for and against. As a foil, you might pop on over to D-Ed Reckoning and see what he has to say about Alfie baby.

I wouldn’t go quite so far as calling him a Jackass, though, but hey, I’m so much more tactful.

Yeh, right.

I’d like to think that teachers believe in giving meaningful homework, but in reality, I think we all know better.  I’ve seen it with my kids, and I’ve (sadly) seen it in some of my colleagues.  Students like nothing more than to confide in me about how certain teachers assign with glee.

At the very least, I’d like to think that I have very solid reasons for  assigning homework.  And, surprisingly, teaching students how to be self directed and task-oriented outside of the class is not one of them.

Thanks for dropping by.  Come back in a few days, and you might see why I give homework.  Oh hell, you know I will.

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