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Is it Homework or Busy Work?

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homework stress

It's The Age Old Debate

Depending on which camp you belong to, you are either starting to get fired up about students needing practice at home, OR you are thinking "down with homework!"

To be honest, I see the merit of both arguments and there is a lot of research out there that supports practice and also says additional work doesn't improve student outcomes. I could reference and review all of this research but you probably don't want to read it and I'd really like to get to my primary point here. The real debate shouldn't be"practice v. no homework." It should be about what KIND of work you are assigning. 

Is What You're Assigning Worthwhile for YOU and Your Learners?

Instead of taking a firm stance on either side of this argument, I'm gong to propose a new one. I don't think the argument should be "homework v. no homework." I think it should be "meaningful v. busy work". I cringe when I hear about homework quotas or required amounts of assigned work that is to be done at home for students.

Your students are the victims of these mandates.

Is the homework you are assigning worth it? Most of the time we end up creating assignments out of thin air, with very little thought or planning in terms of continued growth or mastery from the classroom. When homework is mandated, the purpose of this work is diminished.

Homework (or as as a mentor of mine once called it, "Continued Learning Opportunities") should either extend knowledge from the classroom in short amounts (seriously like 15 - 20 minutes tops) OR it should help students complete unfinished work they did not get to during the allotted time.

Yes...this means some students won't have homework if they finished their class work. But why should they? Just because you want something else to grade?? It doesn't make any sense. If they accomplished what you feel the needed to accomplish, they're good. The question is, did you assign what was needed to get them where they need to be? 

Questions to Ask When Assigning Homework:

Is it worth the student's time? - If the homework is meaningless repetition and does not extend learning or help the student complete learning they started in class, its probably not worth their time.

Is it worth your time? - I know some of you are saying, "I just do homework for participation." But if no corrective feedback or meaning is given to the actual work being done, is it worth your time to assess and grade the work?

Is it busy work or meaningful work? - If the homework you are assigning was manufactured to exist "just because it is supposed to," save yourself and your students the time and pitch it. If the assigned work doesn't have meaning or thoughtful purpose, quit wasting your learner's time, and quit wasting yours!

In My Classroom

For my students, homework is only assigned to them if they fail to complete an assignment during normal class time. Even then they are given the opportunity to complete it the next day. It is only when they are not able to complete it during class time during a given week that it becomes homework.

This creates a culture and environment where students end up assigning themselves homework and owning their decision to not utilize their classroom time properly. This increases ownership and makes the learning more meaningful. The learning opportunities provided to my students are laid out and put into a mastery based system so that their entire learning journey is mapped out and clear to them. This journey does not require busy work, or "extra" practice, because that is built into the system. 

Next Time You Want to "Make" Homework for Your Students

Please think about what you are actually assigning them. Think about the meaning and the purpose behind it. And most importantly, ask yourself, "is this helping my students learn more, or just keeping them busy?"

I'm going to be frank with you here; the answer of, "because i'm supposed to assign homework" is complete BS and should NEVER be acceptable, regardless of mandates that may exist.

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After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree In Biology, Chad Ostrowski or “Mr. O” as his students fondly call him, set his sights on education. He was chosen as one of only 50 individuals in the state of Ohio to be granted the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship through the Ohio STEM Learning Network.  Through this fellowship, he received his Master’s in Science Education and gained intensive training and expertise in STEM education, Problem Based Learning, Inquiry-based instruction as well as other cutting-edge educational research and modern pedagogical theory. 


Ostrowski has since presented research at the NSTA National Conference onProblem-Based Learning in the Gifted Classroom and Continues to develop and research modern innovative educational practices. Chad has been teaching  Middle School Science in a high needs urban district for 4 years. In that short time, due to his dedication to teaching, innovative teaching methods and educational leadership he has been named Science Department Chair within his building, Building Leadership Team member and District Co-chair of Middle School Science Curriculum. 


It is through these foundations that he has created and developed  the The Grid Method - Mastery Learning System in order to synthesize his knowledge of best practices in education into a system that allows ALL of his students to meet and exceed  their potential. 


Chad has now left the classroom to shre his innovative practices, techniques and strategies with educators all over the country. He does this through speaking at conferences, providng teacher development and workshops, as well as producing blogs, and videos.

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Guest Monday, 16 October 2017