Opting Out of Homework
When I was a child, I opted out of homework. Of course, opting out of homework also meant opting out of passing grades. And by “opting out” I mostly meant “not turning my homework in.” Sometimes I did it and lost it (I was a very disorganised child) and sometimes I just didn’t do it at all.
While I know my story is just an anecdote and therefore doesn’t amount to much real evidence, after reading Rosenfeld’s article I found some points from my own experience were worth mentioning.
For example, at the same time I had failing grades in math, I was being placed into my school’s “talented and gifted” math programs. Why? Tests. Those terrible, boring standardized tests we had to take nearly every year revealed a strange pattern. I could read well above my grade level and I understood mathematical concepts my peers had yet to grasp, yet my grades were a string of 0’s because I wasn’t doing my homework.
Homework (worksheets as well as big projects) accounted for such a large portion of the grades that I was failing many classes. At one point in middle school I was moved from my top-level math class into the class that I had taken the previous year, despite my consistently good test scores and previously passing grade in that class. Not doing the 40 extra problems a night lowered my grade, and my low grade dropped me from the class. Then I was retaking all the same tests I had aced the previous year. Something seemed wrong there.
Grading is a whole other can of worms, and I often hear teachers point out that assigning a student’s grade based on a test can be very problematic. I agree, and I argue back that there are many other forms of assessment besides tests and assigning a grade based on how much busywork a student does is not a great measure of the student’s understanding of concepts taught.
By the time I got to high school my parents and I knew this system wasn’t working for me. We found a public** high school with a no-homework policy, and guess who graduated at the top of his class? (Yes, me.)
There is a particular quote in the article that highlights the problem with homework:
“The reasons for homework are pedagogically unsound,” [said Margery Bloom]. “You either ask a student who has already mastered a concept to do more of that concept—which is essentially busywork. Or, you send a child who has not mastered the concept home to practice and they will likely practice incorrectly, unless they have assistance.”
Perhaps there’s a middle point where a student mostly understands but hasn’t quite mastered the concept. That seems to be the point of homework, but I certainly can’t remember feeling that as a student. I wouldn’t do mine because it was either tediously easy or frustratingly difficult. If I knew the concept, the homework didn’t make me know it any more and if I didn’t understand it, the homework didn’t help.
As a teacher, I for one have opted out of giving homework. Instead I focus on making what little time I do have with my students count.
**Public, this case, is in the USA where public schools are primarily paid for by local property taxes. (As opposed to some countries where “public school” actually means “private school.”)