Rethinking Homework

Homework.  It’s one of those universal things that we have all had experience with.  And, sadly, it has probably been a negative experience.  Most of the time we, as students, despise homework and don’t see it’s value.  For teachers, homework is one of those things we tell ourselves is worthwhile but deep down we wonder if it’s actually valuable.

HomeworkCathy Vatterott’s Rethinking Homework addresses the old and new paradigms of homework and suggests ways in which teachers can improve their homework practices.  Old paradigms are the stereotypical thinking for teachers and students; the teacher assigns homework and the student does it.  But research tells us that due to changing home lives and family make up, not all students have time or the ability to complete the homework we give them.  Beyond that, research also tells us that most of the time homework doesn’t have educational value.

Ms. Vatterott argues that this broken cycle of assigning homework, the students not doing it, and then students failing doesn’t have to continue.  We educators can change our approach to students and homework. One of the first things we have to understand is that we cannot make students do homework.  We have to understand that when we release our students to go home we are sacrificing control over their time.  Instead, we have to work with the students to make the activities we need them to do at home worthwhile and something they can buy into.

This is what I liked about the book.  She clearly points out that if we communicate to students what we are trying to accomplish with homework and then get students to brainstorm ways in which to accomplish this goal, we are ultimately going to have a higher rate of completion as well as students engaged in the learning process.  At the same time, we will be able to differentiate the homework for students at different levels of learning.

The one frustration I had with the book was that the ideas Ms. Vatterott provided were brief and general.  I like to have depth and specifics.  Instead, this work just whetted my appetite to reflecting on my own homework practices.  Maybe that was her goal was to start the homework conversation and then direct those interested parties to look up the research in her book.  It’s still a good, academically researched work that is approachable and not preachy.

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