I have been doing, assigning, correcting and examining the value of homework for close to 40 years. My own personal experience as a student and educator has been enriched (enraged?) by my perspective as a parent. Over all these years, I thought I had heard all the excuses, explored all the angles and anticipated all the possible problems that could ever arise.
I was mistaken.
Things started out okay yesterday–my two boys had regular dismissal time, and above average temps led to melting of the mounds of snow left over from the bomb cyclone last week. They had some free time and we could feel our faces, so life was good. There was no need to bust open backpacks just yet. Have a snack, have some fun and make a plan.
Everything stated to slide downhill at about 5pm.
“Alright, why don’t we try to get some work done,” I said. Begrudgingly, my fourth grader pulled out his binder. “Hmmmm, where is the math paper?” we asked. Did it fall out at school as it had on Monday? Could it have fallen out in the car? I made a deal that I would go out to the car, but that I would not go back to school as we had done two days ago. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” My son knows this one and, with the seed phase, he recited it along with me.
A dog ate your homework? Your printer was out of toner? Yawn…my homework fell victim of the cruel freeze-thaw cycle after a bomb cyclone.
So out to the car I went, except, I didn’t even get to the car when I noticed the paper there on the driveway. The sheet had a a nice sheen to it there against the mostly-shoveled surface. “Oh, man!” At his point, I figured the we’d have to pull it up carefully and find a way to dry it. Yeah, no. It was frozen there in place, impossible to pull up without ripping! I took a few pictures, at this point thinking only that they would corroborate this crazy story. A dog ate your homework? Your printer was out of toner? Yawn…my homework fell victim of the cruel freeze-thaw cycle after a bomb cyclone.
At this point I was beyond mad: not that I was more mad, in fact, this situation was so very silly that I was oddly serene. Let’s look to learn some valuable lessons about starting homework earlier and keeping better track of our materials.
Then an idea stuck me like a snowball to the side of the face: what if we zoomed and cropped the photo so we could transcribe the solutions on another paper? This would work and the learning wouldn’t be lost. He could turn in the solutions with or without the photos as context. Then my son actually had a stroke of genius: what if we pulled the image file into Notability and did the problems right on the iPad? Done and done.
I was impressed by my son’s creativity and even more proud of his stick-to-itiveness. (Yes, I recognize and embrace the irony of that word choice here.) He didn’t want to give up and he understood the tools at his disposal enough to hack/app-smash his way to completion.
The cruel, cold irony is that the homework sheet was two-sided. 100% for effort and creativity, 50% for a score.
All of this frozen fun has me thinking more and differently about homework. On a certain level, I am always thinking about where homework fits, but this crystalized it. Over the years, I have done everything from grading homework nightly (completion and/or correctness), giving nights off and/or flexible deadlines, keeping track of progress via online modules, flipping lessons, flipping the flipped script, etc. Still, so many questions remain.
Why do we assign homework? Do we need to every night? If we feel that the answer is “yes,” is there enough variety in the types/modes of assignments? How much time do we expect students to spend on homework each night? Are deadlines fixed? Are they flexible or adaptable? What is the relationship between homework and rigor? Is homework primarily for practice? For exploration? Put another way, is homework supposed to be disorienting or orienting? What resources do students have at their disposal? Are they equitably distributed? Where do parents fit in and how does this change K-12? Do papers need to be “papers”? When and why do we introduce Learning Management Systems and what are the costs and benefits? More generally, is technology an amplifier? An annoyance? A crutch?
…do we value completion? Do we value correctness? Are teachers clear if this varies assignment to assignment? Where is there space for creativity, both in terms of the way students approach their assignments and the fun things they can do when they are not doing homework? …do we stress more valuable lessons about time and expectation management? Do we show our learners and our children how to size up what they need to do? To enlist help? To ask for more time if necessary? Can homework provide opportunity for reflection?
More importantly, do we value completion or correctness? Are teachers clear if this varies assignment to assignment? Where is there space for creativity, both in terms of the way students approach their assignments and the fun things they can do when they are not doing homework?
More importantly still, do we stress more valuable lessons about time and expectation management? Do we show our learners and our children how to size up what they need to do? To enlist help? To ask for more time if necessary? Can homework provide opportunity for reflection? I know that there are educators taking on these questions every day, from peer reviewed journals to personalized interventions. I want to be part of this inquiry now more than ever.
Curiously enough, the frozen homework sheet in question thawed with today’s temperatures in the 40s. The paper is safely inside drying off. Maybe, after all is said and done, that is the right approach: patience and a little sunlight.
As I said, this has been a transformative moment for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at homework–or my driveway–the same way again.