As I write this there is a weekly #edchat going on and the topic is homework. I’m not participating–I still refuse to join in–but several people I follow on Twitter are, so as I skim tweets about fantasy football teams and laugh at comedians’ quips, I’m seeing people talk about homework in a way that I’m sure they think is wonderful and enlightening but I can sum up in two words: HOMEWORK BAD.
Quite a bit of the discussion seems to be focused on worksheets and problems, which, to be fair, aren’t always rewarding, especially if they exist for the sake of making some homework or grading quota. After all, grades shouldn’t be there for the sake of being there. I know it annoys a number of parents of my advanced English students that the class’s quarterly gradebook rarely has more than five or six grades–a paper or two, being the leader of a class discussion, and assorted other work–because they feel “it’s not enough” (no, really, I’ve gotten emails with that statement more than once), but I don’t feel like I need to grade every single thing, especially in an advanced English class.
That being said, I assign reading on a regular basis. And I do so with an eye on my students’ busy schedules. At the beginning of a unit that covers a particular work or works of literature, I hand out all of the reading and type up a unit syllabus that tells the class what we are covering on what days. We may not be covering chapter 7 of All Quiet on the Western Front or Act IV-V of Twelfth Night for a couple of weeks, but it’s on the student to pace him or herself when reading and come to class prepared to discuss the reading.
That’s homework, isn’t it?
Now, I don’t do reading checks or reading quizzes or plot tests–my students are honors students and I tell them that I expect them to be ready to go on the day we discuss. I’m not stupid or naive enough to think that they will always do their reading every time, but I’m also not going to coddle and baby and spoon feed. Plus, they’re discovering for themselves how excruciating not having your peers do the reading can be now that they’re leading all of the class discussions on the literature and I’m sitting in the back of the class and letting the discussion happen. In fact, I don’t come in on most discussions until the very end to mop up or cover topics that weren’t covered and I wanted them to cover. Guide on the side and all that.
But in order for anything like that to happen, I have to assign reading for homework.
And HOMEWORK BAD, right?