Imagining Homework That Helps

Kellen Pluntke

Kellen is a 10th grader at Riverside High School. He is a student, golfer, and member of the #bowtieboys. He strives to be an advocate for every student, and believes every student should have a chance to learn in their own way. Every student deserves a fair and equal education that is flexible for what they need. When this happens, students will be more engaged, and lessons will have more energy. This will lead to a better chance for students to retain the content taught, and hopefully learn some skills along the way.

Read more from Kellen at his website.

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Homework has come to be one of, if not the most, stressful things that kids worry about today. If you asked 100 high school students what stresses them out in school most, I guarantee that at least 75 of them would say homework. It has come to the point that for some students, it has completely changed their view of public education— from a place of learning, to a place that brings stress and anxiety.

There is a difference between busy work and true practice. This is one issue that some teachers face in school, and I want to offer my input on the problem. I personally think homework should be comprised of thought-provoking questions that are an extension of the lesson in the previous class. I feel that teachers too often hand out worksheets with questions that are simple one-word-answer questions.

Although that does help you “practice your skills” in that class, it most of the time is just purely repetitive and tedious. This causes students to be more stressed out and anxious over pointless work, and may negatively affect the students’ views on that class. Homework should be a short but thought-provoking assessment for students to further improve their skills in that class.

Homework Amounts

One subject that is up for discussion about homework is the amount that is given to students. In my experience, there is no right amount of homework to give. It should not be excessively long, but it should be long enough to stimulate real thought on the subject. I personally think that homework should just be a list of questions that expand on what was taught in class, and ask for synthesis to a real-life situation.

For example, we had one of these kinds of assignments in my Latin class. A story was read to us about a wolf wrongly killing sheep, and were told to write about what morals were expressed through that story. We were told to apply the moral of the story to the Roman empire, and to life today. Many of the students who stay silent most of the class time started becoming a lot more engaged in the subject.

I still think that this assignment could have some more options that could leverage student choice, further advancing the amount of effort put into the work. To make this happen, teachers could make two variations of every homework assignment that cover the topic and practice skills differently while making sure both assignments are similar in difficulty.

For example, one of them could ask questions that require the students to synthesize the homework to something else, acting as an extension. The second one could be for the students who aren’t feeling ready enough to take it to that level, and need to practice the skills and content being taught in class. Of course this doesn’t tailor to the needs of every kind of student in the class, but it still offers more student choice and personalization than the standard homework assignment.

Real Life Application

Real life application is very important to students today. Students have a hard time staying engaged in class when they can’t see that what they are doing will ever be used in the outside world. Every kid wants to learn, but they want to learn things that will help their lives outside of school.

This concept of real life application should be added into every homework assignment. For example, if you were learning about how to write a persuasive piece, a question could be to make a small magazine style advertisement about a product they made. The product should have next to no requirements, therefore allowing student choice, and could be presented in the beginning of the next class. This way multiple things are being practiced in one simple and easy activity.

Now, there are still some classes that the material is purely used in school, like Science and Math. For these classes, a good way to show some practicality is to have some cross-subject connection with other subjects. This happens naturally to an extent in science classes like physics and chemistry, but the math department seems to stick to itself. Students would see more practicality in their math homework, if there were some questions in there that are also applicable to their science classes.

Collaboration

Collaboration is often frowned upon on homework assignments. Letting students work together on their homework assignments does not hinder their concentration, but could help them understand the material more. Instead of sitting hopeless and confused about the work, just waiting for the next class to ask questions, they could be asking their classmates.

Also, in the working field, it is very seldom that there is a project with no collaboration. Students’ collaboration and cooperation on homework could teach them how to effectively work as a team, and improve their social skills. This could also bring more ideas to the table, that one student did not think of, but the other did. This could teach kids more ways to learn the content, and different ways to look at similar situations. This collaboration on homework should not just be at home, but when they get back into class as well.

Discussion

A big issue I have with most homework assignments, is that after they are turned in to the teacher when they are due; they are not brought up again. This makes the students that don’t do their homework think it doesn’t matter, and for the kids that do go above and beyond on their homework feel like all their hard work was a waste. When homework is turned in to class it should be discussed.

Referring to the concept of having two variations of every assignment, the kids that did the extension activity could discuss what they learned in their assignment with the rest of the class. This would make the kids that did the assignment that was more about practicing their skills still learn the concepts that the students who did the synthesis learned. This discussion would make all the students in the class more connected, and make them feel that there was an actual point in doing the homework.

Integrating Technology

Many students tend to argue that homework is boring and pointless, but I think that it can be very important. Homework does not have to be either of those things, and one way to prevent that is to incorporate things that students do in their normal lives into their homework. One way to do this is to make homework assignments that use technology.

For example, if students are learning about literary devices, they could be told to watch a movie or TV show and record one of every kind of literary device. This way students can be learning in a way that is not tedious, or even boring for that matter. Another way to use technology to improve homework assignments is to tell students to tweet all the things that they learn in their homework.

Twitter is an amazing tool to bring into homework and the classroom if done correctly. Twitter only allows 140 characters per post, which is what makes it so beautiful. This causes students to be very concise when expressing what they have learned. Another thing that makes Twitter so great if used in this way, is all the students in the class will be able to see what the other students learned from the lessons, further extending the information retained. If technology is incorporated into homework, it is also a fantastic way to let students practice their 21st century skills.

“21st century skills comprise both content knowledge and applied skills that today’s students need to master to thrive in a continually evolving world” (Teaching with the Tools Kids Really Use, 2010).

Deep Reading

Homework is most important when reading. Students need to know how to read and gather as much information as possible from text, because it is something they do without realizing it every day in their life. The only way to learn how to read and gather information from reading, is from reading itself. Deep reading is a very important thing that students will need to be close to masters at, for it is going to be very important in college, and in the rest of their lives.

“Our concern was that we still saw too many readers who plow through a book giving it little thought; too many readers who finish the page or the chapter and then, rather than express a thought, ask a question, or leap into the conversation, look up to the teacher and wait” (Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, 2013).

Too many students today just read their assignments quickly to get it out of the way, without actually having any deep thought about what they have read at all. One way to fix this issue is to have students discuss what they have read in their homework with each other in and out of the classroom, and make personal connections. After all, one of the only things that makes a reader feel like they like a text, is that they felt like they connected with it in some way or another. Discussing the things that were in the text that connected personally in their lives could make students read deeper into the text, and retain the information from it more effectively.

“Though some now say we shouldn’t spend time in classrooms encouraging students to make personal connections to a text, we think that meaning is created through those personal connections” (Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, 2013).

From what I have experienced in my 10th grade English class, whenever a reading assignment is given, most students end up not even reading it. One way to get more students to read, is to give them choice. Instead of giving your students an assignment like “read the Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift and record any events of satire,” give them a choice to find their own satirical works to take notes on. This will create more real life connection to the text and what they are learning, and help them see the practicality of why they need to learn it.

More Than Busy Work

Homework is a very sore subject among most students, but it absolutely does not have to stay that way. With the help of both student and teacher, homework can become what it is truly meant to be: practicing both skills and content in an engaging, simple, and thought provoking way. If all those things are done correctly, it could completely change the view of school for many students. Students thrive when they see they have choice, and know that what they are learning is up to date with modern technology, and relevant to their daily lives. When homework is efficient and to the point, it will not just be busy work for students, but an opportunity for them to extend on what they learn in class, and share with their peers. These changes will engage as many students as virtually possible, and create a more personalized system of education.

Works Cited:

Brooks-Young, Susan. Teaching with the Tools Kids Really Use: Learning with Web and Mobile Technologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010. Print.

Beers, G. Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2013. Print.

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