This past week was our first week back from Christmas Break and I noticed that some teachers assigned pretty serious work during the time off. I wonder if that simply sets students up for failure. We all know that the majority of our students (99.9% of them) won’t do the assigned work until the last night before returning. Some of them will forget completely. I’d say a large number would fall into that last category and simply not do the work at all. This is the same reason that I try really hard not to assign work over the weekend. In the spirit of trying to maintain connections between my two worlds of teaching and Web design, I’ll point out that Cameron Moll points out the same idea. Look at “4: Avoid Monday Deadlines.” It’s just too easy to not do the work when there’s no daily reminder and when there’s a natural desire to take some time off during a weekend.
And is there a pedagogical reason we are giving the work or is it assigned because it is expected and it feels like the right thing to do? If the work isn’t completed, will the student really be at a loss? If the work is completed, will the student actually be better prepared for the rest of the course? I know that I assign work from time to time simply because I feel like I haven’t given homework in a while and I should. But I fight that urge every time it creeps up and I cringe every time I realize I’ve already done it (UPDATE: An online homework survey will provide some good data for an upcoming book on homework; it doesn’t take long to fill out).
I’m curious if we (teachers) assign work too often. What we’ve found at our school is that students are failing because they don’t do homework. Perhaps if there was less homework, more students would achieve academically. Should that be the reason that students don’t get the credits for a class, because they haven’t done work outside of class? Shouldn’t the credits go to a student if he or she has the skills the course requires? If we’re finding that homework is a huge reason for failure, if we’re finding that the current paradigm of homework isn’t working for a majority of our students, don’t we have an obligation to address that and seriously examine our homework policy?
On occassion over the years, parents have asked me why there hasn’t been any homework for the last 2 or 3 weeks. Going through the credential program at SJSU, I recall hearing from some teachers about a school homework policy that dictates the number of nights homework is required, with some schools going as far as requiring homework every night. To some, assigning homework means that you are a good teacher. Should teachers be considered less adept at what they do simply because they don’t assign homework as often as required? What if the lesson for the day doesn’t necessitate homework? What if there simply is no reason to assign work for the night?
Certainly, special circumstances may require some students to complete work during vacations. Maybe they are in an AP course and need to complete the work to prepare for the exam, have missing work to make up, are failing, are doing extra credit, need to polish their skills – there are several reasons why work should occasionally be expected during days off. But for most students, for the majority of the kids we teach, maybe vacations or breaks should be exactly that: time off from school, time to relax and pursue other interests.
I Didn’t Do It
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t do a single bit of school work until the day before we went back. That work I did, about four-hours’ worth, got me all set up from now until the end of semester and even a bit of the beginning of semester two. How did you do? Did you get everything done that you wanted to? Did you grade all those papers? Were they ready to be returned on Tuesday morning upon the resuming of school? I only know one teacher who reached that lofty goal. And I know a lot of teachers.
So if we, as professionals, can’t seem to consistently get the work done that we want/need to achieve, how can we possibly expect our students to do so? But really, all of this gets at a much larger issue.
Do As I Say…
Do we, as teachers, regularly expect more out of our students than we are able to give? Because of the fact that I didn’t do a shred of work during the Christmas Break, I returned feeling like I actually had time off from work and I have been more excited about things, ready to take on the rest of the year. I wish my students felt the way I do and maybe having a 2-week break without work would help make that happen.
When was the last time you completed something you assigned to your students? Every time I assign an essay, I keep telling myself that I should try to complete it at the same time my students are working on it. This is something that I’ve done before (about 2 years ago, I wrote the beginning of most of the essays I assigned to my students that year), but I certainly don’t do it every year.
So if we expect our students to complete large amounts of work during a break (a 30-page packet, read an entire novel, complete a research paper), shouldn’t we have the same expectations for ourselves?