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Homework can be a waste of time, if you let it be.

Homework has become the mistreated and misunderstood stepchild of the teaching profession. Once a staple, a cornerstone, one of the pillars of combined effective teaching and responsible studentry (a made up word that I will trademark, eventually), “homework” has become almost a curse-word. But that’s only because some teachers abuse it and because people understand the damage its misuse has caused. When I was a young student, I’m sure that I at one time or another suffered through homework that held little real value. As a beginning teacher I know I sent students home with papers that were no more than busy work for them. But as a more seasoned teacher always on the lookout for ways to get students to engage with a purpose, especially the least willing. A way for students to connect with their world; to connect their world with their school and to hopefully have things they learn fill all the spaces in between. Make no mistake, the opportunity for students to demonstrate and reinforce academic skills is a great one for our students to have, but what is not useful is an additional hour or more of repetitive task mastery. So when I can,  I re-purpose homework to serve this end: students first.

No more superficial tasks to prove to anyone that I am doing my job or for students and parents to prove to anyone that they are doing theirs. I think about it almost like the difference between 1) a supposed second amendment right to stroll into a restaurant or store strapped up with assault weapons, revealing what a moron you are ; and  2) the ability to silently understand that if you find a dangerous trespasser on your lawn: you need to drag him into your house before you can call him an intruder and shoot him. If you are going to defend your right to have and use homework: use it smart and make sure it gets the job done. A potentially deadly weapon combined with ineffective strategy will do more harm than good.

So on the topic of homework:

Homework can help make a connection

There is no school-home relationship that can’t be improved, strengthened or put to good use for the student with homework that is crafted with intent. What if “homework” was to play a game with family members? A game involving cards, or dice, and requiring that a score be kept? What if a short written or spoken description from the student the next day was the “accountability” piece? I like this kind of homework. As a parent I love seeing kids come home with the type of homework that is citizen-in-training work, not future wage-slave work. As a teacher, I like making the connections I described earlier.

Be the best kind of sneaky there is

Imagine the time before an approaching  holiday and the extended break from school that usually comes with it. Thanksgiving; Christmas/New Year; spring break…students get excited (and teachers do too!) in anticipation of a “breather.” Often, teachers plan ahead accordingly: reinforcing and assessing on the most recent objectives or doing a general review to “dipstick” skills in general as state testing season approaches. Combine all that excitement about an upcoming break with all that intense work right before the break from school, and no one is expecting to be sent home with a butt load of homework (an actual measurement, just not traditionally a unit used for measuring homework).

That’s why it’s fun for me to prepare my students to be sent home with a list of things for them to do, and tell them that they have to have their parents sign each time they complete a task. I play it all solemn and stern and professional. I make it sound like it’s good educational practice, that it’s what good teaching is all about. I’ll say that I enjoy making vacations painful (not really) because I think kids need to be responsible and made to work hard (I do) and that I have spoken to the mayor and even been in contact with the president who both have approved of my take on children and work. I really did write to President Obama once, asking him to cancel summer vacation. I included the twenty-some letters of kids arguing a case against me. The response was impersonal promotional stuff and a form letter, but it was still cool. I play that I enjoy making vacations painful because it builds character (not really) and that I think kids need to be responsible and made to work hard (I do). This “show” only works one time. The kids know I am not that “mean teacher” and after they learn what their homework consists of and that it’s optional (a chance for a student to prove themselves in a variety of ways)-there is increased amount of buy-in, even from reluctant students and infrequently involved parents is impressive.

Excite students about seeing and experiencing the world around them in ways they often don’t

So, check this out. It is one example of the type of homework that can make students want more, make families happy to participate, and make students ask for more. It really happens, I’ve been doing it for years, and right now I am preparing another task list for April break with the help of my high-achievers from this past Christmas/New Year’s. Steal this idea, use it, let me know how it works for you. I will share the next one soon.


Husband, father, and teacher. Hoping to earn full redemption through the written word and shaping...

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