Stacks of homework papers used to sit on my table glaring at me rather menacingly. A good teacher would have already graded all that homework, right? When we chose to become teachers, we forfeited the right to a life outside the classroom…right? Whether planning a lesson or a homework assignment, we spend hours mapping out everything that could possibly happen, be asked, be misunderstood, and how all of that might affect our students emotionally and intellectually. We take into consideration cultural differences and age gaps. When you finish, you’ve created the perfect seating chart for a wedding. So, it’s understandable that after we’ve devoted part of our life to creating this vision of how we want everything to go, we really want to stick to it. But what if it’s not working?
Trying to Do ALL the Things to Make Homework Work
Last term, I had several brand-new students along with students who had been here for a while and were somewhat disinclined to do homework. I wanted to ensure that they’d use at least a little English after classes were over. I also knew that for a foundations level student who had just completed four and half hours of intensive study, having homework on top of that would probably be overwhelming. Plus, there were those students who outright told me, “I don’t do homework.”
I spent hours thinking up interesting and off-beat assignments such as, “Go to Pops and make a video of yourself ordering something to drink.” I even had them riding a Ferris wheel, interviewing people on a local college campus, and taking selfies with outdoor art all over downtown Edmond. They LOVED it. Everyone was doing the homework—but it wasn’t working…for me. Trying to come up with fresh ideas and keeping up with the submitted videos and photos exhausted me.
Teachers can become their own victims out of service to their students, but who does that really serve?
Less Homework is More Time (and Learning!)
While in the beginning, I loved creating these alternative homework assignments, they quickly turned into drudgery. I decided to go back to regular, short, traditional homework assignments, but with a twist: they were optional! I reasoned that students who truly wanted to get ahead, would do them and as for those who were never going to do them, well, you can lead a horse to water.
However, I also tied this into an attendance/tardiness issue I was experiencing with my higher-level students. I told everyone that they had two choices: do the assignment OR come to class on time. (Yes, we discussed what “on time” means in the USA.) Either way, they’d get their points.
Attendance suddenly became much less of an issue, and even if they weren’t exactly on time, a few minutes late beat 40 minutes late every time! This meant that we could cover more during classes and students weren’t lost because of missed class time. A total win-win, for me and for the students.
Take another look at your class policies. Which ones are not sparking any joy? Re-think what your goal is. Can you find a different way to meet that goal, or is there another goal you could focus on instead? Are any of your policies creating MORE work for you? We all have mandates we must follow and school policies that are sometimes inflexible. However, we do a huge disservice to ourselves when we continually try to make something work just because it’s a great idea in theory. If your students did that to themselves, you’d be counseling them. Be just as kind to yourself as you are to your students.
Struggling to get their attention? Read about the Three Biggest Myths about Digital Devices in the Classroom.