September 24, 2016
Searching For the True Meaning in Our Homework
I’ve got a kid in traditional school. He’s the kind of kid who finds the daily grind of school challenging. It takes him twice as long to get half the work done. When he comes home at 4:00, he wants to chill out. He hates homework. He prefers his down time to be on the computer.
Why? Because interacting with a computer is simple compared to dealing with real people. Computers don’t yell at you and are not judgmental. Computers are like afternoon television back in the day when I was going to school. It's the time to unwind. Then comes dinner and then bed at 8:00.
Honestly there is not a whole lot of time for homework in our household. So when there is it takes my son twice as long as most to get things done. As a result, he panics. In fact, we had a panic episode tonight.
I have a couple of ideas why:
- It’s not relevant to him.
- It’s usually about writing, and his dysgraphia prevents him from keeping up the pace. Again, it takes him twice as long to get half the work done.
- Because it takes longer for him to grasp concepts during the school day, his homework is all the more challenging because he doesn’t understand the material.
Without getting into the controversy of “homework vs. no homework” I want to offer a suggestion to his teachers.
Bringing Meaning to Our Homework
If we give homework it must be relevant and meaningful. It must play to students’ interests. It needs to be within their capabilities, realistically. We must make it challenging but doable within reasonable time constraints.
Homework needs to have a reasonable failsafe such that unguided homework is done properly. When homework is done poorly, bad habits form and are harder to correct. Feedback for homework has to be immediate in order to remotely be formative. Otherwise the longer the homework takes to be checked, the less memorable it is for the student.
For my son, who loves watching videos and cannot write as fast or as neatly as most, and who sometimes needs extra teaching, I’ve got the solution for you. Meaningful homework for such a child can happen through flipped learning.
Flipped learning is when instructors video record their lessons and make it accessible over the Web for their students. The pre-recorded lessons serve as the instructional portion of the lesson. The lecture that is traditionally done in the classroom is ‘flipped’ to be viewed at home as homework.
The actual practice comes within the classroom. The higher-order thinking is brought into the classroom, after the instructional lecture is viewed at home on the computer or wherever the child might have internet available. This could be on their phone or on their tablet.
Satisfaction in Action
Let me relate to you my son’s experience with exponents and scientific notation.
He came home with a homework assignment. It was a page of numbers which were to be converted into scientific notation. He didn’t understand it. He didn’t trust me, his dad, to teach it properly to him. He only wanted to learn from the teacher.
We argued for a while, both of us getting more and more frustrated. Then I remembered Khan Academy.
“Look, son," I told him gently, "if you don’t believe me, watch this video on scientific notation on Khan Academy.” Within those 8 minutes of watching the video, my son had several ‘aha!’ moments.
He was able to view, pause, rewind, and fast-forward through the lesson. Finally, he excitedly exclaimed, “I understand it now!”
Where once there was mistrust, frustration, and panic, there now was confidence and the willingness to try out some problems on his own. His ‘teacher’ from Khan Academy was not judgmental or critical of him for not understanding. In turn, my son couldn’t argue with the teacher. He simply had to rewind and rewatch to understand the concept.
If this is what homework of the future will be like, it changes the role of the teacher. By getting your lecture on video, you don’t have to repeat. They just watch the video again.
Surely you won’t eliminate all misunderstanding, but you will reduce many questions which can be addressed by simply reviewing the video. As long as your video lecture is engaging, comprehensive, and respectful, then understanding is almost 100% assured.
My son was happy to learn something and was thankful for finding the site.
In Defense of Traditional Homework
So how do parents support their students when teachers assign way too much homework? At the same time, how do we instill in our children a habit of perseverance and the value of hard work?
In our house, I’m hands-on and always helping. I use encouragement, cajoling, deal-making, and occasionally tag-teaming the homework guidance responsibilities with my wife when I get too frustrated.
It’s never easy. My son is old enough to question the relevance of his assignments and question whether we need to handwrite anymore. Even I question the intent of some of the workbook pages he has to do, albeit quietly.
The challenge of modern teachers to make homework relevant continues. Taking advantage of new technologies that can “duplicate” the teacher to be accessible over the Internet is forcing us to rethink our roles, and at the same time re-address the value of homework.