I am thinking about asking my students how they would describe "effective homework." My guess is that some will think the phrase is an oxymoron!!

Over at the ASCD Inservice blog, Diana Strasser posted some interesting commentary related to this topic. She quotes Robert Marzano's book, The Art & Science of Teaching in suggesting the following guidelines for effective homework:

  • Homework needs to be completed in order to produce the highest achievement gains. Design it with ease of completion in mind.
  • A large amount of homework does not result in better learning.
  • Homework should be academically purposeful, not a punishment or a symbol of the seriousness of study.
  • Homework should be explicitly tied to the current learning goals of the class.
  • Homework should be able to be completed without adult assistance.
  • Parents or guardians should not be expected to act as content experts.
  • Parents should, however, be provided with clear homework guidelines.
  • Assignments that involve using the parents' expertise or personal experiences (such as interviews) are often successful.
I am in full agreement with the first two points. Ease of completion and assigning "just enough" make sense. I have never been a fan of assigning homework as punishment. Apparently someone in today's educational system has used it as punishment, because my students sure do see it that way! Changing the "culture of homework" is a topic I hope to address in a later post.

I struggle with the suggestions that "Homework should be able to be completed without adult assistance" and "Parents or guardians should not be expected to act as content experts." These two seem to work against the final suggestion that "Assignments that involve using the parents' expertise or personal experiences...are often successful." As a math teacher, it is not uncommon to hear one of three comments at parent/teacher conferences:
  1. "I didn't understand/like math in high school either so I can't help my child at home."
  2. "I really use a lot of math at my __________ job. I always try to help my child with his/her math homework."
  3. "I used to be able to help out with math homework, but this high school math is over my head."
If parental assistance is available at home, then why shouldn't I expect those students to take advantage of the extra help? During class time, I highly encourage my students to ask questions of each other and of me. Parents are simply another available resource. Furthermore, parents may be able to explain a concept or idea from a different perspective based on their previous education and current working experience that might "click" with a student in a way that I am unable to communicate to them.

I am not ready to give up "extending learning" outside the walls of my classroom if it can be done in a way that benefits students. I admit that my experience teaching in a district with a predominantly middle-class demographic skews my perspective on this subject.

I am wondering if I am missing the boat here. Why wouldn't we want ("requiring" may be a source of disagreement, I admit) our students to take advantage of the expertise found in their own homes?