When I read some chapters of the book, Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman, which were shared on the Internet, I decided to write this post on the homework issue. I use the word issue, as giving homework has been a controversial issue recently. Some people are totally against it while some think that it is absolutely necessary.
Fires in the Mind is a very interesting book as it tries to answer the question: What does it take for young people to be really good at something? through the voices of students from diverse backgrounds. To put these students’ ideas into practice, the book also includes practical tips for educators. It is part of the How Youth Learn project that seeks better schooling and better outcomes for all youth. They are trying to prove how well young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and support they need and what they can contribute when their voices and ideas are taken seriously. You can watch the video, 8 Conditions for Learning on how a teenager learns with your students and have a class discussion on it. I am sure it will inspire them to reflect on how they learn best.
In another video, students talk about their expectations to do better at school.
In chapter 8, which is about homework, the students list their expectations for homework as follows:
- Make sure we know what purpose the homework serves. Write it at the top of the assignment, so we remember it!
- Use our homework! Look at it, answer our questions, and show us why it matters.
- Don’t take off points for wrong answers on homework. It’s practice!
- Cooperate with other teachers so our total homework load is reasonable.
- Give us time to start our homework in class, so you can help if we have trouble.
- When appropriate, assign different tasks to match what each of us needs.
- Match homework to the time we have available. Let us know how long you expect us to spend on it, and don’t penalize us if we can’t finish.
- Don’t give us homework every day. Having several days to do it helps us learn to manage our time.
- Create places in school for sustained academic support: tutoring time, study halls, hours when you are always available for help. (Source: Fires in the Mind)
After listening to the students, Cushman designs “four R’s of deliberate homework”:
- Readying themselves for new learning
- Repetition and application of knowledge and skills
- Reviewing material learned earlier, and
- Revising their work. (Source: Fires in the Mind)
I think the best part in this chapter is the alternative homework the students suggested:
Source: Fires in the Mind
I personally think that students should be given reasonable amount of homework to consolidate learning and master skills. This is especially important in foreign language learning as the more students are exposed to the target language, the better they will master it. On the other hand, homework should be personally relevant to the needs of the learner. Students should be given choices according to their needs, interests and ability levels, which is much easier to do nowadays; thanks to technology.