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Bruno: The Homework Dilemma From A Teacher's Point of View

image from paulbruno1.typepad.comWe seem to have arrived at another peak in the HAC [Homework Angst Cycle], with much hand-wringing about whether kids these days are over-burdened or under-challenged by homework.

The progress of the HAC seems to be more-or-less unrelated to actual changes in quantities of homework assigned. And analyses of homework burdens often seem limited by an over-reliance on the perspectives of students and parents.

Students and parents are, of course, affected by homework. The individuals most immediately responsible for assigning homework, however, are teachers. 

And from a teacher's point of view, the "homework dilemma" is relatively straightforward and is rooted mostly in two decisions we are required to make: how much homework to assign and the extent to which it should impact students' grades.

To help illustrate the teacher's dilemma, I put together a simple chart and explain it below.

 

Homework, from a teacher's point of view

It is helpful to remember that - unlike work done in class - teachers have very little control over how homework gets completed or whether it will be completed at all.

This means that it is difficult to justify homework constituting a large portion of students' overall grades.  It is hard - and often unfair - to hold students accountable for work not performed under a teacher's supervision.

So if a teacher assigns more homework, he risks unjustifiably inflating or deflating students' grades, in addition to the wrath of protective parents.

On the other hand, if a teacher assigns less homework his class may strike families (or administrators) as insufficiently rigorous. 

Sometimes you will hear claims that this dilemma can be avoided by assigning "better" homework that is not only sufficiently engaging that students will reliably complete it, but also so sophisticated that students cannot cheat or copy the work of others.

Suffice it to say that I have never seen such homework assignments and am skeptical that they exist at all, let alone in such large numbers that they can help many teachers in diverse contexts avoid the homework dilemma.

Indeed, I see no plausible way out of the homework dilemma for most teachers most of the time without a broader social consensus about what students "should" be doing after school lets out.

For my part, I spend most of my time in the lower left quadrant, aiming to assign homework that is sufficiently accessible that students with relatively weaker skills and less-conducive out-of-school environments will consider it worth doing as often as possible.

Other teachers in different contexts may make these decisions differently and operate in different quadrants on the chart. In most cases, however, the dilemma for teachers is essentially the same.

The homework dilemma for teachers is not that complicated when you get right down to it. We consider the trade-offs involved in assigning more or less homework, or in weighting it more or less heavily in grades, and then we pick our poison. - PB (@MrPABruno)

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