Tonight in a workshop on differentiated instruction, I was talking with a teacher about her son who is a high school senior. She talked about how smart her son was but that he was failing virtually every subject at school. The reason? Homework.
The kid just doesn't do it.
I asked her how he did on tests. She said very well. I asked her if this was something new, this "not doing homework" thing. She said no, that it had been ongoing since elementary school.
I told her that her son was not a failure.
It's him that's being failed by a system that is hell bent on holding kids accountable for behaviors with grades. The doing of homework is a behavior. It is an action associated with continuing practice, but not all kids need it. I told her that this story was perfectly applicable to our purposes here tonight. The "DOING" of homework is a process oriented task that leads, usually, to a formative assessment of the understanding of the material taught.
Formative assessment is meant to drive instructional practice to ensure that the learning is sticking and if not, establish a plan for reteaching, reframing, or restructuring how the material is going to get into a kid's brain.
It is not meant to be punitive.
Grades that reflect behavioral actions or that are punitive are WRONG.
Let me say that a different way. If our collective objectives are to teach students, then what we teach and what they LEARN are the priority factors, correct? How we teach and how kids learn are as individual and unique as the way we look. If a kid needed extra time because of a reading problem, we would accommodate. If a kid needed a special adaptive technology, we would accommodate. If a kid needed additional copies of notes or specific after school support, we would accommodate.
But when a kid demonstrates, time and again, that homework just isn't their bag, why do teachers exclude that from the list of things for which we would accommodate? There are many ways to differentiate process and product besides homework, but many teachers would rather call the student irresponsible and then punish them with low grades that DO NOT REFLECT WHAT THE KID KNOWS.
Why do teachers get hung up on this? Does the kid who doesn't do homework deserve not to graduate?
Why is homework such a dominant factor in the overall grade?
I'm not saying that homework doesn't have a place. I'm just saying that some kids don't need it. It's a perfect opportunity to differentiate instructional strategies and provide opportunities for students to do things in different ways. I'm not talking about more work for some, less work for others, I'm talking about truly understanding a kid's needs to the point of blazing new trails of instructional strategies that may be outside of our own experiences and/or traditions. The way that things have always been done is a poor excuse for continuing to do them. There are other ways to hold kids accountable for their learning without punishing them with bad grades because they are a poor fit for an instructional strategy chosen by a teacher, by a professional who should know more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak.
In this holiday season, I'm reminded of a certain reindeer who was pushed out of the traditional learning path and took a different path to proficiency. What Rudolph learned in the nontraditional way served him so well that he became the most successful and famous reindeer of all. Can't we create opportunities/choices for our students like that?
Like much in education today, homework needs to be reframed. It's part of the paradigm that needs to be majorly shifted.
Ten years from now, I have a feeling, we are going to look back at many of the practices we participate in today, and be embarrassed by what we did to kids.