Last week, a DNAInfoChicago article highlighted that some top high schools in the Chicago Public Schools established a “no homework” policy during winter and spring break. I agree. All schools should adopt this policy.
There is misconception that making students work nonstop equals rigor and, therefore, provides a better education. A student currently at one of the top Chicago high schools told me that they get four to five hours of homework a night. They’re on a regular 8-period-a-day schedule. So it’s all due the next day.
I tried not to react. But I thought, “That’s madness!” I definitely don’t want my own kids there.
The homework I assign takes students an average of one hour to complete. Because we’re on a block schedule and I see students every other day for 90 minutes, they have two nights to do it. Students say it’s reasonable. If they use their time wisely, they can still work or play a sport or be teens AND do their homework without staying up late.
Homework should build on what students do in classes. Homework should help students progress with larger assignments like projects and essays. Homework should balance skill development and independent challenges.
Homework fails when all the responsibility gets thrown on the student and his or her family. I’ve helped enough nieces and nephews with science fair projects to know this. The teachers gave a packet and threw all the responsibility on the student to do this on his own. Not fun.
Homework during breaks runs the risk of becoming a massive forced undertaking where students must read an entire novel, complete a multi-page research paper, create something requiring a tri-fold board, or complete a heavy packet of worksheets.
So I ask myself, “Is the student’s academic life going to be significantly better if they do this?”
During spring break my senior year in high school, I skipped doing the poetry packet my AP English Literature teacher assigned. Back then, for me, it was a rebellious act. And I still turned out OK.
Today’s students are in class, in school longer than they used to be. If classroom instruction is rigorous—and students will tell you which teacher’s is and which isn’t—taking a break from homework won’t do any harm.
I’ve found a way to keep homework in my English classes meaningful and manageable—for students and for me. When I assign it, I expect students to do it. And in most cases, they do. But there are days and weekends when I don’t assign homework.
I have a few students telling me they’re leaving on vacation before winter break starts. They ask for the work they’ll miss. I tell them, “Enjoy your trip. Relax. We’ll figure it out when you get back.”
I will not assign any homework over the break—not even in my AP English Language classes. One student said, “That’s because you don’t want to come back to work and grade a big stack of papers!”
My students need a break. And so do I.
Parents can and should engage their children in meaningful experiences over the break with families or around our city. If resources are tight, cooking, baking, playing a card game, watching a movie, taking turns listening to music are good ways to bond. If parents don’t do this, that’s out of a school’s control.
All we can do as teachers is ensure students have safe, meaningful educational experiences when they’re with us.
I want my students to learn that breaks are necessary and good. Hopefully, more teachers agree.
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