Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Authentic Homework

What is it about the current status of homework that bothers people? Is it homework that is photocopied from a textbook provider that never moves beyond matching or true/false? Is it busy work such as word searches or crossword puzzles? The bottom line is homework in it's present state is a command and control experience for kids. It is uncommon that homework mirrors experiences that students will have later in adulthood.

I sit writing this after experiencing a maddening rush of homework with our 8th grade son. During the last 48 hours he created a movie poster for a short story that needed the name of the author, main characters, two critic quotes and multiple colors. The next assignment was multiple math problems from the online textbook. A third assignment was a photocopied matching and definition assignment. The fourth assignment was redoing an essay that had five green marks in pen from the teacher with a verbal recommendation to add details about the journal entry. The final assignment was a one page summary of an important Supreme Court case about the right to an attorney with a checklist for a five paragraph essay. Where in your adult life do you do things like this?

Overhauling our homework system is a topic receiving much attention. Asking teachers to abandon the current homework model is similar to the medical field abandoning charts and files. It takes time. If we tackle this situation with an approach Heidi Hayes-Jacobs calls remodeling we may make a difference and increase authentic homework. If we can create a system that supports current practitioners in their effort to remodel current homework to match what career-based work looks like we might just engage more kids in their own learning. It is time to stop running copier machines into the millions of copies per year and begin to embed life-based experiences into the work we ask all kids to do.

I live near and talk with career minded neighbors that skype, tweet, google and tiny chat to collaborate. They talk of working with a team to create and solve. They report to supervisors and managers that expect collaboration, communication and creativity at the highest level. It is apparent that this is a disconnect to the way we ask kids to play the school game. Can we change the game? What ideas do you have?