Parents of my students, no matter what age or level I was teaching, always question workload. They wanted to know how much homework their child was going to have. I never knew how to answer that question – because no matter what I said, someone was going to be dissatisfied: too much or too little. Many times, there was a judgement placed on the course or on me as a teacher, comparing it or me to “when [they were] in school.” There was always a distinction between parents who insisted on pushing their children to the brink, and the parents who knew that their child struggled with any level of workload.
I felt for all of them – they had to somehow come to terms with my workload, like it or not. I was always willing to offer extra help by appointment, and I was pretty lenient with deadlines. My basic philosophy was that I did as much as I could during class, so that the kids weren’t completely on their own if they didn’t need to be. If I wanted them to do pre- or post-work analysis, I made it clear that they wouldn’t be able to participate in the next days’ activities without completing the work at home. I just knew that, for some kids, just managing their lives was difficult, and I didn’t want to create additional stress. Besides, what good is having kids practice work that they may be confused about as soon as they leave my room? There’s also the time that passes between class and whenever students revisit the work; I remember having math 2nd period in junior high – by the time I got home to do my math homework, whatever I heard/learned/understood in math class was lost in the shuffle.
Plus, kids now have so much more than school to occupy their time. The pressure is on to get involved in everything and anything so that every child can find her niche. Parents want to push for post-secondary options (and scholarships), and so they want to guide their children into well-rounded children who get good grades, are socially responsible AND are gifted in athletics. Competition is fierce right now, from preschool to med school. Some high schools, to the dissatisfaction of some of the parents, are taking steps to ease up on some of the workload on their students.
Measuring workload is risky business (just as is evaluating teacher performance) – it is extremely subjective work, in my opinion. It’s akin to having me tell kids that they must read 10 pages a day, or that their papers have to be 3 pages long – neither of those things measure knowledge, only time and length. And how to gauge students’ ability to handle different workloads?
So, I guess my question is this: what is the best way to address this challenge? I was never able to resolve this in my practice, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
NOT the reason I wrote this blog post, but incidentally, Learner’s Edge has a relatively new course about homework that has been getting some good reviews by the folks who have taken it: Assignment Homework: Where, When, and Why? Check it out here.