Monday, November 17, 2008

Homework = Practice?

This morning, I heard a story on the radio (which, unfortunately, I can't find linked anywhere) that featured a teachers' union president weighing in on the importance of homework at a time when some schools are evidently starting to de-emphasize it. Among other things, he said it was like practice, and he invoked music among several subjects that required regular practice.

But is this accurate? Is homework really like practice? I suppose we could do a compare/contrast type of thing here...

Homework is like practice because:
  • Both serve to reinforce the concepts previously introduced in a lesson.

  • Sometimes kids dread doing either of those things.*

  • Both have direct bearings on future performance: If you don't do your homework, you might not do well on the test; if you don't practice enough, you might bomb your audition, concert, or whatever .
But then again...

Homework is not like practice because:
  • Some students will put in extra practice time simply for personal enrichment. I don't know of too many of them who will do extra homework-type items that weren't assigned by the teacher.**

  • Homework is sometimes given as "busy work" by the teacher, and it may also be given to make up for the fact that some material wasn't covered in class. I can't speak for any of my colleagues, but I've never assigned something to practice that hasn't first been taught in a lesson, and I sure don't give "busy work."

  • And finally, homework is usually something different every night (except perhaps for things like memorization of multiplication tables), whereas practice also involves a great deal of reinforcement (for example, my students play their major scales from the time they learn them in sixth grade until the end of their senior year in high school).
So obviously the jury is still out on this one (and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments). And if you're interested in this subject, I found a few interesting articles about the no-homework trend:This is an interesting subject that I'm sure I'll revisit later; the no-homework teacher's philosophies could easily spawn a post all by themselves.

*This is especially true of the kids who might be forced into piano lessons at an early age, and even more so if the teacher is the stereotypical "mean old lady" in half-glasses who raps your knuckles with a ruler for missing a note. But does this person still exist anymore? I dated a piano teacher once, and she was nothing like that at all.

**I do, however, have a great friend who used to come home from college and join his engineer dad for some father-son bonding. While most people would think of, say, throwing the football around for a while, these two sat down and did calculus. Seriously. (Of course, they would then go throw the football. But still...)

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