Thursday, February 13, 2014

Response to the Teacher Meeting on Homework

View teachers and students response to the homework situation: 

Gregory Kulchyckyj
November 7, 2013

Homework is a problem at Kyiv International School. And quotes from a forty-minute teacher discussion on homework can prove it. 

“We need a solution”, says Ms Roby.

The homework discussion was sparked by a Media I survey published back in early October. Over 80 students took the time to answer questions regarding homework given in secondary classes. It is safe to say that the results were not pleasant – the average KIS high school student claimed to spend four to five hours doing homework daily. Of this work, 65% of students feel only half their homework is relevant, and about the same percentage (69%) also state that they are given nearly no time to do their homework in class.

The issue resulted in the administration scheduling a discussion with KIS faculty. I had the privilege to attend and record concerns expressed by teachers on the topic of homework. Throughout the 40-minute discussion, it was clear that almost every teacher had a different perspective and opinion.

“Our school system does not make giving out homework easy”, says Mr Prima, who stated the problem from the get-go. “We offer three curriculums: IB, AP, and QSI. We need to understand how homework applies to each curriculum.” One cannot disagree that differentiating homework between such curriculums is a challenge, even for the most elite of teachers.

Mr. Hume believes that whatever curriculum homework is given under, it still needs to be engaging and it has to be interesting. "I want to encourage people to have fun with the work and I don’t want to be onerous to the point where students aren’t looking forward to coming to class.” Teachers need to find the right balance in the homework to develop love for learning, however this is yet another challenge that many will face.

Many teachers have their own ways of giving homework, or recording it. Mr. Clack gives students the entire unit to take their notes. “They can choose to do it all in one night, or they can wisely spread it over.” 

Mr Hume explained a system he set up in order to keep track of homework, “I have used google documents for each student and I have created an invoice”, he says. “Every time a student works outside the classroom, they fill out the date, the task, and the amount of time it took. I will be able to see what work the student has accounted for.”

This “invoice system” was well-liked by the teachers. This system is very beneficial to students and teachers, because it offers records of homework – allowing the teacher to realize whether the given work is too big of a load. It would also prove the effort that students have put in to master a unit.

Mr. Prima, who feels that a consistent amount of homework is necessary to improve academic skills, asked a thought-provoking question: “Can we improve the knowledge of students without homework?”

“I think we need homework. But we must think about quantity versus quality,” answered Ms Froebisch “Right now, we are clearly prioritizing quantity over quality.” 

Mr Morgan agreed, “If a student received an hour of homework from each class, yeah, the student would learn more, only because we would be forcing it into them. They would also learn, very likely, to hate those subjects and to hate school. We are really damaging that enthusiasm for better performance.”

Mr Morgan brings a very important point to Ms Froebisch’s statement. There are two things that KIS can do with homework – choose quantity. Teachers can give great amounts of homework, which would in essence boost the knowledge of the student. But as Mr Morgan said, the chances of the student to pursue life-long learning are minimal. So the school can choose the other approach – quality. This option may not be rewarded in a short-term gain of knowledge, but suddenly students will want to learn, forever. And so now it is a lot of knowledge in a short time, or a much greater knowledge over a long amount of time.

The QSI Mission Statement is to sustain the same eagerness to learn as every student started out with on their first day in school. In this case, the decision is easy. KIS faculty should give quality homework. Every time homework is given, the teacher should be confident that the assignment would not hinder the excitement of learning.

Mr. Bryan brought in the cold hard fact that the mastery program may contradict the culture of learning. “I have students asking to upgrade before reading assignment or getting them back. If that is the atmosphere of our top students, then we have a problem with our school.”

“It is like Catch 22,” says Ms Roby “the more assignments or the more TSW’s we have, the more homework and assignments we have to give to students. We need a solution.” Although no immediate solution was made during the discussion, there were many opinions on how the faculty can take their first steps in order to reduce extreme and unnecessary amounts of homework.

Mr. Bryan says he knows he gives too much homework when “I am too busy grading it to enjoy what I am doing with the students. Something is wrong then, and so I back up.” Mr. Morgan followed up by saying, “We have to think about how much work students have to do in addition to the work that we explicitly give them."

Thankfully, teachers have acknowledged the fact that we are being overburdened with homework, and now they want to help make things right. “I am all about coming up with a homework policy that we can communicate and more importantly enforce,” exclaims Mr. Blaho “We should be looking at, in the secondary school, a maximum of two hours of homework per day."

As for the amount of time students are given to work in class, Mr. Bryan explained to teachers his reasoning. “Students have to have time in class to do the work that is expected of them. If we expect them to do work, and we value that work, we should dedicate some of our class time to it.”

In conclusion, the school-wide effort to improving homework guidelines for students has been moving forward. Not only does the student body feel that homework is a problem, but so do the teachers. Not one teacher in the discussion argued that the overall homework students are given is appropriate and should be continued. Everyone is on the same page for better homework conditions, and this should bring hope to students and teachers alike.

The next steps will be interesting. KIS administration and staff will continue to seek solutions to the problem, while students will have the mission of truthfully filling out a follow-up survey on homework to give a more in-depth understanding. Let’s hope for the best.