March 25, 2014 by

It Takes Bravery to Let Go of Homework

Cathy Vatterott expands on her discussion of “Student-Owned Homework,” which appears in the March 2014 issue of Educational Leadership.

Educational Leadership Leap and the Net Will AppearRecently, my 20-something son moved to Chicago with no job and only a friend’s couch to sleep on. I worried out loud: “How will you find a job and an apartment? How will you get your furniture there?” In a very kind way, he let me know that I was trying to micromanage his life. The hardest part of parenting is letting go. Teaching is no different.

If we want our students to grow intellectually, we have to get out of their heads. Sometimes our voice is so loud, they can’t hear themselves think, let alone strategize how to best approach learning. They don’t trust themselves to control their own learning because we’ve never really let them—especially when it comes to homework.

We often require everyone to complete the same homework, perhaps because we believe our tasks are infallible—that reading, that worksheet, those problems will result in the learning we desire. Letting go of homework means allowing students to choose the task that will best help them understand, practice, or apply their learning. It also means letting them determine what amount of practice or study (if any) is necessary to achieve mastery. As students self-diagnose their homework needs, miscalculations will occur. Failing some formative or summative assessments may be a painful but necessary step in the process.

A wise teacher once said, “I never heard of a child not doing his work. It’s our work he’s not doing.” If we want students to take charge of learning, we must trust them to do so. A leap of faith? Definitely. So is giving a teenager the car keys, or keeping quiet while your son finds a job, an apartment, and a mover in a town 300 miles away. Leap and the net will appear.