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DHS Homework: A tale of two perspectives

Seniors Jaqueline Ferreira and Maria Grisotto “work” on their homework.

Mary Bancroft

Seniors Jaqueline Ferreira and Maria Grisotto “work” on their homework.

By Mary Bancroft, Dartmouth High School

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Senior Jaqueline Ferreira spends an average of four hours per night on her homework. Upon arriving home, she takes a nap and then hits the books. Depending on how many breaks she takes, the process can take five or six hours. She is taking a mix of honors and AP classes, as she did last year, but has noticed that with the new schedule, homework takes a lot of more time.

She is not alone. The reports of more homework under the new schedule have sparked discussions on the amount of homework and its purpose. Principal Ross Thibault and Associate Principal Rachel Chavier held focus groups to examine the issue, while English Teacher Wilbur Higgins surveyed students and teachers alike.

The survey, answered by 50 teachers and 830 students, highlighted some key differences in students’ and teachers’ perceptions of homework. Fifty-six percent of teachers said they assign an average of 15 minutes of homework per night. If a student is taking five academic classes, this would total an hour and fifteen minutes each night. However, 38% of students reported spending about 30 minutes per class and 23% reported spending 45 minutes. For five academic classes, this equates to 2.5 and 3.75 hours of homework per night or two to three times more than teachers believed.

The amount of homework I have each night has definitely increased a lot.”

— Sophomore Faith Medeiros

Sophomore Faith Medeiros, who spends about 2.5 hours per night on homework, noticed a change since last year. “The amount of homework I have each night has definitely increased a lot,” she said. “Last year with the four block schedule, I found the workload a lot less stressful and easier to manage.” She is taking mostly honors classes.

Physics Teacher Jason Colvin has cut down the homework he assigns his students to about 15 minutes per night. “I can’t give a half hour per night. That would be obnoxious,” he said. “There’re not four classes anymore and some teachers give more than a half hour. I believe homework is necessary, but overdoing it is not.”

The survey also raised questions about the value of homework. While around half of teachers and students answered that their homework had some value, only 25% of students reported that their homework taught college readiness, time management, and self-discipline, as opposed to 80% of teachers.

As to whether he found his homework to serve a purpose, junior Will Martin said, “H*** no. Because it’s completely useless. It’s just busywork. My teacher doesn’t even grade it. They just look to see if you did it.”

US History Teacher Douglas Bedard believes homework can be valuable for reasons other than a grade.  He said, “I think that homework serves a vital function in helping to reinforce materials covered. For a rigorous course, I would say it is necessary.”

The survey highlighted this difference: 82% of teachers said they discussed the value of their homework with their students, while only 54% of students agreed.

Mr. Thibault would like to change these results. “My biggest concern was how many students lack clarity about why they’re being asked to do their homework,” he said. “We’re going to work relentlessly to help our faculty bridge that disconnect. Teachers give homework because they believe it enhances learning, but we need to make that clear to students.”

Aside from the value of homework, student and teacher perspectives differed on cheating. Two-thirds of teachers said that 10 or 25% of students cheated on homework. On the other hand, 64% of students estimated that 75 or 50% of their classmates were cheating.

Most students interviewed that admitted to cheating said they copy answers online. Doing so helps one understand the material they are confused with, said one senior. “When I don’t understand a math problem, I copy it from Slader [a site that provides answers to textbook problems], and then I try to understand how they did it. I’d rather come into class with something that I copied but now understand than a blank piece of paper. Homework is useful because I can cheat on it,” the student said. “Basically, I use my resources but it’s considered cheating. Better I cheat off the Internet than other people because other people are usually dumb and wrong.”

Chemistry Teacher Douglas Smith prefers incorrect answers to copied ones. He said, “Writing down the answer just to have it done is short circuiting the point of the homework. The point of the homework is to give an idea of where you are. If a student says to me, ‘I tried but I got them all wrong’ then they get the credit, and we can find out where they went wrong.”

Another senior reported cheating because of the shorter periods not allowing teachers enough time to finish the lesson, especially in math-based classes. “With the lack of class time, teachers then give more homework in order for students to essentially learn at home. Then, there’s not enough time in class to go over it, so I don’t really understand,” the student said.

Mr. Thibault and Ms. Chavier noted this issue being a reccuring theme of the focus groups. “I think this was done with the teachers’ panic of not getting through what they had at the same time last year,” Mr. Thibault said. “I think as we move on and teachers realize they have a lot more time, people will start to make adjustments.”

Mr. Thibault said that he has done the math for teachers to show them how much time they have. He also is working to adapt homework to the new schedule with bi-weekly teacher meetings, continued conversations with the student focus groups, Friday Focus memos, and a discussion about the survey results at a faculty meeting.

This first year with the new schedule will be the hardest, according to Mr. Thibault. “We’re already using the feedback to talk with lead teachers about how to adjust. If we don’t adjust the practices, nothing is going to change,” he said. “We are a community. It’s a transition. It’s a work in progress.  Everyone involved needs to take a deep breath and understand that we’re all in this together, and it’s expected that we’re gonna have bumps.”

The survey also addressed a pressing question: Is cereal a soup? On this, 84% of teachers and 72% of students agreed: the answer is no.

This story was originally published on The Spectrum on December 20, 2018.

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