“Mom, I’ve had 426 assignments since the school year started…”
Before I’m an educator, I’m a mother and that sentence stopped me in my tracks as I unpacked my bag from the workday.
I tried to do a bit of quick mental math to compute an average number of assignments for the six classes because, just as I am a mother, I am also an educator. In that moment, I began to divide my mind and feelings like I have many times before, to try to rationalize a decision made by my daughter’s teachers or administration team in an effort to see things from an “educator’s lens.”
“You must mean 426 posts in Google Classroom, that’s different, lovebug.”
“No. Assignments. See? And that’s not counting this week or the one’s scheduled.”
I’m honored to be an Instructional Coach for K–8 grade teachers, where the scope of my work doesn’t lie purely in the instructional strategies and the pedagogy of teaching, alignment of instruction to assessments and the foundations of multi-tiered supports. I am also committed to the social and emotional needs of the students I (indirectly) serve, ensuring the essence of learning is also contextualized to the climate of our today.
I’m not certain how many times I’ve had the conversation with the teachers I coach regarding quality over quantity. Alignment and purpose. Connection of assignments to the real-world, where students are applying knowledge in a way that is sustainable, practical and purposeful. Not to mention culturally relevant.
As I stood in front of my daughter, all of the questions I had (and would have had for her teachers) began to show on my face, for I may not have been certain about how many assignments that averaged to for six classes in less than 100 school days, however, what I was certain about was HOW my daughter felt about the 426 assignments and the many struggles we’ve had learning remotely.
In times past, my daughter had exclaimed, “These teachers drop assignments like bad albums.” I chalked it up to teenage pouting—where everything is the worst thing on Earth. But given the amount of time I’d been seeing her spend on homework assignments, the fatigue and the anxiety that I have witnessed in the last few months of school, I immediately felt convicted for the many times I told her about how this builds her endurance and grit.
This term we’ve coined to assuage ourselves in building up the energy to push through obstacles and barriers that may exist—many times ignoring the combination of BOTH passion and perseverance. These 426 assignments weren’t a demonstration of grit or endurance, for either of those don’t result in a diminished self-worth, lowered self-efficacy and a feeling of wasted time and effort.
In the seconds that it took for me to process what I had just heard, my daughter added another bomb.
“… and I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything …”
Perception is reality. And while I could begin to try to explain all the ways in which she has probably learned, I realized that wasn’t my job. My daughter needed me to be her mother who was an educator—one who could use my dual lens to identify the imbalance of compliance and learning and do something about it.
And I did just that.
Our conversation resulted in a district and school meeting to advocate for the adjustments of plans and assignments, with focus on the quality of instruction and assignments. I provided recommendations and shed light on the short and long-term effects of the school’s instructional/homework practices on confidence and social-emotional development.
I recognize that while everyone does have a call-to-action as it relates to their children and the school (educational system), I operate in a space of privilege, being an educator myself. I understand the school lingo, the state guidance for remote learning and the many ways innovation can be leveraged in remote learning. Thus, in that moment and this one, I advocate for my own daughter, and all the other children who are trying to keep afloat in the middle of a pandemic, being given over 400 homework assignments in 5 months of school (roughly 20 assignments per week).
Below is the list of recommendations I shared with my daughter’s school.
- Be intentional and purposeful. Worksheet teaching is never a good practice. Unfortunately, that practice has continued virtually. When assigning homework to students, ensure there is alignment to standards and life–because we aren’t just teaching students according to what they should master in certain content, we’re providing tools that will allow them to master life. Turn math concepts into real-world problems that include skills related to financial literacy. Read current events and relevant informational texts to build critical thinking skills. Less is more–especially when it’s thought out, applicable and purposeful.
- Plan thematic units and projects that cross contents. Learning, like living, is not done in isolation. Plan projects and units that include multiple content areas, to deepen a student’s understanding of concepts and skills, while building schema and context around a topic or time period. Connection is key–find ways to connect student learning across disciplines, for it will also create collaborative professional learning spaces for students and teachers alike.
- Be innovative–Use the world as your classroom. This generation of students literally has the world at their fingertips. Use that to your advantage. Reduce lecturing and “practice” of content and increase the exploration of the world, whether right outside their window or from the fingertips. Find ways to reduce screen time for assignments and utilize cutting-edge edtech tools that engage students in new ways.
- This isn’t class as usual. One of the largest flaws present in this pandemic, which birthed remote learning, is the notion that we are doing school as usual—just online. When administrations, schools, and teachers don’t think outside the
boxbuilding regarding education during this time, it results in sub-par teaching practices and an overload of homework to compensate. There are many educators and teachers who are flourishing in this environment because they have found immense opportunity in this time, where they can connect with students in a different way. Some students are thriving as well, for traditional educational practices weren’t effective for them. This is also a great time for educators and schools to implement personalized learning–to meet students where they are and provide them with what they need!
Whether you are a parent, an educator or an advocate for best practices in classrooms for all students, you can use the list to measure classrooms you encounter. And while 426 assignments may not be your “magical” number, what your child learns in relation to the assignments given is the true indicator.