Santino was sitting on the couch with his brick-heavy history book on his lap. "Wow, Hawaii is closer to Australia than I thought." "Hmmmm?" I said, barely listening. "Wait--what I really mean is Oceania. This is Oceania." (holds up book) "Really?" I muttered, "...interesting." "Oh, and here's Guam! So that's where Guam is." I barely paid attention to him as he gave me updates on his travels through the Pacific.
And then came the thunderbolt.
"Oh my god, Mom," he said, "I've been sitting here reading my history book for fun. And NOW I've got to do my homework."
His homework is a nine-square grid describing the characteristics of the Lutheran, Calvin, and Anglican religions. The graphic organizer he used was straightforward, I suppose, but kind of, well, boring. I sighed in empathy. "Don't worry, Mom, this is easy." He knocked out the "community," "rituals," and "salvation" sections of the Lutheran church in about five minutes. "There!" he said, "I'm one third done! See Mom, it's not so bad. I can do this really fast."
"Fast" certainly describes how he did his homework. He didn't put much thought into it, although I imagine he didn't need to--he basically remembers everything he hears or reads, so filling out the chart was fairly easy for him. But completing the chart was just a formality. He already knew the material. What was the purpose of this homework anyway? Probably a chance to "practice" what he had learned in school so he would remember. Well, in Santino's case that isn't necessary because he has that gift of memory. But I imagine many of the other kids in his class might have needed that extra practice.
A more appropriate homework assignment for him might be--tell us something you didn't know about the Lutheran (or Calvin, or Anglican) church. Then he will get online, surf around, and have some fun on the way to learning something new.
I'd like to be able to say to my students--for homework I want you to learn something new and then tell us about it tomorrow. But I don't know if that will fly with my kids, especially fourth graders who need more structure. Also I think it might be confusing for some of our families who come to expect those predictable worksheets for homework.
As we wind down to the end of the year, I find myself less enthusiastic about assigning homework than usual--and my enthusiasm was fairly low to begin with. As my kids take their yearly tests this week, I know that I've done my job teaching them what they need to know. What's the purpose of homework this late in the year?
But I digress. Santino's finished with his homework (as I'm writing this). How do I know?
"Hey Mom, is it possible to swim from Japan to the mainland?" His nose in his book, he's found something fun to think about again.