Homework Questions: In Search of the Answer Key

Every hour of the school day, a number of students hustle into my classroom, focused, and eager to get to work. Before the bell rings to indicate the start of my class, students are already invested in their studies. Backpacks are open, paperwork out, and pencils urgently filling in blanks. I don’t even have to provide motivation or verbal cues. My students are great kids. They seek approval from parents and teachers. They have positive intentions toward success and a sincere desire to please.

What’s my secret?

The work is not for my English class. It is incomplete homework assigned yesterday in other courses. The assignment did not get done at home and now it’s crunch time. It will be checked next hour. With punitive consequences looming, desperation takes over. The work is completed using any means possible. Our kids are resourceful problem solvers.

I had to know more. This week, during my daily check-in from table to table, I collected some informal research. My learners know I respect them and value their voice. They trust me and reward my passion for education with honest feedback.

I asked, “What percentage of daily work homework assignments are copied?”

Without hesitation, responses from freshmen, juniors, and seniors consistently ranged from 75-95 percent of homework is copied on a daily basis. Study guides, worksheets, daily work problems, vocabulary, busy work. The conversations continued…

Snap and share photos.
Text an answer.
Old-school copying of a peer’s work.
Older students donate (or sell) last year’s notes or lab book.
Answers can be found online. Actually, anything can be Googled.
There are group chats to exchange insights and provide appropriate support, but the temptation is always present—simply request the answers.  

Yes, some students use the availability of an answer key to check their work or see if they can determine how to solve a problem. They might take a shortcut by copying a study guide to surpass the tedious work before investing a genuine effort to study from it. The majority of students, particularly those taking Advanced Placement courses, acknowledged being accountable for the learning when it comes to a final exam. They also provided wisdom for teachers: stop giving the same tests year after year.

This scenario is not unique to my students, my classroom, nor my school. Collectively, do we continue to ignore reality or address the issue we have created? The problem should not become an interrogation of the character and integrity of our kids. Rather, let’s question the message our learning communities—established by educated adults—communicate to stakeholders.

Speaking of stakeholders, parents would be disappointed if they knew what was taking place, right?

Nope. “Our parents only care about grades.” Collective nodding from everyone within earshot. “They don’t ask about our learning.”

Another student agreed, “As long as I’m getting good grades, my parents are happy.” Sad…

Rather than respond with parental commentary, I turn to logic for clarity.

  • Not all of our students have the same level of support and resources at home.
  • Kids are busy.
  • After school time is limited.
  • We promote involvement in extracurricular activities.
  • Many teens have jobs.
  • A task assigned by a teacher is not likely to be an adolescent’s priority.
  • When a shortcut or instant gratification is available, many seize the opportunity.
  • Everyone deserves time for family, recreation, and relaxation outside of school or the workplace.

Don’t get me wrong. Learning may take place beyond the boundaries of my classroom. Some learners prefer to process work in their home environment. They explore, read, investigate, craft, rehearse, and practice on their own terms. However, homework stops being practice as soon as it is counted in the academic grade. Completion of homework is a behavior (although NOT a behavior that teaches responsibility) and should be separated from achievement. But grading is a topic for a longer post.

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Let’s honor learning with respectful tasks. Before announcing the next homework assignment, pause and ask:

  • What is the purpose of the assignment?
  • Can another student create the same response?
  • Can anyone Google it?
  • Can it be answered without thought?
  • Is this something we could complete in class?

We have to face the reality of a culture that rewards compliance with points and values grades over learning. Students will play the system. If we do not reconsider our current homework practices, we are better served celebrating students’ ingenuity to network, manage time, and utilize resources.



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