APSI at San Gabriel Day 1: Is Homework Required for an AP Course?
To be honest, I wasn't entirely thrilled about a 4 day AP World History summer institute. I was worried it would be dry, content heavy, and would lack specific concepts and tools I could use in my class. I am incredibly happy to be proven totally wrong.
The speaker at APSI San Gabriel this year is Aaron Marsh and he has done an excellent job giving us a general view of the course while breaking up the day with activities we can use in our classroom right away that support the historical thinking skills we will need to develop in our students.
But what really struck me and what I can't stop thinking about is that he questioned the equity and value of homework in an AP course. I decided at the end of last year that I needed to eliminate homework as much as possible (even my flipped lectures) but then I found out I would be teaching AP World. I am thrilled to teach AP World, I love the content, I love the historical thinking skills, and I love the idea of apprentice historians in my classroom. It is exciting to offer students college level rigor in high school. But I hate the idea that I need to assign daily homework. I hate the idea of students reading dense college level textbooks on their own for hours at home, alone, with no supports.
I hate it because it seems like a wall keeping out students who do well in class but just can't do homework. I can only control the time they are in my room, once they walk out that door I can't control if they have work, or sports, or theater, or a desk at home, or a quiet place to get work done. So why am I assigning work that is important to their success in my class at a time that I cannot control?
During our seminar, Marsh did not state he had the answers, but he did ask some compelling questions that got us talking as a group about homework policies and purpose. Some of the questions we discussed included:
- Is homework equitable? By assigning heavy homework loads there are some students who just cannot succeed in these classes, is this because they are not at that level yet or is this because the practice of assigning homework does not consider what a student does outside of class (work, home life, etc).
- Does homework equal rigor? AP courses are supposed to get students to complete college level work but as was pointed out during this discussion, in college students meet in class maybe twice a week and usually only have 3-4 classes. College students have increased leisure time compared to high school students, time that is designed for students to read and work on assignments for their classes. In high school, students are in class 6 hours a day every day of the week and often have extra-curricular activities required of them. While we may want students aiming to read at a college level, is assigning the same amount of reading a college class would between classes really preparing students for the rigor of college? Or is there a better way to achieve rigor without homework?
- Do your students do homework? I taught summer school for the second time this summer and when I surveyed the students about why they were taking the course, those who were taking it because they had failed the class overwhelming listed homework completion as a major issue for them. Do I know for sure if they would have passed their classes without homework? No, of course not. But it raises the question again of the effectiveness of homework and if homework is equitable.
- And finally, if the majority of students aren't going to complete the homework is that the most effective use of your time and resources as a teacher?
So, is it possible? Can you teach an AP course (especially one covering all of human history) without assigning homework? I don't have the answer and I am nervous to try and find out during my first year of teaching AP World History but I appreciate having a presenter who is willing to question the norms for the sake of what is best for our students.
So, what do you think? Is homework a requirement for an AP Level course?
- Mrs. Byars