Students and Teachers Stand Divided Over “Busywork”

By Clara Kobashigawa, News Editor

   More often than not, as you walk down the hallways of Acalanes, you can hear students complaining about homework, stress, and school in general. Though there have been attempts to reduce stress at Acalanes, students still feel bombarded with homework and anxiety. 

   This is the tip of an iceberg related to a sprawling gap over length and meaning of homework. According to the Stanford Challenge Success Survey, only 25.9 percent of Acalanes students strongly agree or agree that homework is meaningful. Teachers, on the other hand, have completely different views on homework. Around 82.3 percent of teachers believe that their homework is meaningful. This drastic difference of opinions between faculty and students divides students and teachers along a line that is central to the purpose of education when it comes to students’ learning.

   Around 74.1 percent of students do not see homework as meaningful. Instead, they believe that it is often busywork. Junior Isobel Whitehead defines busywork as ineffective work.

   “Busywork, in my opinion, is usually work assigned that is very cumbersome and time-consuming without offering much of a deeper understanding,” Whitehead said.

   According to junior Ben Bequette, busywork may lack an academic purpose.

   “I define busywork as work that serves no academic purposes and is used solely as a time-filler. An example of busywork would be math problems reinforcing a concept that the teacher has seen that the students already understand,” Bequette said.

   Though teachers have drastically different views on homework, they define busywork similarly to students. According to history teacher Jed Morrow, busywork is a time-consuming, off-topic assignment.

   “Busywork is extraneous homework assignments or class work that takes time and is relatively or completely unrelated to the learning objectives,” Morrow said.

   Sophomore Carla Kraszyk believes that although teachers assign homework with the hopes that students will benefit from it, that is not always the case.

   “Homework has good intentions, but a lot of the teachers assign things that they don’t even teach and they expect you to figure it out on your own with no help at all,” Kraszyk said. “I have homework that I don’t feel is useful at all and just takes away time from my personal life.”

   Ed. D. Superintendent John Nickerson believes that teachers need to reevaluate the homework they assign.

   “I think as educators we need to do a better job of critically looking at our assignments to make sure that there is a real purpose to supporting and reinforcing learning, and to communicate that purpose,” Nickerson said.

   Associate Superintendent Aida Glimme sees both perspectives of this ongoing debate. She believes that teachers need to examine the importance and length of their assignments, while students must be more open to homework.

   “I think our teachers should look at what our students are considering [busywork] or why they feel that that is meaningless work, and see if there is anything to it,” Glimme said. “There are times where our students don’t necessarily see a long term value, while the teachers who have been there understand that doing this will help you in the long run.”

   Though many students believe that homework at Acalanes has consisted of busywork, others believe that it isn’t a big issue.

   “I think the prevalence of busywork is largely overblown because most assigned work does actually aid comprehension,” Bequette said.

   Teachers from all subjects agree their homework assignments as meaningful. English teacher Ken Derr believes that although English drastically differs from math, all teachers, no matter the subject, try to avoid busywork.

   “I think we have made a concerted effort to pay close attention to the homework we assign and to make sure it is meaningful,” Derr said. 

   Math teacher Misha Buchel agrees with Derr and believes that though teachers are not always perfect, the intention of most assignments is to teach to the curriculum.

   “I think teachers here generally try to give homework that is meaningful, that is enough that gives the practice that is necessary and isn’t hours and hours of drudgery,” Buchel said. “Generally speaking, I think teachers have a bigger picture view than a student does when they are thinking about a class one hour a day than a year’s work.”

   Only 23 percent of students believe homework is reasonable in length, according to the Challenge Success survey, which intersects with too much busywork and creates a recipe for disaster.

   Spanish teacher Betsy Holland believes that with a language, students in advanced levels receive less homework. This means that the more advanced languages have a smaller chance of receiving busywork because each assignment is carefully thought out and planned.

   “Lower level languages need daily practices to reinforce what they learn, while in the more advanced classes we try to spread out the homework assignment over a couple nights or give projects so students can manage their work,” Holland said.

   However, many upperclassman believe that they used to receive busywork but as their course load became more challenging, the amount of busywork began to dwindle down.

   “When I was an underclassmen, a decent amount of my homework was busywork, whereas now, as a junior that takes some Advance Placement (AP) and Honors classes, my homework is not busywork,” junior Hur-Ali Rizvi said.

   Whitehead believes that teachers expect more from their students as they get older.

   “I think that I used to get more busywork, but now that I’m in harder classes, all work is helpful. It might have something to do with what teachers in the higher classes think the students should be capable of completing,” Whitehead said. 

   Science teacher Jan Heaton tries to avoid assigning homework all together in her classes.

   “I have juniors and seniors and they have jam-packed schedules so I want to give them time to do it,” Heaton said. “I think I am really good at trying to assign students in the right direction over the years and I try to keep those lines of communication open.”

   According to Nickerson, there is definitely a benefit to doing more work in class than at home for homework.

   “Part of the art of teaching is determining what work is done in class and what work is done at home. In class there is more guidance, more support, peers to interact with, and in theory there should be much more learning in class,” Nickerson said. “The homework should reinforce what was taught in the day, cause additional reflection on the learning, or introduce new learning.”

   Principal Travis Bell believes that a compromise will benefit both parties. 

   “You have students who need to recognize the value of homework, and you have teachers who probably need to do some self-reflection on what homework they are assigning,” Bell said.

   One thing is for certain: there should be greater communication between students and faculty members. Whitehead believes that by being informed on the purpose of the assignment is important.

   “Teachers should put more effort into explanations and particularly into practice before they send us on our merry ways,” Whitehead said.

   Bell believes that by teachers clarifying what they expect from students and students learning to accept the value in homework, both parties will benefit.

   “Teachers need to do some work on clarifying why they are assigning the homework so students can understand it, and on the students’ end it’s working with them and talking about the data that supports that work at home can help retain information discussed in class,” Bell said.

   A compromise can be met between the two groups by improving communication.

   “I think teachers could do a better job at explaining why homework is important and not a mindless tasks. Maybe a little bit more communication with students,” Holland said.

   However, with the aid of block scheduling, hopefully there will soon be a solution to the great divide over busywork.

   “I think that things can be a slow process, but the staff and the school are open to having these conversations to make homework more meaningful for students,” Bell said.

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