“9 more days til finals.” “14 more days til break.” Teachers and students alike are counting down the minutes until holiday break, ready for a rest from the stress and daily 5:30 am wake up calls. The break that kids have in mind involves lots of sleeping, hanging out with their friends, watching shows, spending time on their phones, and generally resting from the pressures of one thing: homework. Schools around the country are making the important decision over the next few weeks of whether to assign homework over winter break. Here’s my take: Students need a complete break from all school work, and teachers do as well. Why?
Breaks increase productivity and creativity
Teachers need to take a break over the holidays, if for no other reason than a break from lesson planning can lead to more creative ideas. Once you detach from the daily grind, you can spend time finding inspiration from the world again: things you read and see for fun, cultural traditions and events, and through conversations with family and friends. In addition, breaks increase productivity in the long run for students and teachers.
It creates space for pleasure reading
Ask high school students when they last read a book for fun, and many will name a junior high novel or a late elementary school book. This is not always because the student doesn’t “like” reading, or thinks their phone is more important. Often it’s because books have become another thing to study in English class, and not something to pursue on their own time. English teachers around the country have a unique opportunity to “assign” reading for pleasure, without the obligation to take notes, annotate, track pages, and other school-like tasks. Converse with the students who have decided to read when they return and you may be surprised by the authentic conversation that came with the opportunity to read for fun.
The final product isn’t worth it
Homework in general has come under fire in the past few years as not only unnecessary but possibly harmful. Harris Cooper writes in “ The Battle over Homework”: “Too much homework may diminish its effectiveness or even become counterproductive.” If this is the norm during the school year, we can infer that homework over winter break is going to be even less productive than normal, as students and their families are pursuing rest, relationship building activities, and preparing for the holidays. Let’s think ahead a few weeks to what type of essay, worksheet, or project quality you will receive in those early weeks of January.
Start fresh for renewed motivation
Some schools use the holiday break as a natural space between the two semesters, as finals have just ended for many high schools and quarter three begins in January. Students are well-aware that this break between quarters means you are not in the middle of a teaching unit, so assigned work can come off as extra or unnecessary busy work. They are called “finals,” after all, and students need a clean break between the successes or failures of the first semester and the second. Work assigned between the two may be given without much context (are you really going to be able to present a fresh unit on their way out for break to contextualize homework you are giving over break?).
It sends the wrong message about work/life balance
Assigning work over break tells students and families that you don’t value their time together, learning outside of the classroom, or cultural traditions. Most teachers don’t feel that way, so don’t let your potential zeal to make it through the curriculum map create that perception. Model balance yourself by talking to your students about your plans over break and asking about theirs. Discussing the power of sleep, exercise, breaks, and quality time with relatives both in this season and throughout the year might be the most important thing you teach them.
We’d love to hear—will you assign homework over winter break? Why or why not? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.