Clarinet Want Better Students?  Get Rid Of The Homework!

Read this posting with an open mind.  The ideas that I am throwing out here may seem downright absurd.  Some of the thoughts I have spelled out here scare even me.  But what if they are right?

One of the hardest things for a music student to do is to learn how to balance their teacher's request for regular practice with the homework given them by their other teachers. At the same time, the national trend seems to lean toward heavier and heavier core homework assignments, leaving some students to spend as many as two to three hours each evening doing written assignments.  On top of this homework even more time is taken up with sports, clubs, and other extra-curricular activities that are the essence of what being a kid is all about.  The end result of having all these obligations leads to the student having very little time to spend with their families, let along having time to practice outside of the normal band rehearsal and/or private lesson time.  There are those in our classrooms that do find the time to practice, but they are often the exception rather than the rule. Yet at the same time music programs across the nation continue to produce highly capable ensembles.   Doesn't this seem strange?

This point brings up an interesting question about our schools in general.  If students can be successful in such an abstract class as band or choir using little more than the class time they get each day, could other curricular subjects also accomplish the same goals without giving homework?

This whole train of thought came up recently as I was researching the subject of balancing homework and practice time.  Along the way I came across  a very interesting article published by Gary Stager he attempts to build the case for doing away with homework in our schools in favor of allowing our kids to be kids again.  In his article he speaks of his visits to Australia where students rank high above us in many areas, yet have no homework to speak of.  Evenings are filled with family activities, in a seemingly idyllic setting.  He contrasts this fact with the statement that in the United States "Homework is [...] a form of surveillance designed to ensure that the first priority of childhood is to comply with the demands of school."

As a parent with three young children I am already being faced with a lack of time to simply play and have family time with my kids.   I can only imagine what lies around the corner when they enter middle school.

Get rid of all mandatory homework and practice time.  

Notice I didn't say ALL practice time.  A teacher could suggest practicing more at home, but not require it nor work it into the student's grade.  This seems a scary proposition, especially coming from a band director who traditionally required two hours of practice each week.  Could it work?  Could requiring less of a student actually make him more likely to succeed in my ensemble? Perhaps so, but it flies in the face of everything I have ever been taught or experienced.  If I am a good teacher and have an adequate amount of class time and private lessons I could make it work.  In turn my students might want to practice more simply because they love music again instead of being prodded each week under threat of a lowered grade.  It's something to think about, but the first step is always the hardest.  And changing the way you look at teaching is a big first step.

I'd be very interested to see what other band directors and music educators might have to say about this topic.  Please feel free to start or join in the discussion!

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