Homework surveys can affect workload in classes

At the end of every quarter, a pile of small white sheets of paper amasses atop Latin teacher Paul Chenier’s desk. The contents of these slips of papers, made all the more diminutive by the way students fold them out of some semblance of privacy and a vestigial protectiveness of their answers, Chenier knows, could potentionally have a large impact.

Chenier is the lone teacher of AP Latin, a course whose workload often has its students circling the “more than three hours a week” option on these homework surveys. And Chenier has taken this into account.

“I cut a lot,” Chenier said. “There has been a significant amount that’s been cut because of the surveys.”

It’s a fine line AP teachers like Chenier are forced to walk, though, with the ever-present storm cloud that is the AP exam looming over their heads from the day school starts to the day of the test in early May.

“There’s only so much you can cut because of the AP at the end of the year,” Chenier said. “We have very limited amounts of class meeting time compared to people that I meet when I go to conferences, and I wonder if the course is poor but I have to keep the homework way, way down.”

Students in the ninth through 12th grades have been surveyed quarterly since 2007, following a workload study done in 2006, Director of Studies Liz Resnick said.

Seventh and eighth graders were surveyed for the first time this month.  If, in a single class, more than half the students report doing more than the allotted three hours a week of homework, administrators ask the teacher to assign less homework.

“Harvard-Westlake takes these quite seriously, as those guidelines are in place for very good reasons, and teachers are expected to assign work within those parameters,” Resnick said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Upper School Dean Sharon Cuseo.

“I’ve seen [the surveys] have a big effect. AP Bio and AP U.S. History are probably the best examples of courses that responded to that and they have changed, and they have a much more manageable courseload,” Cuseo said.

And yet, the slips do not seem to be a tool often utilized by students.

“I kind of doubt that whatever anyone answers is really going to affect what happens,” Wendy Chen ’13 said. “They’re not going to change anything about our homework.”

Chen’s is a sentiment echoed by Sam Lyons ’13, who almost always circles the “approximately three hours” option, he said, because “that’s what they want me to do.”

“I really don’t think about it because honestly, it’s not going to affect me,” Lyons  said. “It’s not even really going to affect the next year. Most teachers I think just look at it and just go with it, so I really don’t put any thought into it.”

And while some students might disagree with Lyons’ method, they concur when it comes to the effectiveness of the surveys.

“I don’t think they change the homework load,” Audrey Wilson ’13 said. “But I try to think of a week-to-week basis and do an approximation.”

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