All of us work hard every day. If the work is authentic it is engaging and motivates us to persist. If not, the hours drag on and classic burn out symptoms occur.
More of the same in the form of homework just adds to the frustration and fatigue. What to do?
First of all, turn to the standards. They are asking teachers to teach students to prepare "...for a range of conversations and collaborations..." (Speaking and Listening Standard 1). This standard opens the door to many authentic opportunities for real preparation for the next day's work.
While we are thinking in that vane, banish the term! No one likes it; it has a terrible reputation, probably deserved in some circles. By referring to preparation and making it truly necessary for participation in the following day's instructional activities, we reinvent tasks, making them vital to the work of the community.
The standards require that we teach students "...to ask and answer questions" (Reading Standard 1). All of us prefer choice and creativity. Human learners are goal-oriented. Reading a chapter of something that will be discussed the next day and preparing comments and a questions to bring to the discourse is important and creative work.
The standards require that students write routinely for a variety of tasks (Writing Standard 10). Researching an Internet site and culling a couple of important ideas from it to add to the knowledge of a small group project, means that my peers are depending on me for that contribution. Adding to a Voicethread or Blog in support of group work or written communication provides the reflection time that students often don't experience in a hectic school day.
Experiments that do not need complicated materials but may involve close observation and reporting engage the learner in real and independent learning; "Conduct short research projects..." (Writing Standard 7). The 2011 standards provide many opportunities to reinvent the work we do with students in the classroom as well as outside of it.
Action research: try this idea out between now and the end of the school year. Make it preparation, not homework. Make it real by truly making it count for the next day's work. Make it creative, provide some choices, make it something that is really better accomplished outside of the school day. When I reinvented homework in this way, it made my life and my students lives happier and far more productive.
By the way, this is not an April Fools' Day prank!