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People love to talk about “what the research” says about homework. And there’s mountains of it out there that I encourage you to look through if you’re interested, though little of it is positive. Today, I’m not going to discuss what the research says, just my own experiences. Call it “action research” if you will. I’ve been in the classroom for 10 years…and haven’t given a traditional homework assignment in at least six. Here’s why:
1. The only thing homework shows me is which students have support at home. While attending AMLE 2014 in Nashville, I attended Rick Wormeli’s session on homework. He cited a book by Alfie Kohn, who quoted within it a woman named Deborah Meier as saying “If we sat around and deliberately tried to come up with a way to further enlarge the achievement gap, we might just invent homework.” We imagine “support at home” to be mom sitting down at the kitchen table to help junior but for many the “support” they’re lacking is really just “opportunity”. For example, if my At-Risk students are working jobs after school to provide for the family, taking care of siblings, hungry, or living in an unsafe environment, homework is the least of their concerns. For most of my students, being home is work enough. Homework is the least of their priorities. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Homework wasn’t on the list.
2. I’ve always felt like it does more harm than good to relationships. A few parents seem upset with me every year for not assigning more homework. Far more appreciate not having to go through the nightly battle. Others have neither opinion, because they’re not around enough nor inclined to care. Furthermore, I go out of my way to ensure that my students like me, or at least think I’m “Cool….for a teacher.” The last thing I want to do is give them a reason not to. Obviously I want them to appreciate that I make them work hard and grow as a person, but I think I can do that in a more efficient, less destructive way than assigning nightly homework that may not improve learning at all.
3. I don’t want to prepare it, or grade it. I just don’t see the amount of additional learning my students get with homework justifying the additional time it takes me to create it. To make it meaningful and relevant takes time, and that’s just something few teachers have much of. I work to make sure my regular classroom time is spent on quality assignments and I work even harder to try and provide feedback on those assignments. That’s not easy. So while I respect that “extending the school day” should theoretically extend student learning, that’s only true if teachers are willing to further extend themselves to ensure that homework is of high enough quality AND if they’re committed to providing feedback on these additional assignments. I’m exhausted from ringing out the awesome sponge from 7:30 – 4:30….extending the day is something I work to avoid. Work smarter, not harder Edunators. You can’t be willing to extend their school day unless you’re willing to extend your own.
4. I never really know who did the assignment. Even if the assignments are completed, I never really know by whom. In my first three years of teaching I can recall at least four instances in which I know parents or older siblings had completed the assignments instead of my student. And this doesn’t consider the countless times I’m sure students copied assignments from classmates before class.
5. Homework is rarely completed at home, anyway. I understand the basic logic of extending the school day, but particularly with middle school or high school students, homework is rarely completed at home. Often, it’s completed in other classes once their work is finished (or instead of completing that work) and it’s also frequently completed in “study halls”. So…let me get this straight: We’re creating classes in our master schedules specifically so that students can complete work that we assigned to be completed outside of school so as to extend classroom learning? Why not eliminate the “study hall” from our schedule, add that time to the regular classes and “extend learning” that way?
6. It unfairly punishes students who are the most involved in school activities. We generally like for our kids to be involved in extra-curricular activities. Sports, fine arts, clubs and school organizations can be vital parts in a student’s life and learning. But the more involved a student is before an after school, the harder it is to find time to complete homework. Do we really want kids to NOT join a team or club because they’re worried about not being able to complete homework? And this doesn’t even consider kids who have to work after school…either to have money for their own cars and dates or to provide for their families. The more a kid does outside school….the more of nuisance homework is.
7. Even positive family environments are rarely conducive to academic learning. I once had a student, a strong one at that, tell me she’d completed last night’s homework. That day, we were doing oral defense – a sure fire way to make sure students are genuinely learning material. I asked her “List three precedents set by George Washington.” She couldn’t. I handed her back her assignment and said “its question #3 on last night’s homework.” When she balked at re-doing the assignment I asked her when she did the homework. After the conversation, I learned that she had done the assignment while sitting in front of a TV, while texting on her phone, while listening to an iPod, while her brothers and sisters ran around and Mom and Dad argued about what’s for dinner. She’d completed the assignment….and learned nothing. I’m not proud of that question, or the assignment (I was young) and I hadn’t yet realized I was focusing on one of the two things teachers focus on most…instead of learning. I might point out that this is actually a far better environment than many of our students face when they go home, yet it’s still not conducive to learning.
8. It doesn’t “prepare kids for the next level” or the “real world”. While it’s true colleges and the work place often require extensive work be done from home, this is rarely in the form of daily assignments. In fact, according to Wormeli, most teachers of high school seniors(and even fewer college professors) rarely assign homework or collect daily assignments. If we want to prepare kids for the real world, we should give them assignments they can take pride in, material they care about and inspire them to push themselves beyond what they believe capable. Intrinsic motivation is the reason most people finish college or work overtime from home (see Daniel Pink’s “Drive”). In the real world, most people go to work, do their job, go home and take care of their families. Those who work extra do so to get ahead, or because the job requires it, but my boss doesn’t give me homework….she gives me a job to do. And if that involves working from home sometimes in order to do it well, so be it. School learning should aim for the same goal, when possible.
9. Technology Makes Homework More Useful….If They Have It. The “flipped classroom” model is one I’ve experimented a bit with, but there’s a significant technology gap (ie, income) in my community. For those able to use technology to watch videos, listen to podcasts or complete online assignments, homework can be useful. However, for those who can’t, it’s another hurdle for us to overcome and a reminder to them of what they don’t have. The next day, I have many students who’ve completed the assignment…and others who haven’t. This widens the achievement gap (see #1) but it also increases my work load and places a heavier burden on students who need a lighter load, not a heavier one.
10. How do I grade it? So many of my students can’t do it because their home life is a mess, many more can’t because their home life is awesome but they’re excessively involved in extra-curriculars, and when the assignments are completed I have no way of knowing if in fact they did it themselves. So…what do I do with it? If you’ve read my Audit Your Gradebook or Poor Man’s Excuse for Standards Referenced Grading piece you’ll know that I value the integrity of my gradebook and don’t want it tainted with completion points or other things merely reflecting compliance. This means I need students to treat it as an opportunity to improve their learning….to want to get better at an objective….to do the homework WITHOUT a grade attached. That can be done, but if my students were ever so self-directed in their own learning that they’d work from home without any reward or coercion on my part, then what I’m doing is no longer “traditional” homework and I don’t need to “assign” it anyway.
Still not convinced? Check out 10 Way to Improve Your Homework.
Looking for something to spend your time on instead of planning and grading homework? Check out these great ideas from Edunators.