How Do You Feel About Homework?

I’ve been thinking a lot about homework lately.  This is partly because my daughter begins high school today, and one of her teachers has already assured us that there will be lots of homework assigned in her class.

When I was a 5th grade teacher, I assigned homework every night. My goal was to teach responsibility because I had heard the middle school did the same.  I didn’t worry about whether or not the homework was meaningful or how it might impact the students who had home environments and/or schedules that weren’t conducive to doing school work every day.

When my child entered grade school, homework began almost as a game.  They received packets at the beginning of the week with bingo pages that allowed them to choose any 3 homework activities in a row to turn in on Friday.  My daughter was so excited that she insisted on doing every single activity each week.

That didn’t last.

My least favorite assignments were the ones that required parent participation.  We would have to cut out game pieces and make boards and then I had to try to pretend that it was exciting to practice my multiplication tables while I simultaneously attempted not to crush my daughter’s spirit by excelling at the game.

If I ever taught 5th grade again, I would not assign mandatory homework.  First of all, I’m lazy.  It takes a lot of time to explain homework assignments, collect them and record who did them, and delve out consequences to the ones who didn’t.  Secondly (and I realize this should be the first reason, but I’m just being honest), I really don’t think it teaches very much to the students who need practice the most.

I’ve read a few articles like this one that seem to support that homework shouldn’t be assigned, at least at the elementary level. This school in Massachusetts, which is banning homework for the next year, seems to agree.  (Full disclosure, they have lengthened their school day as well.)

In this hilarious video from the Huffington Post, you can see what happens when a middle schooler tries to get some adult help on math homework.

I get it.  Sometimes homework is important – particularly in secondary school.  But it’s intention should be to support learning – not to teach responsibility (and it should never be used to introduce a concept.)   One of the teachers I follow on Twitter (@alicekeeler) suggests that students be given a sampling of math problems to do, and then the choice to get feedback on whichever three they would like.  This, in my opinion, makes homework about what the student needs, instead of drill and kill.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about homework in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “How Do You Feel About Homework?”

  1. Terri, some of my cohorts who teach math read MATHEMATICAL MINDSETS by Jo Boaler this summer. It talks about those few math problems and then REFLECTION afterwards (not marks/grades). I don’t teach math, but I’ve always thought homework was best reserved for math and foreign language – as long as the kids were practicing the concepts or words CORRECTLY. One of the big problems with homework is kids could be practicing it the wrong way! YIKES! “Practice makes permanent!” Anyway, I give “read for at least 20 min” for homework, and sometimes I change it to “write” or “research” or “talk to parents,” etc. I never collect or grade homework anymore. My reasons explained to parents are here: Thanks for this post – I LOVED the moms trying to help with math!

    1. I need to read that book. I’m a big fan of Dr. Boaler. That’s a very good point about practicing it the wrong way – especially in the upper grades when it’s sometimes harder for parents to help. I like your homework philosophy, and thanks for your comment!

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