Education, K-12

How to Stop Giving Meaningless Homework

It was about this time last year when I gave my opinion about homework.  To summarize briefly, I think that many homework assignments are a waste of time for the student, teacher, and parents.  I feel that it’s okay for me to criticize homework because I’ve seen it from all three sides.  I used to feel righteous as a teacher when I assigned homework to my 5th graders, but I now realize that a little self-reflection would have shown me that it did not in any way improve the learning success of my students.  If anything, it created more friction in my classroom as I became increasingly frustrated with students who repeatedly didn’t complete it – and my students became increasingly frustrated with my inexplicable need for them to live up to my controlling expectations.  As this article states, homework in elementary school has been shown to have no positive impact, but can very well contribute to negative attitudes toward school.

Many top educators, such as Alice Keeler (co-author of Ditch That Homework, along with Matt Miller), and Pernille Ripp, advocate for eliminating homework.  I have been seeing more and more articles like this one from the Huffington Post about teachers, and even entire school districts, who have determined that they will no longer assign homework. It’s becoming apparent that the appeal of homework is shrinking, particularly for those who want to reform education in a way that is more student-centered and relevant.

I don’t like extremes, so I imagine that if we eliminate homework altogether the pendulum will eventually swing in the other direction.  My feeling is that, if you are going to give homework, please make it meaningful.  Consider the different abilities of your students, the different ways they spend their time after school, and the different levels of support they receive at home.

I know many of the reasons that I used to give for the “necessity” of homework, so I made an infographic to help those of you who find it difficult to let go.  As you think about what is best for your students this school year, I hope that you will consider spending more time on finding ways to connect with your students and advance their learning than on chasing after incomplete work.

Homework Alternatives (1).jpg


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!