“…the more we learn about learning, the more willing we may be to challenge the idea that homework has to be part of schooling”
I remember my days in school when the bell would ring and the teacher would blurt out the homework for the next day. This work did very little to increase my learning and it often left me arguing with my mother, who happened to be a teacher, at the kitchen table about how to do the work correctly.
Lately I have seen a few blogs, newspaper articles, and journal articles (see below for links) questioning the purpose and practice of homework: Why do some teachers give homework and others do not? Why is homework given as a blanket assignment in which each child is given the same homework? What is effective homework? How much homework?
These questions, along with many others, led our staff (K-6) to discuss this topic at our last staff meeting. Here is a summary of our dialogue on the issue of homework:
- The teaching and learning of the specific outcomes should happen at school – with students, teachers, and staff to support. According to the research by Kohn, “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.” Students should not be sent home with homework that relies on parents, family members or tutors to provide instruction. If the student is not learning this at school, who do we expect to teach it? We also need to keep in mind that not all students have someone that can help them at home – how does homework benefit these students?
- Homework should be meaningful, relevant, and engaging. Students need to feel like they will benefit from the learning and feel they have ownership of the assignment. Student input about assignments can lead to a view that this is their learning, rather than the teacher’s assigned work to be done. Provide CHOICE; there are many ways that students can practice and/or demonstrate learning.
- Homework should be differentiated. We all agreed that the time per day rules/policies (ie. 20 minutes/day for grade 2, 30 min/day for grade 3, etc) do very little to support the individual students. A learning activity that takes one student 10 minutes may take another student 30 minutes. Each student requires learning that is catered to their needs – homework should be differentiated just as it is done during school.
- Homework should be flexible. Family time and play time are so important for students at any age! If a child is involved in activities on certain days and only has a small amount of time with the family that day, maybe homework can be given on a different day. Again, the learning activities need to keep the individual student in mind and we must respect students’ time. Is homework even necessary that day/week?
- Homework should not be part of the grade. Although grades are a topic for another post, one of the worst things we can do to a students is grade them on their learning at home (or worse, give them zeros for not completing homework). Reflect on how much parent involvement there is and how this impacts the homework and learning. Is a student going home to an environment that supports homework or is the student leaving school to look after his/her younger siblings or go to a part-time job to help support their family? Homework must be designed to support learning; the assessment OF learning needs to take place in class when the teacher is there to support.
- Reflect on the purpose of homework. If the students understands the learning outcomes, why do they need to spend more time on material they already understand; if the student does not understand the learning outcomes, how do we expect them to learn it at home? Is the homework “busy work” (ie. worksheets with 40 math questions, argh!) or is it going to actually enhance their learning? Is the particular assignment the BEST way to help the student learn? Is it necessary? Is this homework more important than being active and spending time with the family?
In addition, we often hear teachers and parents say that homework helps students to understand that in order to get ahead in the “real world”, you must do more and take responsibility for more. If we are relying on homework as the main way to teach responsibility, we are in trouble. Again, if a student goes home and has a parent that ensures their homework gets done, is the homework teaching them responsibility? What about the responsibility to spend time with and help friends and family or serve a purpose in the community? I agree that students should be responsible for their learning but in order to do this, we have to give them responsibility through voice and ownership; this can happen throughout the day and not just with homework.
So what can we, as parents and educators, do about the idea of homework? I think Kohn sums it up nicely,
It strikes me as curious on the face of it that children are given additional assignments to be completed at home after they’ve spent most of the day in school – and even more curious that almost everyone takes this fact for granted. Even those who witness the unpleasant effects of homework on children and families rarely question it.
I believe it is time that we all begin to question it.
Homework Lady C. Vatterott
Abusing Research: The Study of Homework and Other Examples A. Kohn
The Truth About Homework A. Kohn
Rethinking Homework A. Kohn
Homework is killing our kids’ joy in education J. Ferry
More Teachers Flexing Around Homework E. Anderssen
The Great Homework Debate: Does It Ever End? R. Collins
What Homework Should Be B. Kuhn
The Destructive Forces of Homework J. Bower
The 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework C. Vatterott
Show Us What Homework’s For K. Cushman
Homework Done Right J. Alleman, et al.
The Case Against Homework S. Bennett/N. Kalish Homework Lady – by Cathy Vatterott Homework is killing our kids’ joy in education – by John Ferry (Vancouver Province Newspaper) More Teachers Flexing Around Homework – by Erin Anderssen (Globe and Mail) Abusing Research: The Study of Homework and Other Examples – by Alfie Kohn The Truth About Homework – by Alfie Kohn
Rethinking Homework – by Alfie KohnRethinking Homework – by John Spencer The Great Homework Debate: Does It Ever End? – by Remi Collins What Homework Should Be – by Brian Kuhn The 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework – by Cathy Vatterott (Educational Leadership Journal) Show Us What Homework’s For – by Kathleen Cushman (Educational Leadership Journal) Homework Done Right – by Janet Alleman, et al. The Case Against Homework – by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish
Chris, it’s very coincidental this is the topic of your post today, as we were just discussing this issue at class last night! I share a similar viewpoint as you and some of those whose work you cite. I agree with Alfie Kohn in most of his points, particularly that homework needs to be meaningful and relevant. Last night a teacher voiced her frustration about a student who was highly capable, scoring high marks on tests, clearly knew the content, but wouldn’t do homework. He therefore was receiving failing grades in that area and it negatively impacted his grade for the course. I tried to explain that perhaps she should re-evaluate why she’s even asking that student to do assignments that do not extend his thinking in the content area. We ask teachers to differentiate instruction in the classroom- assignments, if deemed meaningful and relevant, should be differentiated as well.
I agree 100% about H.W.
I wish more agreed with what you said. One of the drawbacks is that in the eyes of the students and the parents Homework means the class is serious and we are learning. Even though that is often the furthest thing from the truth.
Thanks for sharing
You bring up a great point Akevy. One of our teachers said, “I think that a reason that parents want more homework is so they know the learning that is taking place”. Now this is not always the case but communication about what is happening during the school day may help parents to feel more at ease. I get frustrated when lots of homework = hard teacher = perceived effective teacher. A great teacher does not rely on homework to enhance learning. Thanks for commenting.
Lyn, I had this same conversation with my principal at my previous school about 5 years ago. I had a student that was failing but passing all the quizzes and tests (my assessment practices have significantly changed since then). He asked me if there was anything that says I was supposed to assess effort on homework; he challenged me to omit the homework assignments and just include the tests and quizzes to see what would happen. By the end of the term, she had proven many times over that she understood the outcomes and enjoyed the class much more. Had this conversation never occurred, I may have made a huge error that could have significantly impacted a student. I’m glad the conversations are happening – keep it going!
I like #2 and the first part of #6. Giving students a choice in the homework that’s assigned provides variety and a way for them to take ownership of their learning. I would have loved some degree of choice when I was an elementary student!
Also: “If a student understands the learning outcomes, why do they need to spend more time on concepts they understand?” Your wording in #6 is key here. Too often educators confuse the terms “knowledge” and “understanding”. I’ve heard these words used interchangeably in teacher circles and yet they are really quite different concepts.
As a new teacher, I would shy away from assigning homework to intermediate students if the concept is already mastered.
Collectively, our goal should be to promote understanding of the material we introduce, otherwise we run the risk of conveying knowledge that isn’t meaningful and thus quickly forgotten.
Another great post Chris!
Chris, I would agree with you, and many others that homework, in the way it is given in many classes, is not beneficial. However, at times I still find it necessary to assign work to be completed at home. I find this to be more reactionary to the circumstances in the school where I have only forty minutes to teach a lesson to a Grade Eight English class for example (it was an ample hour and twenty minutes last year but). This is hardly enough time to have students work on their assignment after introducing the lesson, and consequently I wouldn’t assign it as homework on day one of the lesson. After forty minutes of work on day two, I would fully expect that students have completed a paragraph response etc. In many cases the students have homework only because they have not made the best use of their in-class time.
If the goal of giving less homework is also to allow students to persue their passions I find that this is only true with a few students. Very few will take the initiative of having no homework to go and extend their learning. Though I agree with the point that there is value in not giving homework to younger learners so as to allow them family time and time for activities.
I think the real value of any learning done at home is the adult-child ratio. We all feel frustrated that we don’t have more time to spend with each of our students, especially the ones who are struggling. When this homework debate got big several years ago, I was teaching at a school that decided to ban homework so as not to be unfair to students who had little support at home. To be honest, I felt fury that my school chose to disadvantage students from good homes rather than offer an advantage to students who were not well-supported at home. At KENT, you have just implemented the exact opposite solution, which I can’t praise highly enough. Our struggling students can come in before school to get one-on-one reading time with volunteers when they may not have anyone at home who makes the time to read with them. Way to go, Chris — this is a way more productive way to address the imbalance of home support.
Yet another topic we all need to talk more about. Thanks, Chris!
Great post Chris. Sometimes we, primary teachers, can’t win. There are always parents who insist we need to give more homework “to prepare them for high school”. I get very frustrated by this – it’s akin to teaching for the test in my opinion.
The regular homework contract I give my students includes their music/arts activities, sporting activities, community help, teaching others etc. This has been very popular with parents as they see it as working on kids’ time management skills whilst acknowledging and valuing things they do with the family.
Is homework getting in the way of exercise and socialization. Obesity and diabetes are 2 huge issues with outrageous costs. How often do students go home and tell parents they have to do homework, or are told they have to do homework(instead of playing outside) and turn it into a 2 hour ordeal including many video games or internet time. It seems to me kids today don;t get outside and play with the neighbourhood kids. How many smart kids have weak social skills because they have to spend their time doing homework.
Chris you have really hit the point home well. Why is homework being sent home? Does the teacher know for sure that its helping? Has as much time been put into the homework that is assigned as the lesson that was taught? Often the purpose seems to be lacking and is an after-thought. It is a shame that the after-thought causes so much family grief.
Having taught in elementary school for sixteen years and having had four children myself, I am in favor of redefining the purpose of homework so that it supports each student.
We know children are naturally curious and we want to promote their curiosity, as well as allow them time to play, exercise, and spent time with family relaxing. When we assign specific tasks (workbook pages, writing prompts, math problems…), we are taking responsibility for learning out of the students’ hands, as well as diminishing their curiosity, not to mention taxing family life.
In the elementary grades, if we think that homework is a discipline that supports a student in terms of time management, then yes, let’s assign an “academic time-frame” for students, but leave some choices in their learning. As the notion of homework changes and evolves to make it meaningful, students and teachers can frame together the choices a student makes as he/she would be responsible for reporting his/her use of that “academic” time. If we want them to read and write, why not ask them what they’d like to read (supporting those who need help choosing books) and ask them to write in a journal each night (about their learning, thoughts, findings…) If students wrote EVERY night in a journal about what they had pursued the evening before, their sense of curiosity would continue to expand AND their writing would naturally improve. In a weekly conference with students, the teacher would learn so much about the class. They would note what students need to improve in their writing, which would frame the writing mini lessons for the week ahead.
If we want students to take responsibility for their learning, continue to support their curiosity about the world around them, engage parents in meaningful discussions about their child as a learner, then we need to reprogram the notion of the “what” and the “why” of homework, based on the research and what we know as sound educational practices for young students.
From Lynne (via email – some problems with comments function):
1) The only reason that homework might be given is if the student needs more time to complete work due to not using the time in class to do it… with the help of teachers, etc. I preferred to keep them with me after school or at lunch hour so I could help them – and hopefully, they would realize that this was for their sake, not mine. After all, they would be making me stay late but it was better in the long run, if the parents would be okay with letting them do that. Giving the whole class homework, in mass, is ridiculous… only the few that were always caught up ever attempted it.
2) I had a student who had a learning disability (before the days that it was recognized as such!) and his homework would come back done, if done, with more mistakes than he would have made during class time… and then I met his mom. She was a single mom with her own ‘learning disabilities’ trying to help him. I wish I had known more about students with challenges when I first started teaching… would have been easier on all of us.
3) Some students waste time but other students just need more time… and hopefully, teachers and parents (and students) will understand that and be advocates for those students. In the real world, not everyone works at the same pace. However, they do need to realize that those that take too long to complete their work may not be hired to do the job next time, unless they are just taking longer to do a better job!
It’s a tough call… but I think most kids would rather get the help from their staff members than from their parents.
I had a long conversation with a man and his wife who home-school out of Saskatchewan… no regulations to follow whatsoever – they don’t even check up on them. They may ask for a comment once in a while but they can teach whatever they want. They are travelling with their 11 year old twins and homeschooling them while they are in Yuma. Sounded like they were trying but I also heard this comment… “If you don’t settle down and be quiet, we will go back and do school!” Ouch!! I’m not sure that they are getting the education they need in this situation.
From Mel (via Facebook)
Love your last blog, Chris. _____ is in gr. 5 this year and does not come home with work unless it’s an asiignment he’s been unable to complete in class. Other than reading each night, he’s been asked to practice basic times tables, which… I completely agree with. I’ve heard the same complaints from my mom friends that in previous years with some homework we’ve had to ‘google’ how to complete it. Who’s homework is this, anyway? The child gets frustrated as much as the parent. I’m a little worried though when he gets into middle school next year and the work load becomes heavy again. Again, great article….wish it could be sent out to all the teachers!!
Great Post Chris. I especially like #5. Teachers often do not know what a child’s home life is all about, and what is expected from them by their parents when they walk through the door after school. I well remember having anxiety and restless nights of sleeping because I didnt do my homework because I didnt know how, or have the help I needed. I would dread the next day of feeling ashamed for “doing something wrong” or feeling less intelligent then other students because I didnt understand my homework. This often led to missed classes, or whole days to avoid the embarrassment, or “trouble” I would receive from teachers, moreover the big “trouble” i would receive from my parents because I wasnt attending those classes. Although this statement probably applies more to my middle and high school years, I thought it was relevant. NO MORE HOMEWORK!
Thanks for all the great responses! I am glad that this conversation continues to happen and grow. We had a great discussion at our PAC meeting last night around homework – one parent stated that homework lets her in on what is being taught at school. This is great insight (and one that a teacher mentioned at our staff meeting). So now the challenge to teachers is to keep parents informed of the learning activities/themes/units that take place during the week by writing blog posts, student blogs, updating teacher websites and/or sending/emailing home a weekly newsletter. One teacher at or school sends home an “Ask me about…” and lists some of the things that have happened during the week. The kids then get to brag about all the great things they are learning about! Great ‘homework’ for the kids and a great way to communicate with parents about the learning taking place in the class. As a principal, I send home/email “10 Good Things To Talk About” every Friday to keep parents informed of the great things happening at school (borrowed this idea from another principal).
I think the main things to do the school learning focus at school and keep the parents informed. By doing , this we hope to see happier/active students and happier families!
Jenn – thank you so much for commenting! It is great to see both parents and teachers of Kent using the blog as a way to voice their opinions on school. You bring a very personal perspective to this discussion that probably hits home with many students and former students. Thanks again!
I homeschooled my children for the first four years. We had a very structured program and they learned to buckle down and get their work done in the morning, which left the afternoon for playtime. When we entered the school system and eventually high school, they must have carried that work ethic with them because they never seemed to have much homework. I worried about this as it gave me an uneasy sense that they were ‘sailing’ through school. After a time, and because they expressed appreciation for many of their teachers, I decided to stop worrying and just try to look at things differently. Sending them to another ‘more challenging’ school was not an option for us anyway. I have three in high school, one in elementary and one is about to graduate. I have realized that with less homework, my kids have the time to pursue other interests like music and sports, have part-time jobs when they are old enough, and spend time relaxing with family members doing non-school related things. Having a sense of balance seems to give them more energy for their school day.
I read with interest all the information on the issue of homework that you provided and I agree that it would be great to receive some kind of info on what my child is learning in her class on a semi-regular basis.
Love #4(flexible) – Anyone with kids understands the importance of this. Are we not flexible in the room? My best plans are easily changed by throw-up, fire drills etc. Parenting is the same and we must allow for flexibility in homework. Mine is ALWAYS optional yet almost always completed by all.
Terrific post Chris. I look forward to sharing this post with my teachers. Well done!