Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So What's My Problem with Homework?

I just read a frightening and excellent post by Mark Hansen discussing homework in a real-life example with his son and immediately I wanted to comment on it.  But then I realized that would be rather lengthy, so instead I offer this post.  What is my problem with homework?

I never use to hate homework until last year.  Something hit me when I told my husband that I knew exactly which kid would hand in the homework with "some" help from the parents, which kid would hand in something half-finished, and which kid would never hand it in but instead take my punishment.  And punish I did.  Oh, I used to be the queen of taking away privileges.  It was awful.  There we were, staring at each other every recess trying to figure out just how much help was needed versus how much effort needed to be exerted.  It was exhausting for me and the kids.

And guess what, I was right!

I knew exactly which kids would not be able to complete the homework no matter how much help I gave them in school; they simply did not have the skills or resources needed to finish it at home.  Over the summer, this was the point I kept returning to, wondering if I could be "radical" and get rid of homework almost altogether?  And so I did.  This year, there is very little homework in my room and here is why, in no particular order:


  • Homework is an excuse for the stuff we didn't get to.  I stated this in my parent/student orientation and most parents nodded their heads.  We always have one more thing we just need to get to when the bell rings.  Well guess what?  Then we need to restructure our day and get to it, rather then slip it in to the backpack for the kids to deal with.  I know there is pressure with curriculum but if you know what your goal is for the lesson, then get to it!
  • Homework is practice - for some kids. Some kids will take 5 minutes to do homework because they already get it, some will take 30 minutes because they need parent help, others will never finish.  This is not fair.  If we do not equip students with the correct knowledge to complete the homework then we should not assign it.
  • Homework is not fair.  You know which kids will ace it and which kids will spend hours trying to solve a math page.  One sheet/assignment/report does not fit all.  If you already know how a kid will do on something then why are you bothering with the assignment, seems to me they have already shown you where their skills lie.
  • Homework steals away childhood.  Every minute of homework that you assign is an infringement of your students' time spent experiencing the real world.  We say we want well-rounded students, but then have them spend an hour or more practicing school skills.  We already asked for 7+ hours of their time, let them have some free time to do the things that exposes them to the big world and in turn helps them become better people and students.  You will end up with kids that might just be excited about school, rather than exhausted.
  • Homework does not always fit the learning.  Worksheets are on the way out in many classrooms, and yet, we fall back on them all the time to check for understanding.  However, not all skills that we teach transfer onto paper very well.  I agree that math lends itself nicely to paper pages of problems, but why assign 3 pages if you can get away with just a couple of problems?  Before you assign think of the purpose of your homework; does it really give the students a way to show off their knowledge or will you just help you assign a percentage better?
  • Homework is maybe not just done by the student.  There are many helpful parents out there that really want their child to succeed.  As parents nothing gets us more than our child not understanding something.  How often do parents tell us that they had to help their child finish their work?  How often do we get projects turned in that required hours of craft work way outside of the range of your grade level?  The parents have already been to school, stop asking them to do work or in some cases, stop giving them a way to relive their school days through projects.
I know that there are times and situations where homework becomes a good extension such as sending kids out into the community to interview elders for heritage days, or continuing research on their own.  
I am not against all homework, what I am against, though, is the homework just for the sake of assigning homework.  I used to tell my parents to expect about 40 minutes of homework every night in 4th grade because I had been told it is about 10 minutes times the grade level.  40 minutes!  And then we ask students to read their books and do projects on top of that.  No wonder our students are exhausted when they come back the next day rather than eager to learn.

Think of what the purpose of homework is in your room, look really hard at your reasoning; why do you assign it?  Is it a meaningful learning experience that will help students become smarter, more knowledgeable, better people?  If yes, excellent.   But if no, not always, then stop, re-evaluate, clean it out, and then tell your students.  You will marvel at their response.

I was petrified to stop, worried that people would think I was skimping out on my job duties.  Almost all of my parents now rejoice in this year of calmness.  They know that if I assign something, there is a valid reason for it.  They also know that their child is learning as much as any other student in the 4th grade.  Stop the homework insanity and let these kids be kids.  We can accomplish the learning without the extra work.  You just have to believe in your own capabilities as en educate, so educate, don't assign.

21 comments:

School for All said...

I loved your comment about reliving school as parents. Your thoughts and ideas will help us remodel homework. Thanks for sharing!

eshwaranv said...

Great post! I do agree with you on your views. I prefer PBL for homework and I've observed that the students are able to connect themselves much better to the lessons and the class. For more on PBL and hw, do read my blog post here: http://wp.me/p11PPX-1y

Jaki B. said...

Excellent points to back up your decision to rethink homework. I agree with you wholeheartedly and have already made that switch, but I have not been able to express my decision as eloquently as you have. To me ... it just felt right and the positive consequences that have resulted from it continue to support it. I will definitely be sharing this post with others. It's also prompted me to write down my rationale as I believe the logic behind this needs to be shared over and over and over ...

Marie said...

Hear! Hear! As a parent, I wonder about homework. Is it really necessary? Why does my child get big green question marks in his diary because I have failed to sign it. That's not fairness. I'm also one of those parents who refuse to do homework projects. (It's not my project.) Yet, the students who get compliments for their projects are the ones who have clearly had their parent do it for them. I wish more teachers would be brave enough like you to stop handing out homework.

Marie said...

Hear! Hear! As a parent, I wonder about homework. Is it really necessary? Why does my child get big green question marks in his diary because I have failed to sign it. That's not fairness. I'm also one of those parents who refuse to do homework projects. (It's not my project.) Yet, the students who get compliments for their projects are the ones who have clearly had their parent do it for them.

Arthur said...

Thank-you for this post. The assigning of homework is often because teachers do not complete the work they had planned to do in class. I agree 100% percent that some homework is good and teaches children academic discipline but I am totally against homework for homework's sake.

The challenge is to bring all our teachers to the same understanding given the pressure many feel under to complete curricula and the fact that many parents believe a lack of homework indicates a teacher who is not doing his/her job properly.

It is time to rethink homework. I will definitely be putting this on the agenda with my leadership team in the new year!

rcantrell said...

Pernille, You have made excellent points in your post. I agree whole heartily with you. I have not been able to make much progress with the teaching staff on this issue. Thanks for the post. I'll be sharing it with the staff. I see homework as the "sock it to me" at the end of the day. This makes learning exciting? I don't think so!
Congrats on Reform Symposium presentation.

mrsf70 said...

I totally agree with your post! I teach middle school and had reworked my language arts and social studies curriculums so we accomplished everything in-class. Students were always "doing", not just sitting. I now teach math, and haven't figured out how to completely get away from the homework issue. We "do" in-class, but I feel some extra practice is always needed. I don't, however, assign 40 or 50 problems, which was the norm in my day. I only assign a few that I feel will reinforce their skills. Math is very high-pressure in testing. Anyone have ideas for me?

Alan Stange said...

I appreciate the way you have summarized the arguments against homework, particularly as it relates to assessment.

Anonymous said...

What you are saying is obvious. Of course you shouldn't assign homework that hasn't been taught. Of course, you shouldn't assign homework on top of readings and projects.

But homework does teach self-discipline. It does teach the child how to time manage. It does give them a reason to talk to their parents about what has been taught in class. And in math, it is certainly necessary to practise.

It's not rocket science to assign homework when necessary and helpful and focus on classwork. And of course, then you can pat your back and call yourself "innovative" and "forward thinking".

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

Thank you all for your comments. Manila some may say, such as Anonymous' comment, that this is obvious, I don't think this is the case. I do notthink it has anything to do either with patting ourselves on the back and heralding ourselves as innovators. While I wish all teachers really did only assign homework when necessary, I think it is bogus to assign so that students have a reason to speak to their parents about school. If you as a teacher are not providing enough excitement in the classroom for students to go home and tell parents about their day, then I think you have some evaluating to do.

I appreciate all comments, even anonymous ones, but it is always hard to defend oneself when labels are thrown. I do not laud myself as anything other than a teacher trying to change my own ways. Whatever someone else decides to get out of my comments, so be it.

I do hope that my reflections make others think, whether good or bad and I am always humbled that people comment. Keep it coming, wheher you agree or disagree, the conversation needs to happen.

Pysees said...

I think that homework should be a natural extension of the learning in the classroom. I think that it should be something that encourages the children to think about what they have learned and go beyond that on to the next thing. I feel that we should always strive to do more and be more and that we should instill that in our children and it shouldn't be done through homeworksheets that are handed out and turned in and graded with little thought or effort on the part of the teacher or the students.

As a parent though I feel that I need more of an idea of what is going on in the classroom. If my child receives a C in reading when I see him read every night and every week, I want to know why! I want to know where I can help him or what he needs to do to excel or at the very least succeed. I often see sheets that my children have completed during guided practice which do not indicate to anyone whether they have comprehended the lesson taught. They do some interesting things at school, but my children can almost never tell me the purpose of the science experiment or what it taught them. So just because it is all taught and the teacher has reached all of their lesson goals is it worth it if the child does not get it? I don't think homework is always the answer, but it is not a bad thing either.

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

Pysees - yes, I so agree with your statement that "I often see sheets that my children have completed during guided practice which do not indicate to anyone whether they have comprehended the lesson taught."

Having been one of those teachers that would just send home a sheet with a grade, this statement really is why I decided to change that. I would rather over-inform my parents rather than leave them wondering. I do find that sometimes there is a place for homework, but not often. Homework seems to have become this way to extend learning but do we really have the right to do that? Most jobs are from set hours and workers would balk if it infringed on their personal time. So why is it as teachers we somehow feel the right to that outside time? Homework will always be a round, I just hope it becomes more meaningful and not just another unnecessary sheet.

Nunavut_teacher said...

For those commenting about the nonacademic benefits of homework, you should check out Joe Bowers post,"The myth of non-academic benefits of homework."
http://www.joebower.org/2010/02/myth-of-non-academic-benefits-of.html

Justin said...

This is one of my FAVORITE posts on homework. You take so many of the things I feel and say them in a simple and elegant way.

"Stop the homework insanity and let these kids be kids."

That's the heart of it. Burning out kids at home is not going to create a positive learning environment. Thank you for sharing!

- @newfirewithin

Heather said...

You really make some excellent points regarding homework. I do my best to keep the home work given to my Grade 3 class to a minimum, but I do admit that when I do, it's because we ran out of time in class.

Mark Barnes said...

Pernille, you know me well enough to know that I couldn't agree more with you on all points. Apart from reading and student-directed project work, there is never a need for homework.

Too bad your anonymous commenter didn't have the courage to leave a name, because he/she is wrong on all points. I'd recommend some research prior to these sorts of assertions. There is little to no evidence to support homework as a means of teaching self-discipline and/or time management. There's even less that suggests that any additional practice outside of school will help build skills or critical thinking.

It's absurd to believe that forcing a child to do something with the threat of consequences will teach any sort of self-discipline.

I'd recommend Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth to all of your readers, especially anyone skeptical about your feelings about homework.

Thanks for another brilliant post.

Mrs. Ed said...

I have stopped assigning homework this year for the exact reason. I have some parents who are rallying against me on this issue. Implying that I am not doing my job for assignment extra work for extra work's sake. It's a hard routine to get out, for teachers and parents both. But I had to stop because it was becoming too much of a power struggle, and it definitely created extra, and unnecessary work for me.

Robert Sheard said...

I agree and disagree. "Busywork" homework is, of course, pointless. But I teach 8th-grade English and our classes are 45 minutes long. If I were to ask them to do the daily readings in class, and then do any writing at all, that leaves zero time for teaching. Their reading simply has to be done as homework to allow us time to discuss the readings and have time for instruction. To suggest otherwise eliminates have the education process. Writing is like any other craft; it requires lots of practice. That cannot all be done in class when we are also expected to teach a literature curriculum.

All that said, I think a lot of the homework I see my students talking about is, in fact, busy work--assigned to give the impression of industry without actually accomplishing much.

Robert Sheard said...

**half, not have (sorry)

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

Robert, I think you bring up a very valid point, in the older grades due to the limiting nature of schedules, reading has to be assigned outside of school. I always blog from an elementary perspective, only because I do not have experience with other age groups. I therefore wonder if we shouldn't be trying to reinvent our whole structure of school to accomodate more time for reading, discussion as well as better in-depth study. Truly, there must be a way for us to create a school where learning is across subjects, exploratory, as well as more encompassing. Thank you so much for reading the post and making me think.

 

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