Homework? To give or not give

The majority of parents I come across are advocates of homework. They feel that homework is good practice, it will improve their student's understanding and mastery of skills, and that it gives students something constructive to do when they come home rather than grabbing their cell phone or playing video games all evening. A few months ago, a teacher caused much controversy after she made headlines when she relinquished homework so students could enjoy family, fun, and being a kid instead. Was she on to something, or was she not maximizing an independent learning opportunity to reinforce skills and concepts learned in class? Was she stirring up trouble and making other teachers around the nation look like the bad guys? Would no homework become the trend? 

I've encountered teachers who don't like assigning homework while others are consistently handing out assignments like it is going out of style. Teachers who are opposed to the idea do so because of the irritation of students simply not submitting it, except for those A and B students, the extra headache of finding meaningful material that students can take on at home, and the frustration of more work to grade. Other teachers assign it to fulfill school policy and/or parental request. Truthfully, many teachers would rather not assign it and the majority of students can live without it.

We must keep in mind that homework is almost always the least weighted category; it comes last to tests, quizzes, classwork, and participation. Many school districts have banned grading the actual homework assignment, as it should be, but grade it as a pass (submitting it) or fail (not submitting it). Students are not penalized for wrong answers but receive credit for completing it. So is it really important?

Some teachers use homework as time management in keeping the pace. How many times have teaches run out of instructional time and needed students to do a portion at home in order to stay on pace with the lesson? But, how many students fail to complete the assignment? So let's get to the nitty-gritty. What do studies show? After researching, this topic has many pros and cons, but a common factor is that if homework has to be assigned, it should have purpose, relevance and benefit, "and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development."

Here are some points to ponder as you reevaluate why and what you are assigning.

    •    Economically disadvantaged students are unintentionally penalized because their environments often make it almost impossible to complete assignments at home.

    •    Too much homework harms students' health and family time.

    •    Teachers are not well trained in how to assign homework.

    •    Teachers should only assign homework when they can justify that the assignments are “beneficial”, ideally involving students in activities appropriate for the home, such as performing an experiment in the kitchen, cooking, doing crossword puzzles with the family, watching good TV shows, or reading. 

    •    Assign homework that is beneficial to student learning instead of assigning homework as a matter of policy.

My suggestion would be to not eradicate homework, but give it a facelift. Homework shouldn't be complete a chapter inWorld History, or write vocabulary words and the definition. This is busy work. Instead, follow these suggestions:

  1. Assign work with purpose. If you have to think about what to assign, assign nothing.

  2. Make it doable. Five problems of practice are all that is needed, not 50!

  3. Make it meaningful and engaging. Allow students to conduct a mini lab.

    • If students are discussing conflict, have them watch a 30 minute sitcom and identify the conflict, the parts of plot, character traits, etc.

  4. Involve others. Allow students to read an assigned magazine, article, comic book for 15-30m and have them summarize their readings to a family member.

    • In math, have the students complete a math problem and encourage them to try to teach it to a parent, older brother/sister. Let them record the teaching and send it to you via email.

Assigning homework every night has no impact if it has no purpose. Reevaluate your practices and develop more effective techniques. 

I hope these few words find you well,

Dr. E






Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1–62

Kohn, A. (2006a). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.