My Issues With Homework

Homework is one of those issues we see come up in educational debates on a fairly regular basis. There seems to be two camps where you either love it or hate it. For the most part, I sit in the later. Before going into my reasons behind that I need to be up front and honest. My students do occasionally have homework. This happens for a handful of students on rare occasions. If a student misses class they might have to do some additional work at home. Also, I do a great deal of group work and in class activities. There are times when students are not using their time as wisely as they can which requires them to finish up work in study hall or at home. I also do have students use time at home for additional prep work for assessments.

With all that being said, I rarely assign homework in the traditional sense. What I mean is that I do assign homework on the board daily. However, it is not what most would consider homework. For example, last Friday’s homework was to play outside and enjoy the long weekend. The day before that it was to pet a dog. Some of my students take these “assignments” seriously, while others see them for what they are, random acts of being a kid.

Here are a few of the reasons that I struggle with the idea of assigning students homework:

Haves and Have Nots
Many students have great supporting and resourceful families at home to assist them in finishing work and projects. However, not all do. Some parents can afford to take their kids to Hobby Lobby and drop a chunk of change to make sure their child’s landform project for Science class is top notch. Many kids don’t have that luxury and therefore their projects look “bad” next to their classmates. When students are assigned to build or create a project at home, it becomes apparent who has and who has not. The gap becomes more apparent and now the issue of “having” comes into my classroom where I try to support equality and fairness. Homework does the exact opposite.

Access and Support
Many students have internet access, home resources, and educated parents at home. However, not all do. Some students go home to empty homes and are charged with supporting and raising siblings, or keeping the home. In some cases parents are around but not highly educated and therefore not able to assist their child even if they wanted to. Not all kids have the same chance of success in doing homework at home and therefore how can we ask them to do the same work?

Overkill
How many times are students asked to do something 20 times when they have mastered the skill in the first 2 times? I remember being assigned 30-40 math problems a night even though I clearly understood who to do them while working them in class. If we do our jobs right in the classroom do we need to be sending home even more work?

Easy Way Out
Too often homework is an easy way out from actually teaching. It is much easier to send kids home with work than to actually teach them in the classroom. Yes, it would make my life easier to have students work through my curriculum at home, but then who is teaching them? Who is modeling for them? Who is guiding their practice?

Burn Out
Students sit in desk for 7 hours a day listening, reading and writing what teachers tell them to. Then when they get some respite and head home, they have more work to do. As with just about anything we do in life, the more we are told to do something, the more likely we are to burnout. We can make a safe assumption that a majority of kids do not find homework pleasurable. With that in mind, we will turn kids off to learning if we attempt to connect homework to learning. In my experience, homework does not instill a love of learning, it does quite the opposite.

Busy Work
Much of the work I see go home is simply busy work. How can a word search help a kid understand scientific terminology? Where is it written that we need to color maps in class to learn geography? Why are parents asked to go and buy poster board and glitter paint for a poster in English class? Is what you are asking your students do directly related to a learning outcome? If not, don’t ask them to do it. This goes for in and out of class work.  

Family Time
While this might be my weakest argument, it is important to me nonetheless. I have two children and enjoy every moment I am not at work and spending time with them. Our trips to the zoo, children’s museum, baseball games, family gatherings, and countless parks are moments I wouldn’t miss those moments for the world. When I am at home, I do my best to minimize the amount of school work I do while my kids are awake. I enjoy that time and wouldn’t want to deprive my students and their families of it either. Families need to play and learn together and sitting at the table doing math problems is not my idea of family time.

I am not na├»ve to think students will never have to do work at home. My goal is to inspire and instill a love for learning within each of my students. If I do that, they will want to learn outside of school without it being assigned. If as teachers we NEED to assign homework, we are failing as teachers.  

19 comments:

Lyn Hilt said...

I enjoyed reading your very important points about homework. During #edchat this past weekend I sought out examples of meaningful homework, and really didn't walk away with any where I thought, "Yep. Assign that HW. It means something." Love your points about connecting any assigned work to learning outcomes. Great points about redundancy and repetition, not to mention the fact that if a child can correctly repeat the steps to 20 math problems, it indicates he can mimic expected behaviors, not necessarily that he understands the underlying concepts.
Definitely will be sharing your thoughts with my teachers.
I'm going to go pet my dogs now!

jessievaz12 said...

Thanks for an excellent post on homework and thinking through its use in education. I'm still exploring where homework is valuable and sadly, like Lyn mentioned, I've been hard pressed to find any REAL examples of homework that I thought definitely needed to be given. While I am sure there is merit, especially in some of the examples that you mention above, I'm hoping that the education community will continue to look at this issue from all perspectives and choose to use homework THOUGHTFULLY when they assign it.

I've added this post to my ongoing livebinder on Homework resources in education. http://livebinders.com/edit?id=176753

Claire Thompson said...

You mentioned lots of great arguments against giving homework. I thought it was interesting that you said that family time was your weakest argument though. I have 2 boys, one in grade 2 and one in grade 4. They are tired out after a day of school; not to mention the other activities that they participate in outside of school. So far we've been lucky and homework hasn't been an issue, but I dread that day that either one of them has a teacher who 'believes in homework'. Family time *is* important. I know from what you said that you believe this too. So family time, I'd say it is a pretty strong argument.
Thanks for getting me to think more about this topic.

Beth S. said...

I love your idea of doing "kindness" homework. Since I teach at a Catholic School, I see these as being good religion class assignments. Thanks for the inspiration!

shannonthelibrarian said...

Sally Hayes, a 4th grade teacher at my school, took on the homework issue last Spring after seeing Race to Nowhere. Her students selected from a menu of many possible options, many of which were designed to build connections to family members or community. Possible activities include pleasure reading (books, magazines, recipes, newspapers); physical activities (walking, biking, skating, swimming, playing sports); hobbies (sewing, gardening, photography, caring for pets); art projects (painting, drawing, collage, dioramas); and community service (mowing a neighbor’s lawn, playing a game with an older person, picking up trash). Students used their newly found time to learn piano songs, to learn how to play chess (in order to spend quality time with older relatives), for a neighborhood cleanup effort and more. Their "homework" was to try a variety of activities and to learn that there are different ways to learn. This is true "life long learning," and real differentiation.


More about Sally's homework efforts here: http://www.7dvt.com/2011class-consciousness

I'm proud to teach with her- and wish more teachers would follow her lead!

Mr. Dempsey said...

What's your opinion on the flipped classroom idea? In class this year I'm trying out this method and it has worked well so far. Students come back to class after completing homework with questions and a basic knowledge that is ready to be applied to in class practice. However there are students who don't need to take the notes at home because they have met or surpassed the learning goal as shown on their pre-assessment. These students are given the option to do an in independent project that they could work on at home. The homework is meaningful and I'm loving what it is doing to the class time. Is homework still bad?

MSeigel said...

What I was taught in "educator school" was that there is not enough time in class to teach AND reinforce the material so homework accomplishes the latter. I am on the fence about homework, but I will tell you there is too much in my curriculum and so I need the students to do some work outside of class. This curriculum has been forced upon me and if I had my way a lot of it would get chopped leaving more time for more meaningful work.

I would like to add that some of my homework does involve exploration of the world around them. Students will be creating their own QR code scavenger of their town to demonstrate how chemistry is everywhere. Homework can achieve both of our needs.

Harry Wood said...

I'm with you. You call your family reason your "weakest" argument, but I consider it the strongest. Nothing can build up a child with love and confidence as a strong family.

Great post!

Rachel S said...

This was a great post. I appreciate the "Family time" point, and I think that it also means you are respecting the children's time outside of school. This can include family time, but it also gives them time to just play.

I'm studying to become a teacher, so this was excellent food-for-thought!

Alec said...

I heard a story that a teacher visiting High Tech High asked a student there if she ever had homework. 'No,' the student told her. 'Well, what do you do?' the teacher asked. 'I finish my projects', the student replied.

I think there's really something to this - that when kids do work at home, it should be because they're doing something they care about, and they want to do it right.

Anonymous said...

You hit the mark with this post! I totally agree with so many of your points. Thank you for putting this out there.

Elizabeth Peterson said...

Great post. Yes, homework is such a hot topic and I love how you discussed some of the very important reasons not to assign it, or at least reasons to modify. That's where I am right now - I have a need to greatly modify how to assign homework.

What you said here is the biggest reason why I need to change what I do: "With that in mind, we will turn kids off to learning if we attempt to connect homework to learning. In my experience, homework does not instill a love of learning, it does quite the opposite." If that is the case (which I truly think it is), then WHY do we do it?!

My journey to overhaul homework is just beginning. Please follow it as I'm writing about it in my next few posts.

homework

Thanks for the great post!

Danielle said...

While you make a lot of great points, I have to disagree with you. I do not think that assigning homework is an easy way out if you are assigning the right homework. I don't think you should send a student home with work that they do not understand, it should be something that will allow them to expand on what they have learned in class. For instance, Math takes practice and you need to work on Math problems over and over to master a concept. As for the have and have not argument, why not give your students the same materials for a project so that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed?

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Danielle,

Even if you give the kids the same projects to go home, they still don't have the same resources. Not all will have help at home. Not all will have a suitable environment for learning. Not all will have the time to complete based on other family obligations.

In response to your comment about math practice, that is not actually true if you reference current research. I would urge you to read this piece by Alfie Kohn about the subject of homework where he discusses math specifically. http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/hwach.htm

Thanks for reading and commenting...we learn through these discussions and debates!

Becca said...

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Stumpenhorst regarding the situation of homework. While the practice of educational skills is imperative, students should being working on these skills during school hours, where each student is supported with the same resources. When assigning work outside of school, students do not have access to the same resources. When dispensing work to students, level the playing field and allow students to learn the material you assign with the benefit of comparable supports.

Here’s a pretty funny link to a video about a fifth grader who is campaigning against homework.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4817006n

Teach Science Right said...

This post has really shifted my thinking of homework. I am guilty of giving 'busy work' to take home from time to time. If anything, at this point I'm beginning to evaluate when I use homework, if it is actually appropriate assessment. I'm definitely heading towards less and less homework, as well as including more formative types of assignments. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, its definitely having an impact in my classroom. I think your methods are non-traditional, but we're living in an exponentially changing society. We've got to cast-off methods that are ineffective, and meet our learners halfway.

Chris

Carrie Ann Tripp said...

I am a 7th grade Communication Arts teacher (English) and I RARELY assign homework. Students who don't use time wisely may have work after class. Students do need to study spelling outside of class. However, I have found that assignments sent home usually equal incorrect practice which just reinforces the very bad habits and incorrect skills that I'm trying to correct.

Trygve Watne said...

I agree with many of your arguments on not assigning homework. However, your weakest poing in my opinion is your argument of 'overkill'. From my experience as a maths teacher, I see students doing pretty well at school solving math problems, but next week they have forgotten all about it. I think it is critical to really practise skills and repeat over and over again in order to really learn it. The curriculum is so extensive that there are simply not class hours to dwell on a certian topic before we have to move on. Assigning tasks for homework helps them to learn skills properly.

Trygve Watne said...

I agree with many of your arguments on not assigning homework. However, your weakest poing in my opinion is your argument of 'overkill'. From my experience as a maths teacher, I see students doing pretty well at school solving math problems, but next week they have forgotten all about it. I think it is critical to really practise skills and repeat over and over again in order to really learn it. The curriculum is so extensive that there are simply not class hours to dwell on a certian topic before we have to move on. Assigning tasks for homework helps them to learn skills properly.