Is it time to ditch homework for good?

Our columnist grapples with the pros & cons of assigning homework

I now know that homework can do a lot more damage than we realize. Reading Jo Boaler’s book, Mathematical Mindsets, it dawned on me that the homework I assign creates a certain amount of stress on my students and their families. Now that I’m a parent, I get it. In a family with two working parents, time together is limited. On weekdays, most families only see each other a few hours a day after everyone gets home from school or work.

Additionally, students are alone when they are doing homework. Teachers like to think that parents will help their children if they are struggling on our assignments, but this is rarely the case. Even if children are lucky to have a parent around while doing homework, it is presumptuous of teachers to assume that all adults have a working knowledge of K-12 curriculum and content. Furthermore, helping teenagers with their homework has historically had mixed results. I’m sure we all have a story about fighting over homework with our parents or our children. I have my own flashbacks to some pretty horrendous fights with my mom when she was trying to help me understand algebra in 8th grade.

My solution
I am not sure I can just say goodbye to homework forever. I think that parents, administration, and my colleagues all expect it. So there has to be a compromise.

  • Blended learning products that provide “Buddy Practice” online are a good way to ensure that students can check their work while out of your purview. Whether you are using an online homework tool or something like GoFormative to digitize your assignments, students should be able to check their answers immediately if they are doing work at home. Waiting until the next day at the beginning of class to grade homework is not good academic feedback.
  • If you feel like your school and community will not support a “No Homework” policy, you could provide suggested practice every night. If you feel like a student needs more practice, the assignment becomes mandatory. This will also appease the parents who want their child doing homework every night.
  • Another compromise could be to allow students to finish any work not finished in class at home. This policy keeps my students on task during class while working through self-paced playlists because they do not want homework. As an added bonus, this strategy puts the students in control of their own learning. Depending on the grade you teach, putting students in control of their own learning might be a stretch. Consider a gradual-release model to guide your students to success.
  • Finally, why does homework have to be a subject specific assignment? Why not give a game or activity for homework? There are many great board and card games that allow students and parents to engage in math and reading in different ways. Assigning an activity or game will require guidance and resources for families, but it would be a great way to reduce stressful interactions with school work in the home.

[Editor’s Note: See previous Blending My Practice columns here.]

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