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Homework, Friend or Foe?

Homework, by definition it is work that is to be completed outside of the school day.

Usually, it is to be brought in the following day, and too often it is assigned uniformly to all.

As a student, I didn't mind homework and thought of it as a necessary part of my education, seldom questioning its purpose or quality of it.

Perhaps as an honors student my whole educational career, it was assumed and completed and never shared with my peers.

As a parent, it is a hindrance considering that it takes up too much of my 10-year-old son's life and is often meaningless and a waste of time. When the weather gets nicer, in particular, I'd rather him play outside and spend time being a kid after a full day of school.

As a teacher, it has undergone reconstructive surgery more than once. At the start of my career, it was required department-wide. Nightly, numbered assignments (even if I had nothing meaningful for them to do). I did what I was told, much like in my own time as a student. Progressing deeper into my career, I've had a waning interest and now almost hatred of the practice of giving graded nightly homework.

There is a lot of research out there that supports its negligible purpose and positive support of achievement; yet, many are tied to the belief that students must have it to be successful.

Parents are a large part of this challenge as many think that for a class to be rigorous, homework must be given.

But it's time to rebrand our concept of "homework" - we need to give it a facelift and use it appropriately.

Here are things to consider about general homework practices:

  • How is the homework tied to the learning? Is it necessary? How does it support student learning?

  • If the work is so important, why isn't it happening at school where it can be supervised and legitimate feedback can be given?

  • Grading homework only skews communication about mastery and learning as many students don't do it and zeros accumulate in the grade book.

  • Busy work is just that not... and shouldn't be given for the sake of giving it

  • Reading should be an expectation, not a homework assignment (and PLEASE NO reading logs)

  • Allow students to determine the pacing of their work, so try to give more than one night for anything meaningful

  • Include students and have some choice in how assignments are completed and about what if they are deemed useful

  • We can teach students time management and accountability skills in different ways, homework doesn't necessarily do this.

  • If you're going to give homework, actually review it and use it for learning in class. Make sure learning is checked and is accurate. Studying and doing homework the wrong way can teach misinformation which can be detrimental to learning.

  • If homework is easily copied like a worksheet, it isn't worthwhile

  • Some students need practice, so make sure the students who need it, get it, but not all students should be doing the same thing all of the time.

  • Reflection can be a useful activity for "home" time and can look a lot of different ways.

Consider your current homework practices and ask yourself the above questions. Do you need to change your practices? How do you know students are benefiting from the experience? Talk to students and see what they are getting out of the work they are doing. You can also offer an anonymous survey where you gather data about their homework practices to adjust as needed.

As we consider what education needs to look like, we must think about homework differently.

How will you rebrand it or repurpose it in your classes? What will the impact be? Please share

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in 2016.

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