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When to Say When With Homework

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

When my son was in 4th grade, he received about 45 minutes of homework a night including 20 minutes of required nightly reading that must be logged and signed by me.


The prior year he routinely received one hour or more of homework a night. Although he didn't seem to mind doing it, I resented the fact that he was sent home with worksheet after worksheet, robbed of precious playtime that was also robbed from his school day.

Ironically, my son didn't mind doing the work because it was easy for him. He flew through math sheets that he clearly didn't need practice in because he had already mastered the skills. Time after time, I'd ask myself, "why isn't this differentiated?" My son has asked for more math homework in the past and is currently in mathletes which meets after school.

So what I don't understand is, if my son is involved in an afternoon activity for advanced math, why does he need to do the easy worksheets that are just a waste of time at home?

As a parent, I have one feeling about homework and as a high school English teacher, I have a similar one. It has taken me some time to see that giving homework all the time is a waste especially if it is doled out wholesale for everyone in the class.

Homework, like everything else with learning, must be differentiated and supplied as needed for practice or enrichment - to supplement learning. If a teacher is flipping a class, asking students to watch a 5-7 minute video in preparation for the next class is fair as is self-paced learning for long-term projects. This helps students learn to manage time responsibly.

Since some proponents for homework argue that it is necessary to teach students about responsibility, restructuring the way it is presented and what each child is doing would be useful too. Nightly homework doesn't do this at all, though. It usually just facilitates more reasons for students to have a distaste for learning.

  • practice offered as needed for students who need support (but not for all kids)

  • flipped classroom videos that support in-class time - should be short and instructive

  • project-based tasks that require students to make choices and manage time appropriately at their own pace

  • offered as supplemental materials if students don't appear to be "getting it" in class

  • exploring the world and personal interests, making connections to the learning happening in class, rendering it more meaningful

  • reading for fun without tracking or testing

  • used to assess what students need more help in

  • should be used during class time

  • should have meaning and purpose that is transparent and evident to everyone

  • graded and tracked

  • assigned the same for all

  • required daily (even without purpose)

Like many long-held traditions in education, homework really needs to be reconsidered. We need to look long and hard at its purpose and how it can be readjusted to suit the needs of today's children who are over-scheduled as it is.

Teachers must be cognizant of family time and how giving too much work infringes upon it. This coupled with the impact of unnecessary tasks on students' intrinsic love of learning has the potential to really ruin the joy that should be fostered in school.

"Please sir, may I have some more" was never used in reference to homework.

How can you rethink homework in your classroom? or Parents, how does homework impact your children? Please share

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in 11/2014

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