Why It’s Time To Rethink (And Question) Homework

The concept of homework as we have known it in the past is changing rapidly, since it often distorts the overall picture of learning. Flipped classrooms, the ability to use the same technology and tools both in and out of the classroom, and personalized learning are making ripples in the education world. And while most of us think about these things and how they apply to the classroom and what we do there, we don’t always talk about how that changes what we have our students doing at home (aside from perhaps discussions on flipped classrooms).

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Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your students and homework:

  • If a student does their homework, does that make them a ‘better’ student than one that does not?
  • Does completed homework assignment indicate that a student has learned the material?
  • Does the student need homework to understand the material at hand?

Keeping those things in mind, I always think back to when I was teaching university students in 1st and 2nd semester French courses. This was my very first year of teaching and the syllabus was delineated by the department head, not by me. Homework comprised a whopping 40% of each student’s semester grade, making it very easy for a student who failed every assessment and completely did not understand the material to pass the course if they completed their homework and attended class regularly. The homework for each class was almost always some workbook pages that followed up the textbook pages we had covered in class that day. The answers to all of the questions were in the back of the workbook.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to whether or not those assignments actually helped my students learn any French.

Alterna-Homework

There are a number of books out there that address the idea of rethinking homework. One takeaway from many of these is that students are all different, and giving your students one-size-fits-all homework will ensure that you’re giving something that won’t work for everyone. Personalized learning addresses this idea in the classroom – but what about at home?

Having a selection of options for homework may mean a little more work at the outset for the teacher, but once you’ve figured out multiple ways to supplement your class time learning, it shouldn’t be too much of a drawback. Either assigning students different types of work or offering a selection and letting them choose are two options.

Assigning different types of homework to different students can sound like an absolute nightmare for collecting/sorting/assessing. And if you approached each assignment option as you would for an assignment you gave a whole class, it would be.  Obviously, many different types of homework would only work for assignments that aren’t geared towards a specific skill (like a writing assignment, where clearly writing – with certain elements – is necessary), but are aimed at seeing if your students understood/can remember and apply a specific concept or information. When you’re creating homework options for this type of scenario, working with material that you can look at and say ” Does this work show the student understands the material/concept” in a pretty general way will be much easier than something where you’d have to grade many individual questions. Think of it as creating the work to fit a more general rubric.

There’s much discussion out there about the idea that some students just don’t need homework – and while I’m sure that there are some out there that might not, I’d vote in favor of some type of homework for everyone, rather than a homework optional scenario. This can address all sorts of logistical issues, especially how to/if to include completed homework as a portion of a final grade.

Questions To Ask About Homework

When you’re creating homework assignments for your students, think hard about the options available to you. Whether or not you assign a for-everyone homework or an option for the students to choose, these can get your brain churning about what homework can or can’t do for your students in a particular scenario, or if maybe no homework would be a better option.

  • Can you offer your students options for their out of class work (without making it a logistical nightmare for yourself)?
  • What options do you have for the type of work they could do?
  • How will you assess the homework – will they do it just for credit, or will they get something more out of it?
  • Does the homework given enhance the material, expand upon it, or rehash it?
  • How can you structure the homework to encourage the students to think critically and apply their knowledge?

What do you think of homework? Is it a ‘must’? How do you decide what type of homework to give? Weigh in by leaving a comment below, mentioning @Edudemic on Twitter or leaving your thoughts on our Facebook page.

11 Comments

  1. James White

    June 12, 2014 at 10:56 am

    In my experience, it really just comes down to the learning styles of kids and sometimes even the effort their parent is willing to put in.

    Great article, Katie! I would love to connect with you on Twitter, do you have a handle? Or feel free to find me @JGtheSavage

  2. Nathaniel Bailey

    June 12, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    In answer to your first question about hw, I would say that they easiest way to find the better student is to check homework. That is absurdly obvious. You would be surprised how often students don’t complete he easiest of assignments.

    As far as rethinking hw, I find a good homework load focuses students. Or at least, it should. I also find it saves them from bombing quizzes. Specifically, foreign language vocab will never be learnd without assigning flash cards. You could do it in class, but the kids will drag their feet, taking as much class time as possible for a simple task. I also find the assignments good review. Now, whether the students utilize the tools I give them, we’ll, that is on them to a certain extent. You show a kid how to shoot the basketball correctly. Whether he chooses to take your instruction………..

    • Kenny Ward

      June 19, 2014 at 8:55 am

      Nathaniel I appreciate your comments but I get the feeling that your situation may be one of those where the teacher teaches a great lesson, gives world class assignments for homework, and if the kids take advantage wonderful, but if they don’t that’s their problem. I would have to ask for clarification; what happens if you realize you have some kids that are not utilizing the work you are providing?

  3. Shameel Reddy

    June 15, 2014 at 4:05 am

    Very often homework is the only connection parents have with what is happening at school. Some parents show an interest in their child’s learning but have no idea of what the demands of the curriculum are. Certainly homework should not be given as a token.

  4. Glenn Alejandrino

    June 18, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Could you recommend some more books/resources that discuss this issue of re-thinking homework?

    Thank you.

  5. Michael Armstrong

    June 18, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I work in a low socio-economic area where many of my students do not live in an environment where they have any support academically. Some students and their family may share a bedroom with another family, therefore making it difficult to complete. I have observed many students at our school either copying off another student or having a family member do it for them. Again, the question asked is “Is the assignment reinforcing the concepts being taught?” I do believe homework does help students who want to improve and who have the home support. I assign independent reading and practicing math facts every night (I teach 4th grade). I give little prizes for students who turn in a reading log, but do not punish the students who do not. We also talk about the importance of reading at home.

    • Ruth Fingerhut

      June 19, 2014 at 7:52 am

      I also work in an urban setting. I have had the same experience with homework done by others, not having the desired affect. Practicing words, math facts or rereading passages read in class, can be evaluated by the progress in fluency achieved, so I agree it is a better option for these types of student environments.

  6. Anil MN

    June 24, 2014 at 8:20 am

    I am thinking, students would be so much more interested in academics if they knew they had to take up fun activities once they got home, instead of dreary homework! Written homework and mugging up, definitely needs rethinking!

  7. Todd Sturgess

    June 24, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I recently did a hybrid flip of my classroom. My new homework, watching videos at home and taking notes on the material, is imperative for students to reach those upper levels of understanding (or, as my students call it, “the fun stuff.”)
    A student who watches the videos will come in and breeze through the two mandated activities and move on to the higher order thinking activities. They need to know and fully understand the basics before they can move forward. A student who doesn’t watch the video has to spend the first part of class watching, taking notes, and writing down their questions. They lose time. I am trying to build time into my instruction and a student who doesn’t do my homework loses the time I tried to give them.

  8. Megan

    June 25, 2014 at 7:46 am

    This past semester I actually stopped requiring homework. I have 30 iPads in my classroom with the hopes of eventually going paperless. I redid the entire structure of my classroom and took out fluff assignments that were usually homework. The end result was that I had fewer zeros and my class averages increased by more than 10 points. I intend to do the same type of set-up this coming school year. However, this set-up does not work for every teacher or every student. My students in my class dictate the direction needed for homework.

  9. Martha Smith

    July 10, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    I hate assigning homework for a grade but instead remind students that they need to practice skills at home. If they practice, their assessments will reflect their efforts. Some kids need a lot of practice and some need very little. I also try to assign long-term projects that will need to be worked on at home but kids can set their own pace.

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