A forum for discussing what's working -- and what isn't -- in standards and assessments.

Should we assign homework?

David Wees Learning Specialist: Technology for Stratford Hall

Hi all,

I'd like to start a discussion here on the benefits or drawbacks to assigning regular homework to students.

I've had a lot of discussion with educators in the past year or so about homework, and met with mixed reviews of homework. Most educators I talk to support it, but much of the reading I've done seems either ambivalent about the practice or even quite negative.

I could start off with an opinion piece, but I'd rather that each person who has a position posts it here, and then I'll post my opinion later.

David

Comments (129)

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Former professional physicist, now teaching 7th grade science in Texas

Classwork is a rough draft

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I use a style of portfolio grading that integrates classwork as sort of a rough draft. It's been my experience that if I allow the kids to practice in class with guidance from me, that they will then feel much more comfortable revising whatever they need to at home. Often homework is not completed because there is a lack of understanding.

I do checks and take classwork grades based on attempts at understanding and critical thinking that I observe while the student is working. If we're doing a lab for example, I will assess standards such as use of the scientific method, experimental design, and collaboration. If the math or graphs are not correct, I don't take points off right away, but let them revise their work at home. The same is true for in class writings, models, data analysis, etc.

At the end of the week, the kids turn in their portfolios with at least 7 complete, revised examples of their work (3 that they choose, 4 that I have assigned) that I then assign a final grade and return. You give the kids a chance to choose how they want to express their understanding, while also making sure that core standards are addressed.

School Librarian, East Hoke Middle School

Quality Homework - Yes

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As the school librarian, I have contact with all students in the school and can see the effects of homework on student learning. The issue should not be whether or not homework should be given, but the quality of the homework assigned and how the teacher evaluates/uses the homework. Homework can provide teachers who have -- in many cases -- very limited one-on-one time with students -- the ability to assess students' understanding of the concepts/ideas explored during class time. It gives teachers information they can act upon immediately to correct any misconceptions or fill in areas of understanding necessary for the students' to progress and move forward. Homework also provides a means by which parents' can stay involved in their children's academic life. Parents should be at least as involved in their children's academic pursuits as they are in their sports or arts pursuits. Homework provides opportunities for communication between students, parents and teachers and helps build strong connections between school and home.

Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

How about this?

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Assuming that ANY homework has an intended purpose (communicated effectively to the students), encourage student feedback on their efforts made:

1. For homework with repetition in it, let students stop when they understand how to respond - maybe with full credit if all correct or partial credit for correct portions of entire assignment if not.

2. For homework not understood, award most if not full credit for students including their efforts made AND their description of why they believe they can't do the work - what's preventing them from proceeding?

9th grade ELA teacher from Washington.

I find homework is valuable

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I find homework is valuable IF there is feedback. I try to review the assigned homework on the day it is due. Or if it is a writing assignment, I try to get the corrected papers back quickly. I find there is more learning happening if the students are able to see their improvement or analyze their efforts quickly.

HS Mathematics and MS/HS Pre-Engineering teacher, from South Louisiana

Home Learning and HS Mathematics

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Since secondary schools in our district/state have adopted a 4-by-4 schedule (eight different courses via four 90-minute classes each semester), student-teacher contact time has been reduced by 25% from the traditional six-course schedule. In addition, core subjects no longer last the entire year. Without reinforcement of learned skills outside of class, "automaticity" of procedural mathematics does not usually occur, nor is long-term memory of skills established. Without individual efforts on the part of students to make sense of the mathematics being presented (either in class or via "flipped" video learning), construction of conceptual understanding remains minimal to non-existent. Without personal investment on the part of the student, learning mathematics cannot be maximized. Most of my best students have reported spending an average of about six to seven hours a week on home learning (watching videos, solving problems, and/or practicing skills). [Of course, there are a few high-performing students who require less and some who require more.]

During freshman orientation, I was informed that college students should expect to spend at least two hours outside of class for each hour spent in class to maximize learning. Is it too much to expect high school students to spend 30-40 minutes outside of class working on content for each hour spent in class for core content courses? That would translate into spending 45-60 minutes a day on home learning for core subjects when working on a block schedule. Since at least three of the eight courses usually require little to no work outside of class, that means they would be spending 1½ to 3 hours of their own time learning outside of school. (Add that to the six hours actually spent in class on a block schedule, and that is an average of 7½ to 9 hours per school day. Since most core teachers do not assign maximum homework every day and students do not usually have three core courses every semester, the average would be more along the lines of eight or fewer total hours spent on learning per school day – with little to no additional time spent on the weekend.) I'm sure that is much less than what is done by students from countries that out-perform the U.S.A.

Of course, it is possible for students to learn less and earn lower grades with minimal to no extra work! However, if we are to prepare our students for college and the real world, then high school students should learn to develop self-discipline and work / study habits that will maximize their learning and serve them well in future endeavors. Therefore, I try to incorporate academic choice within my homework assignments to accommodate my students’ interests and abilities whenever possible. They are allowed to analyze problem sets and then select the problems they need to work in order to master required skills. (I provide a minimal, required set of problems with options, and then I help set expectations for additional work.)

School Librarian, East Hoke Middle School

Thank you for your valuable

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Thank you for your valuable comments -- I love the term "home learning" versus homework.

Elementary Teacher (or trying to be)

Research resource

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I am working toward a middle school endorsement and am preparing a research project on the benefits and/or detriments of regular homework for middle school students. This thread has been very informative as to what education professionals think and feel on the subject--pro, con, and the continuum in between.

A couple of thoughts that occur to me are:
1. How does homework help students develop time-management skills if they are not necessarily in control of their time (i.e., overscheduled with extracurricular activities)?
2. If homework should be assigned to promote practice of skills taught in class, should students be graded on the work if they did not understand was was taught?

To address #2, I don't grade

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To address #2, I don't grade homework as to its correctness. I give them credit for the attempt, did they try or did they just leave it blank? We go over the homework as a class as well so they can see where they went wrong and ask questions as needed. This is grade 4 though, not middle school.

School Librarian, East Hoke Middle School

Graded Homework - Yes

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Homework, even though it is for practice should be graded. From my experience as a classroom teacher, if students know that homework is graded, they tend to pay more attention in class, ask more questions if they don't understand, etc... A grade is valuable to students, if they know they are not being graded they undervalue homework and don't put the effort into it that they should. In middle school, we are able to weight the assignment categories, which gives the teacher the ability to have the homework grade count appropriately in the overall grade.

HS Mathematics and MS/HS Pre-Engineering teacher, from South Louisiana

Time-Management & Grades

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1) Time-management for students who are "over-scheduled with extracurricular activities" - several of my top students are cheerleaders or participants in various sports, as well as members of several school organizations and/or participants in non-school activities. They learn to make use of available time, even if it's small periods of time - they borrow text books to work on homework during lunch or during the half-hour before practice starts after school (time set aside for athletes to work on homework or receive tutoring), as well as on the bus when traveling to out-of-town games! This provides positive modeling and encouragement for their peers who frequently follow their example.

Our students also know that most of our teachers are willing to allow extra time on game days or when several things taking place on the same day - all they have to do is let us know (preferably ahead of time). Frequently, I will reduce an assignment or give the whole class extra time if there is a big game or track meet or concert, etc. I am also willing to work with my students who take private dance or music lessons, have a job, or participate in church or family activities. I see my job as one in which I need to help my students learn to work with other people, making accommodations or compromises that will help all parties meet with success in reaching their goals. My students know that I value their extra-curricular activities and family time.

To help prevent "overload," I also tell my students that they can stop after they have they have put in a good solid hour working on their math assignment if and when necessary and after 90 minutes for sure - I do not want my assignments to cut into time needed for other classes. However, I let them know that I expect them to go back and finish incomplete assignments on those days when they have less work. I have all of my students mark where they were after spending an hour on their homework and / or record the total amount of time required for assignments. This provides real data for graphing, as well as comparison of homework times - I recommend that my students come see me for help during lunch if they frequently require more time than the class average (data is collected discretely - they submit the requested information on small slips of scratch paper.

2) Grading of homework - I do not grade first attempts for accuracy - my students are given participation (aka work ethic) points for completed classwork and home learning assignments (total weight is no more than 15% of their total grade) - if students cannot figure out how to work a problem, they receive full credit if they "set up the problem" and jot down a comment or question as to why they could not complete the problem. Students are allowed to work in small groups to discuss their solutions at the beginning of class on the due date while I walk around and ask questions and answer questions as needed. They are expected to correct their errors and complete unfinished problems during this time also. If they have uncorrected errors or incomplete work after the allotted time, they are encouraged to come in during lunch or after school for additional assistance. Student work is date-stamped on the day it is due and submitted either at the end of the week or on the day of the assessment for that content. At that time, it is checked for completion (work ethic) and spot checked for accuracy (content). Frequently, a review set is assigned the night before a quiz or test – these are almost always spot-checked for accuracy to encourage appropriate student involvement in learning. Since students frequently “borrow” their friends’ work, I do not believe in giving large content grades for out of class assignments. Sometimes I allow students to use their in-class and out-of-class assignments while completing the first assessment on new content, especially when it’s difficult.

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