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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.


Comments (129)

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I agree about the bigger picture!

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I completely agree with Andrew's take on the issue. Especially in the primary grades, children need plenty of time for unstructured play and to explore their own areas of intellectual curiosity.


My wife's and my approach is to apply a hierarchy at home. At the very top of the list is unstructured play, preferably with their friends outside but possibly including us. Then comes inside creative play and then homework.

I think children learn wonderful, valuable lessons playing and exploring the world. They need time to dig in the dirt, fingerpaint, and run around. I don't think they need to dedicate their "free time" to homework.

Obviously my comments relate mostly to primary school but I think we need to think carefully before assigning homework at any level. There are times when homework is beneficial but I think children should also have plenty of free time.


Middle School Math Teacher

I am a relatively new teacher

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I am a relatively new teacher and with regards to homework, I often wonder how much a student is learning when they are at home trying to work math problems which they might not be thoroughly comfortable with yet. They could be wasting their time by doing them all wrong. Because of this I have started giving students practice problems along with the answers so that they will know immediately if they have solved them correctly. I also try to have the students start working on practice problems the last ten minutes of class so that the students and I can make sure they are on the right track. I believe the best scenario for me is when the students have the answers and are able to complete the entire assignment in class. Unfortunately time is many times an issue.

8th grade Language Arts Teacher, Ohio

This conversation is a topic

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This conversation is a topic that we have discussed for years in my district, without solid research on either end. Children today are very busy and have many commitments outside of school, but children also have a commitment to school. The purpose of homework is what first needs to be decided. Is the homework busy work? Or does it have a specific purpose? Homework can reinforce skills - 8-10 long division problems will more than suffice for a 4th grader who has recently learned how to do long division in the classroom. Homework can also allow the teacher to see if the student has retained what he/she has recently learned. Again, a few quick problems or a question or two can quickly gauge a child's comprehension of the day's lesson/new concepts. Homework can also give students the time to reflect and respond to their work without distractions. Again, this can be brief. Homework should not be intended to take up a child's evening. And I don't think this is often the case, 20-30 minutes is usually enough time for the student to participate in some meaningful work without getting stressed out or without having the time to complete it. Laslty, homework teaches responsibility. Short and sweet. It's a small lesson of responsibility for the bigger life lessons that are sure to follow.

Sixth Grade Classroom Teacher

How refreshing it is to read

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How refreshing it is to read someone valuing the need for children to play! While I do assign homework to my 5th graders, usually reading and math problems to reinforce the lesson taught that day, I struggle with the academic rigor that is passed down to younger and younger children. With this increased rigor, children are losing out on the opportunity to learn social skills through play and interaction with their peers outside the classroom. I think this has led to a decline in their ability to get along with one another in the classroom and could very well contribute to the increase of attention deficit problems we are seeing more often in the classroom. There has to be a balance!

Sixth Grade Life Science Teacher from Las Vegas

A little Homework is good

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I give some homework, mostly finishing work they did not get done in class or a little assignment to reinforce a concept. Nothing that will take more then 10 - 15 minutes and not everyday

5/6 grade math, 6 grade science from Louisville, Kentucky

I think that busy work is,

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I think that busy work is, indeed, counter-productive. My principal told me that she want to see us increase the amount of homework given. I am not in favor of that _for my class_, but I don't know what's going on in other classrooms.

I teach math and I do feel that asking students to practice their basic facts (in a variety of ways, using different strategies) is a productive use of homework time. I also assign time limits, not number of problems. 10-15 minutes a day is plenty - whether you get 20 or 2 problems done is a matter for me (and the student) to assess how to improve upon that.

I also think that asking students a question and having them read a passage and/or define words in an effort to prepare for the next day's lesson can be a productive use of homework time.

I don't think that homework is always wasted - it does teach organizational and time management skills. It just needs to be done thoughtfully and not necessarily daily.

One last point in regard to the "professional taking work home" analogy - I always found that occasionally I had to take work home when other forces prevented me from finishing it in my allotted, contractually obligated time. But, if I had a job where I was expected to take work home daily as part of my contractual obligation, I think I'd find a new job.

Nebraska Elementary Teacher

Quote: As an AP Calculus

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As an AP Calculus teacher, I find that homework is a necessary part of my curriculum. My students have problems to solve that require a minimum of 3 hours per week outside of class....aka homework. There are also extra credit problems that can also be done outside of class.

Doesn't homework, or work outside of class compare to a professional bringing work home, or staying late at the office? I think in order to be successful, students must learn that doing more is always better than doing just enough to get by. Reward your hard workers.

YES to homework!

I'm glad that you have brought up these points as I completely agree with your stance. While as an elementary teacher homework is not a part of the child's regular experience there becomes a time when it needs to be a priority. In high school especially, students should be expected to do homework if only as a preparation for college or their professional lives as adults. The harder you work the more you tend to succeed and we need to teach this concept.

Learning Specialist: Technology for Stratford Hall

Quote: The harder you work

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The harder you work the more you tend to succeed and we need to teach this concept.

This is true, but homework fails this test for a few reasons.

1. We don't reward students for working hard on homework, we reward them for completion.
2. Many, many students cheat on standard homework assignments.
3. Parents do many homework assignments, or help their children so much that the child can hardly be said to have learned responsibility from the homework.

If our objective is to teach kids the value of working hard, surely there is another way to do it.

Graduate Student

How to judge learning tools

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I think it's too harsh to say that "homework fails 'this' test...". It is not right to expect any learning tool to be perfect (what in life CAN we expect to be perfect?). I think the last sentiment gets closer to what you want. You say "surely there is another way to do it". Perhaps insert "better" in there.

You can't dismiss a system because there are flaws. (Not to go too political, but everyone has some disagreement with how governments are run, but they still put up with them!)

As for a more pragmatic approach to answering is there "another way", there aren't many other options now are there? You've got school, home, and "other" places that perhaps can be visited as a field trip. Sure, there are schools that are doing the "experiential learning" thing, but as far as I can tell, that's in testing mode. It costs the school a good bit to do this.

Given the typical class structure, you can consider any place outside of school to be "home" in the sense that any work outside of school is "homework", even if, for instance, they go out into the wild and collect leaves and write about that.
In direct response to your points:
1. Well, that's the way the real world is isn't it? It's not hard to add in points for attempting problems (e.g. you see they wrote down something), or that they finished a problem, and lastly, that they had the correct answer (if there is one). But you still want to instill in them that any company isn't going to care if its employee tried to do his/her job, only if the job was done.
2. There are ways to minimize this (or at least ways you can set up homework such that cheating is more evident) and then it's a matter of how your punish cheating.
3. This surprises me. The parent has to care enough that the child gets good grades, but not enough that the child actually learns. Well, you can just have weekly quizzes in class such that homeworks are not enough to do well in the class (i.e. around 50% of the class grade. No more than 70% I would think).

high school chem teacher

Homework can be beneficial,

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Homework can be beneficial, and sometimes it is not. It depends on the class and the homework. I teach chemistry to high school students. I can't tell you how many times I have had students say they understood how to do a problem type and then go home and get completely lost. That is O.K. by me because then they know what questions to ask the next day- if they hadn't tried by themselves, they would not have known what they didn't know. In A.P. classes, if you do not assign homework, the students would ask for it- they tend to be quite motivated students in my experience.
Could they solve the problem the wrong way? Yes, but we catch it the next day-and sometimes you learn by making mistakes- I always tell them make the mistakes now, not on the test.Or there are online sites that students can ask each other how to work a problem or give each other help- set up for just your class. Is this cheating? I don't think so.
I also agree with the person who says it is a responsibility. How do you learn to be responsible? Homework is one way, assuming it is needed for the subject at hand.
I disagree with the person who says students have to be interested to learn something. I'm sure I was not terribly interested in learning the times table, but I did, and I am very glad I did.

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