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.


Comments (129)

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Adj. Prof of Psych; Dir. of Instructional Computing and Tech

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Of course we should assign homework. The major value of home work is learning self management. Looking back over my academic career I can still remember when I finally "got" school in the 3rd grade. From then on I knew my learning was up to me. Homework became the challenge for me to over come to prove I could do it. It gave me self efficacy; far more important than self-esteem (even though that was a side benefit). It led to the point where in high school I was able to show that the textbook publisher made two errors in my geometry text. More importantly, it gave me the responsibility for my learning.

I worry about those who think they are "protecting" children by expecting less of them. Even if done wrong, even when forgotten, even when done on the bus or the last minute before class, the responsibility of homework has a lot to teach us about ourselves and consequences of our behavior. In many ways the responsibility of homework has done more to prepare me for life than any single course.

But that's just my experience YMMV.

GED tutor; starting online Masters in Adult Education soon.

Remember the parents

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In assigning homework, I cannot a phone call I overheard on the bus. The mother was trying to explain that she can not help her 4th grader because she dropped out in eighth grade and doesn't know the math, let alone help her daughter.

Middle School English Teacher

Allowing students to determine homework assignments

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Because I feel that middle school is the appropriate time to help students learn to make decisions about their own learning, I try to encourage them to "assign" homework for themselves. Usually, I start with teaching study strategies for vocabulary and/or grammar. Then, I encourage the students to set goals and, if during their self-evaluation time, they determine that they don't quite know the concepts, then they "assign" their homework. Students are required to note (and have me initial) their assignment in their notebooks--before and after completion. Completed assignments improve grades in two ways: first, students spend extra time learning the concepts and second; they earn one bonus point for each assignment. I find that some students are reluctant to do this at first, but jump on board when they get the urge (hopefully because of self-motivation or teacher or parent inspiration) to succeed in my class. I do admit, however, that sometimes I strong arm the kids into creating their own assignments...

As a parent, I appreciate some homework assignments--they help me to know what my daughters are learning in school. Luckily, so far, our teachers have not given "busy" work.

Quote: Practice of physical

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Practice of physical skills, like the piano and sports are a whole different thing. They have another component, mainly that practice brings muscle memory and imbeds the technique to where you don't have to overtly think about every move. Evidently, you can do the same with school subjects, but it seems to me that would be counter-productive. You want students to think overtly about what they're doing, to analyze it. And speed doesn't make you better at math, not in the school context anyway.

Actually many things that are homework in my class are things that require muscle memory (cursive for example) or need to be known without conscious thought (basic math facts). When you have 4th graders adding on their fingers something is wrong. My students get spelling homework 4x a week, math homework every night (that there's no test), and sometimes some sort of Social Studies or reading skill homework, they are also supposed to read for 20 minutes every night. With the exception of the reading everything can be done within 30 minutes to an hour depending on how focused they are. The homework is not graded except as being finished and it is always practice of some sort, we go over the math the following day in class to check for understanding. I see a difference in the students who finish their homework and those that habitually don't.

I work in an urban school district and many of my kids need help in getting and staying organized, we constantly talk about ways to help them with this. It's a life skill that needs to be learned.

High school religion teacher

Reading as homework

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Is it reasonable to expect high school students to read outside of the classroom? Much of what I assign involves pages from a textbook to be read before a class. I want them to come to class with some shared knowledge that can be the basis of discussion or related learning activities, so that I don't have to lecture too much. This doesn't seem to be entirely different from the idea of the "flipped" classroom, except that my students are not watching videos. They are asked to read.

I often do assign homework for the weekend and even holiday breaks, but not extra, just whatever the daily assignment would be. To me it makes sense for students to be just as prepared on Monday as any other day of the week.

I say all this knowing that some high school students have a heavy homework burden, depending on how many classes they have and how much they have to do for each. My daughter's AP History, for example, was killer (but that teacher had a great track record for AP scores). I try not too assign too much on a given night, and to give extended time for something that will take longer, a project or something involving reflection about the material. Sometimes I will ask students for input about the due date of an assignment.

HS math/science/art teacher living in Massachusetts

Well-designed and thoughtful

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Well-designed and thoughtful homework can be hugely beneficial, but that is the hard thing about it--it often isn't either. Any skill needs to be practiced, so it is difficult to make the claim that practicing something at home is bad. However, I've become interested in using YouTube video tutorials (mostly about 5-8 min. long)that I post as a "homework" assignment. I find that kids can utilize them as a way of absorbing essential, and sometimes difficult content. They are a short activity that is focused and controlled by the student. They can pause the video, take notes, solve a brief problem, etc. (see Khanacademy) Then, when students come to class, they can launch into problems of real substance. These tutorials also help when prepping for group work, and later when reviewing.

Professionals don't have to bring home work every day

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As a professional, if you have to stay late or bring work home every night, you are doing it wrong. Time management is paramount to doing your job well, and people who constantly have to bring home work or stay late to finish are mismanaging their time.

Students should not have problems that require a minimum of 3 hours per week outside of class (or a minimum of any specific time). Extra credit, sure. My AP calculus teacher only gave assignments. If you could finish them during school time, great. If you couldn't, homework. This rewarded good time management skills and allowed me to do more research in areas the teacher did not decide to cover. If I had had homework every day, I could not possibly have learned as much as I did because, despite what many teachers think, they are limited in their scope of what they deem necessary to learn.

NO to homework.

Learning Specialist: Technology for Stratford Hall

I think it is also useful to

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I think it is also useful to point out that this technique allows you to A. see which students are working hard but take much longer to complete assignments and B. help students develop time-management while they have someone in front of them to assist them with developing the skills, rather than having them try and develop all of them outside on their own time.

fifth grade teacher from Fargo, North Dakota

This is a very interesting

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This is a very interesting question. I think the rut I sometimes run into is that yes, in fifth grade, homework is expected. If I didn't assign homework, parents, administrators, and other teachers would wonder why. It seems that it is almost an expectation now that in most grades, homework is the norm. I was reading another post from someone who was stating that they prefer those engaging activities that teachers send home to have their students work on or work through with a parent. I also agree that these seem to be the most meaningful forms of assessment, although I so believe that other forms of homework are beneficial to see where a student is at. I just recently had a student of mine (5th grade) that HAS NO CLUE her most basic multiplication facts. Had it not been for one of the homework assignments I assigned, I don't think I would have caught the need for her to be learning these as soon as I did. Homework is important, as long as it doesn't just turn into busy work.

High School Math Teacher

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If your homework is only annoying busy work, then something is wrong with what you are being asked to do. People in many fields intuitively understand that we get better at things by practicing them. Shooting free throws, playing violin, painting, singing, running, etc What valuable skills/talents are there that are not improved by practice? Our job as teachers is to try to balance guided practice time where our students are working together or under our watchful eye with work on their own where the student has to rely on herself to get things done. We need to make sure that our homework assignments are thoughtfully selected and balanced and represent skills we value. Telling a student to do problems 1 - 59 odd certainly implies that we have not thought much about what we are asking them to do.

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