I hate homework. I hate it more now than I did when I was the one lugging textbooks and binders back and forth from school. The house my children are seated at the kitchen table, their books spread out before them, the crumbs of their after-school snack littering the table, is without a doubt the worst hour of my day.
I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.
If I could, I would ban homework from the face of the earth.
This is coming from someone who in the early years of my teaching career was probably the biggest homework fan ever. I assigned it, I graded it, and I punished students who didn’t do it. I thought that’s what good teachers did. How I wish I could apologize to every child and parent assigned to me in those early years.
Homework is a deeply controversial subject, and I accept how passionate some educators and parents are about the need for it. I certainly don’t feel I could — or should — seek to change anyone’s mind, and I don’t wish to argue about the merits of homework. But as a former teacher, a current principal, and a parent of young learners, I have changed my stance completely, and I truly wish we would collectively reconsider why we are assigning homework at all.
Here’s my problem with homework:
- If we assign homework, we are taking that time directly away from time students could spend reading for pleasure. We all know how important that is in fostering a love of literacy.
- Some teachers don’t assign homework for the content, but because they feel they are teaching responsibility. But when homework is too difficult, too easy, or seems to be silly busywork, we aren’t teaching responsibility. We’re teaching that learning can really, really stink.
- Some teachers don’t grade the homework but just offer it as “practice.” That’s fine, and I get the philosophy behind it: teachers want to offer practice if the student or parent desires further work. But it doesn’t take a child long to wonder — “Well then why do it?” They face a dilemma: I can please my teacher, obey my parent, be a good little diligent student — or go outside, read, play the piano . . . That seems to me a pretty lousy choice to offer young learners.
- Many teachers vastly underestimate the time it takes to complete an assignment. For example, they may assume the short nonfiction article they’ve sent home along with the accompanying comprehension questions will take ten minutes. After a long day of school, sports, dinner, and chores, it can take an exhausted child almost an hour to slog through even a short reading assignment with a required written response. In some cases, homework involves tears, frustration, and battles between parent and child. This is not the way we want our learners to end their days.
- Research shows there is almost no positive effect on student achievement at the elementary school. In his fabulous book Visible Learning, John Hattie points to a study by Cooper, Lindsay, Nye, and Greathouse (1998) that estimated a correlation of near zero between time spent on homework and achievement. Although there are some positive effects of homework at the junior high and high school level — “twice as large for high as for junior high,” according to Cooper, that is only true depending on the nature of the homework. Math homework yields the highest effect, and science and social studies yields the lowest. Hattie also shares research that shows the effects of homework are greater for higher ability students and for older rather than younger students.
- For too many students, homework reinforces that they cannot learn by themselves, and that they cannot do the schoolwork. Hattie notes in Visible Learning that homework can undermine motivation, internalize incorrect routines and strategies, and reinforce less effective study habits, especially for elementary students.
- Some parents judge the quality of schools by the amount of homework assigned. This is an unfair and certainly misguided view.
- When there is no parental guidance at home to complete homework, students can be left on their own to understand and complete assigned work. This creates a divide between students who have support and those who don’t. We end up punishing the students who need our help the most.
- We ask our students to work so hard at school. Rigor testing, and expectations have increased. Don’t they work hard enough for the eight hours we have them? Won’t they learn better if they have a break? As grown-ups, we know when it’s time to step away and rest our minds. Young learners don’t know this yet. It’s our job to allow them this time to rest and recover from a hard day’s work.
Although I have changed my philosophy, I respect the opinions of others about homework. One thing I know for sure, though: if I ever find myself in a classroom teaching again, I will not assign a droplet of homework. I’ll push students hard during the day and I’ll ask them to do some recreational reading at night, and that will be it.