Sunday, January 6, 2013

What's The Deal With Homework? #edchat

I've been reading plenty of great posts on homework, or more specifically, the lack of value to homework. Research has been done and it says it shows that homework has little impact on learning. I do not want to argue the research. My issue is the broad definition of homework.

Just because it is done at home, doesn't make it worthless. Are these studies being conducted focusing on worksheets and study guides? The odd numbered problems in the textbook? If so, I tend to agree that those assignments do not impact leaning as much as people think. However, if they are talking about the first two chapters of The Great Gatsby, the research is wrong.

I'm a high school English teacher. We have to guide our students through the invisible world of themes, symbols, satire and other important ideas that will add value to the world around them. I learned a little while back that handouts and study guides were not really helping to reinforce these ideas. It was just busy work to grade. That does not mean I ditched homework all together.

Students need to read at home and come to class ready to discuss what they have learned. At the high school level, English teachers do not have the time to let kids read all they need to read in class. When I want students to read Huck Finn, Gatsby, Catcher, The Cricible, Death of a Salesman, poems from Dickinson, works from Poe and other pieces from great American authors, reading in class every day is not possible.

Learning to read at home and annotate is an important skill that needs to be practiced at home after the skill is taught in class. So this work that is assigned to be done at home is homework, but it is valuable and important.

We all need to read and find value in our jobs. I did so when reading other posts on homework and I can now articulate my writing based on what I read. This is possible because I learned to read on my own and create my own thoughts to share with others.

I get annoyed when parts of education are generalized as all being bad or all being life changing. Like all tools, how work assigned to be done at home is used is dependent on the teacher who assigns it.

There is bad homework. There is also valuable homework. I think we need to remember that so we can have meaningful discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let the comments begin!



  1. Excellent points. I also assign out of class reading. I only see my students a few times a week - for a short amount of time (I'm a supplemental gifted reading teacher for them). We'd never be able to get through and discuss novels if they did all the reading during the short times they are in my room. They also write in their journals, so that their thoughts are starting to form for when we have our discussions. I was beginning to feel guilty about that - but I do really think it's valuable and needed.

  2. Great post, I think homework is a debate all educators need to have, but too many want to say it MUST be this way or it CANNOT be this way! Just like students in our classrooms, homework and types of homework are very different and some of it can add value to your teaching. I do think we need to get rid of most of it class is where the work (no matter what type it is) should be done. In class allows correction of misconceptions and guidance through tough subject matter! Thanks for sharing your input!

    Kenny (@kvteachking)

  3. Wow, Nick, way to get to the point! Homework, like EVERYTHING else, varies in quality. "Learning to read at home and annotate is an important skill that needs to be practiced at home after the skill is taught in class. So this work that is assigned to be done at home is homework, but it is valuable and important." True! Students need to be given the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned in school and develop habits that allow for that to happen in a meaningful way. Reading, journaling/blogging, sharing, collaborating, and discussing may be done at home, as well as in school. As you and maria.selke mentioned, the typical school day does not allow enough time for these things to occur as effectively without some of the 'work' being done at home. This debate should really be about the purpose and quality of homework, not whether or not there should be homework.

  4. Great post. I agree, it depends on the subject and the type of homework given. In the case of English literature, reading at home is essential so that students can get the most out of the lessons.

    I teach English as a foreign language and I'm trying to do away with setting worksheets as homework. I've found that they discourage the student because they find them boring, then learning English becomes a chore.

    Instead, I usually give creative written homework where they can use the language they've learnt in a context which interests them. If someone writes a blog in their native tongue for instance, I'd ask them to write their initial ideas or draft in English - that way it's aiding & connecting to something they do in real life. thanks for sharing. Sarita

  5. This seems to often be a major discussion in math classes, due mostly to the way we all learned math.

    In my 2 years I've seen homework have a varying effect - like you said, it's a tool. You absolutely must read outside of class in English. That's pretty straightforward.

    In Math, homework is often repetition of things the students can do - busy work. I try to eliminate that as much as possible. I'm lowering the amount of homework I give drastically.

    The biggest problem is: Those that need the extra homework are not going to do it on their own. So do I require it?

    And as a side note, that's where the flipped classroom will always fail. If students won't read novels (novels!) at home for English class, how can we expect them to read their math book? Can we really expect them to watch lectures online? And even if they do, they are only coming away with low-level procedural knowledge.

    1. I agree with your comment on the flipped classroom! Maybe it's a great idea in theory, but if students don't do homework, are they really going to watch a lecture when they could be gaming? ;)

  6. I think the argument against the effectiveness of homework is not about worksheets or busywork, but an argument about whether homework, or more importantly, extra hours of work, in and of themselves, actually improve student comprehension. In general, the studies return with a "no" answer--assigning homework does not, by itself, make a difference. Does that mean no one should ever assign homework? That gets back to your situation. Especially with the Common Core coming out, English teachers are being forced to cover more and more information, and no homework becomes an impossibility.

    The studies really apply to people who believe that homework is a must. A requirement that will make their kids smarter, more able students. And the studies show that it's not true.

  7. I am a middle school Agricultural Science educator and I give homework. Once a month, I require that my students complete an agricultural news article review. What does this mean? They have to take time to find a news article that connects to the broad scope of agriculture (it is so much MORE than farming), read it, write a brief summary of the article, identify why they chose that particular article, and explain how it connects to agriculture. They need to cite it too. We start the course discussing what news articles are vs. blogs or other internet content. The media specialist does a lesson on writing citations. I do this to help them see the connection class has to the world around them.

    I also have them complete assignments such as "Bring in a ziploc bag of 'dirt' from your yard" or record your water use for the week or other homework that:
    1. applies what we are doing in class
    2. sometimes involves pulling the family into activities and discussions

    1. I like your homework assignments. Your homework is purposeful, develops critical thinking, and has a purpose beyond the objective. Thank you for doing what's right by kids.

  8. I think @mrwardteaches hit the nail on the head with his comment and looking at homework through a different lens depending on the subject that you teach. I also feel the biggest hurdle for the anti-homework advocates comes from math. Where it has been a commonly held belief (whether research supports it or not) that repetition is essential for learning math. You make a good point about your problem being that those who need the extra homework not doing it on their own, so do you require it?

    Learning is a two way street. There is no magic formula of teaching that can do it all on its own. To be successful, a student who "needs that extra help" needs to be able to find a way to become motivated and find value in doing that extra work. I don't think "should I require it?" would be the question I would ask. I would ask, "why does this person need the extra work? is there another way I can provide this work? why isn't the student doing the extra work in the first place?"

    I think everyone commenting here would agree that homework for the sake of homework is a terrible thing.

    Nick, have you read The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn? I imagine that most of what is online today publicizing the negatives of homework probably have come from people having read Mr. Kohn's book.
    Even Kohn would support your belief that reading outside of your class is essential--he does support "reading" as an acceptable homework choice. The problem comes in when the quantity of reading becomes tracked, graded, rewarded etc.

    My question to you would be this: I have zero problem with you assigning reading as homework (and I haven't read research that says reading alone as homework is a bad thing), but how do you adjust for the student who doesn't do reading? What then? I think that is the important question to ask.

  9. After our discussion on Twitter I don't want to rehash that conversation, nor do I want to repeat what I have written so many times before. I do not believe all homework is bad, I do believe most of the homework given is done without thought of the implications to the student. Stated simply my position on homework comes down to when do students have the right to decide what they learn and when they learn it? Is time away from school their time or ours?

  10. Nick, I agree that homework, if it consists of worksheets, textbook questions and study guides is not particularly purposeful or effective. However, if the homework consists of exploration that extends what is happening during class I'm in support of it. Embedded within the homework debate is quite likely a much larger question. If a teacher is assigning worksheets, textbook questions and study guides for homework, what arestusents working on in class? My experience is that this type of homework is assigned when similar types of work is being worked on in class but not completed by the student. So what may be even more important for us to reflect on is how we are designing student learning in our classes. If our students are learning through inquiry and exploration, it's likely they will continue to learn in this way beyond the end of the school day.


  11. Nick, I agree. Homework definitely has a place in an English class, and for that matter every class. The value of reading can't be argued. The challenge for teachers is to have a system and strategies in place to ensure students are able to satisfactorily complete the reading.

    In your conclusion, you admit to there being bad homework. The problem is that most teachers would never classify their homework as "bad." I did my best to address this issue on my blog at


    1. I agree that reading is important, but if that's the case, why not use home as a chance to let kids fall in love with reading? I see point systems, reading logs, teacher-required reading all happening at home. You don't have to assign video games, tree climbing or basketball. Reading could be the same way. But we've taught kids that it's a chore, due in large part, by the fact that it's a required thing that requires a reward.

  12. Hey Nick,

    I love your blog... I just found it recently and I am looking forward to perusing your new ebook when my report cards are finished. I am a bit of an Evernote evangelist myself and I am happy to have found your blog.

    With regards to homework, there is SOME research that suggests that given the overall quantity and quality of the homework, it CAN be effective. See Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works. As a primary teacher, I have a hard time conceptualizing homework that is terribly effective that lasts longer than ten minutes... simply because their tiny little attention spans simply can't hack it :)

    I agree with other commenters, and your post, in which you state that there are strategies and tools that students need to work on that simply cannot be addressed within the confines of an hour long class period. Strategies and skills that are going to have leverage in other subject areas and in other areas of their lives.

    As a primary teacher, there is a huge temptation to just simply send out a worksheet and let the kiddos work, and to some extent, you might argue that students need to learn study habits, time management... etc. etc. (Frankly, I believe that is the ONLY valid argument to support a traditional weekly spelling test.) That being said, I think that Aaron is correct when he says that we really need to look at the model in which we are teaching and how we can provide students with skills that are going to benefit them outside of the classroom and THEN approach homework.

    Great post!

    ❀ Kate
    Purely Paperless

  13. Great points. I think that even the most vehement homework haters leave room for some forms of homework. Even the infamous Alfie Kohn said that homework is ok if it's "beneficial" adding "ideally involving students in activities appropriate for the home, such as performing an experiment in the kitchen, cooking, doing crossword puzzles with the family, watching good TV shows, or reading."
    The comment about performing experiments prompted me to write two books full of homework experiments, "Take-Home Physics" and "Take-Home Chemistry." I also assigned Scavenger Hunts and Science Fair Projects.

    Mike @rimsavid

  14. The "deal" with homework is actually quite different from what the current debate suggests. It's not just a question of what the research says, and what's good and bad homework, but one of individual capabilities and lines of authority. There is no doubt that some subjects lend themselves more to having homework than others, and there are differences in the impact of homework in elementary, middle, and high school. Unfortunately, we make erroneous assumptions about why children don't do their homework and, because of these misunderstandings, engage in strategies that cause considerable harm.

    One underlying fact regarding homework is that, unlike schoolwork, it is defined by the assignment, not by the clock. The school day begins with a bell and ends with a bell, so the teacher and the student learn to work together within that context. Homework usually involves a time-estimate, but then has to be done until it gets done. It is touted as a way of teaching time-management, which it is not, since the time is not contained and defined, and hence, there is no clear time interval to manage. The slow working student necessarily must spend more time to get the work done, and inevitably finds himself with a choice of either putting in large amounts of time for mediocre grades, or not doing the work and getting bad grades.

    By high school, that student has reached an age where he is more capable of dealing with his teachers, separate from his parents, and he may also have choices in the courses he takes that will require different amounts of homework. But in the lower grades, the student is really dependent on his parents to set the tone in the home, and, unfortunately, homework policies strip that parent of the authority to make those decisions. This is not always a problem. Certainly, there are many families for whom their children can manage the homework and the policy is in sync with what the family believes. But for homework-trapped children, the end result is a loss of authority on the parents' part and this is a devastating state of affairs for any child. Regardless of how "good" the parent is, we all have a need, when young, for our parents to be in charge. Homework policy that allows teacher judgment to override parental decision-making upsets the natural hierarchies of the family, and this can be extremely damaging to kids.

    The other major issue is that teachers are not adequately taught the theory, research, and practice of homework-giving. This leads to wide variation among teachers regarding homework policy, but no place to go to learn what makes sense. Schools of education do not have courses on homework. Professional development resources for teachers are quite lacking in courses that teach them about homework. As a community, we expect that our teachers are trained in what they do, and, sadly, they don't get trained enough in how to give homework.

    I discuss this more on my website and blog. See

  15. I tend to be anti-homework, but not against learning at home.

    If something is valuable to read, why not take the class time to do it? Yes, it means you don't get through as many of the classics, but you can still have lit circles, discussion groups and debates. If someone needs more time, give that student permission to work at home.

    I'm with William on this one, though. Free time should be free time. High school students often work jobs are involved in extracurricular activities. They have a huge need to be independent. Why not let their free time be truly free? If they want to read on their own, they'll read. But if reading is assigned as homework, they'll most likely view it as a chore.

    I'm not saying abolish home learning. I'm just saying, if it's worth doing, make it optional and let them choose.

  16. Thanks for that post! I agree with many of your points and I do see a value of homework as long as it is be assigned for the right reasons. Like you said: It all depends on the teacher. Homework that is relevant, informative, though provoking and individualized will help students learn no question. Homework that is assigned for the sake of assigning it ...... only goes to instill a dislike of it and no effort or pride will be put into it. I wrote a post a while back on homework in an elementary school. Would be interested in your thoughts. Thanks!

  17. It's very interesting reading the comments following on the post. The dominant theme I see over the majority of the comments has a 'sure homework studies show there's no benefit, but...'

    I have two special needs kids who don't fit the IEP criteria (one has a 504 and the other with Asperger's goes to a flexible school). Mandatory and "rigorous" homework regimes have essentially destroyed my public HS school child and eliminated our ability to parent her in terms of education (see Ken's relevant comment). Her district and HS policy has that classic 'yes the studies show this but...' mentality.

    Our evidence that all this is true is our lived experience of the younger child who attends an online and on-site college style flexible school. He is excelling in academics (A's), has time for physical play and substantial artistic opportunities. When he was in public school with mandatory homework regimes he was a D/F student.

    My spouse is a private school HS math teacher at a prominent owning class institution. Her homework load is personalized to the student and in the form of minimal skills practice. She had found anything more than 10 minutes is useless for most kids. Her success record speaks for itself.

    It's very difficult for me as a parent to continually confront the 'yes studies show, but...' attitude by teachers.

  18. Totally agree with your suggestion.. Very nice post and good information here..Thanks for posting that.. Further


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