No, we didn't get bribed by a set of stressed-out students to write this article. Plenty of educators and pundit-types have been dissing on homework and its supposed value in the educational world for some time now. And we're guessing they weren't bribed by students either.
"Too Much Homework is Bad for Kids." The Case Against Homework, in book or website form. "Is Too Much Homework Bad for Kids' Health?" Whoa, they got doctors in on this? It must be real.
But doesn't homework help cement lessons in those kids' heads? Keep them off the street at night? Teach them about a work ethic?
Hey—we're not here for the defense. This is the zone for airing the reasons people give for eliminating or at least limiting homework at all grade levels.
Let the prosecution speak.
- Too much homework has a negative impact on students' lives.
Stanford researcher Denise Pope found that students who receive too much homework (more than two hours per night) report negative impacts such as high levels of stress, health problems, and a lack of balance (as in work-life or school-life balance…not unable-to-walk-in-a-straight-line balance). Come to think of it, sometimes grown-ups complain about balance, too. Maybe the struggle shouldn't have to start so early.
- Homework creates homework-potatoes.
We know, it sounds delicious. But what we mean is that kids spend most of the school day sitting, and then they come home and (you guessed it) sit down to do their homework. In their book The Case Against Homework (hm…that title sounds familiar), Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish argue that one of the many problems with homework is that it exacerbates the issue of childhood obesity. Imagine kids putting on one pound per algebra problem. Now that's some heavy math.
- There's little to no academic benefit associated with homework.
In a review of the Bennett/Kalish case, the author writes "all the credible research on homework suggests that for younger kids, homework has no connection with positive learning outcomes, and for older kids, the benefits of homework level off sharply after the first couple assignments."
- The positive effects of homework are like unicorns: largely mythical. (That's right, largely.)
According to Alfie Kohn, author of the book The Homework Myth, "there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn't even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied. Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits."
You tell 'em, Alfie.
Kohn expands on this thinking in his 2012 article "Homework: An Unnecessary Evil?," which calls into question the legitimacy of studies that claim homework is beneficial. We hope they don't try to pull that kind of stuff on the unicorns.
- Homework punishes economically challenged students for being poor.
According to Etta Kralovec and John Buell, co-authors of The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, homework, in addition to its many other ills, unfairly targets students living in poverty, setting them up for failure.
Why? Because while "some students go home to well-educated parents and have easy access to computers…others have family responsibilities, parents who work at night, and no educational resources in their homes." And when that sort of thing is stacked against you, you don't even need lines like "the dog ate it."
- Homework is completed in a black hole, making its worth difficult to gauge.
Another argument presented by Kralovec and Buell is that because homework is completed "in a black hole"—i.e., in a place where teachers don't see it happening, and rarely hear specifically about how the process went—it is impossible to assess its value. Teachers have no way of knowing how students completed their homework or whether or not they've actually learned anything from it.
As K&B state,
"When work goes home, teachers have little understanding of the mistakes that students have made on the material and little control over who does the work.…Did the students do their own work? Did they exchange answers with friends over the phone or before school?….Did they download the paper they are handing in? Homework is a black hole in the learning process, leaving teachers unaware of each student's true educational level or progress."
Feel like doing a little extra homework? Check out the New York Times blog post "Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework?" The article gives a brief history of the homework issue and then asks students to comment.
Which they probably do when they're procrastinating on their real homework, but hey—it's some tasty food for thought. And even if you don't go the route of the total homework naysayers, it still may feed you for some schemes that can work in your class.
Why You Should Give Way Less Homework
I think we teachers tend to view homework as our sacred cow. Or at least some of us do.
And, believe me, I really do understand the value of homework. As a math teacher, I firmly believe students need to practice on their own, and homework is a great way for them to see if they can solve problems on their own without the teacher’s help.
But while I believe homework is important, I’ve also come to realize that the amount of homework we give is important too.
And, unfortunately, we often give way too much homework.
Why We Should Give Less Homework
- Busywork is a waste of everyone’s time. If the homework we’re assigning is busywork (and, let’s be honest, sometimes it is), then it really is a waste of everyone’s time. It waste’s the students’ time doing it, the parents’ time helping it, and our time tracking and possibly even grading it. Just because a worksheet is part of the curriculum (or even came with a Teachers Pay Teachers lesson), doesn’t mean that we need to assign it. If it doesn’t serve a vital purpose, then what’s the point?
- More work doesn’t necessarily mean more learning. Sometimes we assign homework because we feel like it’s the studious thing to do. But just assigning more work isn’t necessarily going to mean our students learn more. Especially if the work is busywork, and especially if the student is already overwhelmed or if they don’t know how to do it correctly.
- Students can be overwhelmed if the homework is too long. The tough thing about homework is that the time it takes students to complete it is immensely different. What takes a sharp kid 5-10 minutes can take a struggling kid 45 minutes or even an hour. So imagine how a struggling student feels when he looks at a two-sided worksheet of 30 math problems that he doesn’t understand. The sheer volume of work is incredibly intimidating and often causes him to give up before he even tries.
- When you limit the quantity, you can expect more quality. When you limit how much homework you give and/or how long the assignments are, then you can expect the students to do quality work on what you do assign.
- Because family time is valuable. If we truly want our students to have strong families, then we need to not take up all their family time with homework. And, yes, I know that for lots of students it’s the TV that’s their companion at night instead of their parents. But that’s not how it is with all the students. There are definitely families out there who want to relax together in the evening but simply cannot do so because the kids are entrenched with homework.
- Less homework means less tracking and grading for you. If this were the only reason for giving less homework, then it would not be a very good one. But as it stands, there are lots of great reasons to give less homework, and this one is just a little perk for us teachers. 🙂
How to Give Less Homework
Okay, if you’re still reading then you’re at least intrigued by the thought of giving less homework. But exactly how to do that can be a bit challenging.
When I was teaching our administrators were continually pushing us to give less homework. Sometimes that would come in the form of a memo stating “You must immediately reduce the amount of homework you give by half.” I have to admit, I did not like getting those memos. They were a bit intimidating and pretty overwhelming to try to implement. But over time I found some great ways to reduce my homework and ended up being much happier with the results.
Here are a few things that helped me reduce my homework. I hope they can help you, too.
- Eliminate all busywork. Sounds simple, but the problem is that we don’t always recognize busywork for what it is. So before you assign anything, ask yourself what the point is of the assignment. If it doesn’t have a definite point and isn’t absolutely necessary, then don’t assign it.
- Assign as few problems or questions as possible. Instead of assigning all the problems in the book – or even half of them, I started to just assign 6 or 7 problems per section. This was the smallest number that I felt would still give them the practice that they needed. So instead of just assigning a whole worksheet ask yourself what is the smallest number of questions they can complete that will give them the knowledge or skills that they need.
- Ask students to write down how long each assignment took them to complete. Simply ask them to track this at the top of each assignment. While their answer won’t be completely accurate, they should give you a general idea. Pay special attention to how long it’s taking your struggling students to complete their assignments. If it’s taking too long, then you’ve really got to get creative to figure out how you can shorten it. And remember, the goal is to give as little as possible, not to add more if your students are getting it done quickly.
- Give time for students to start their homework in class. Work hard to finish your lesson a little early so that students can start their homework in class. Not only does this shorten the amount they have left to do, but it also allows you to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and gauge how quickly students are working.
- Turn some homework into classwork. Just because you used to assign something as homework doesn’t mean it has to be homework. Can you find time for the students to do it in class? You might be surprised how much the quality of work increases when you do this.
Want more help managing homework? Check out the post “How to Manage Homework Without Going Crazy”
I’d love to hear your thoughts about homework. Do you assign a lot or try to limit it? How do you determine what to assign? Share your thoughts with a comment below.
Photo by GoodNCrazy
September 29, 2014 in Academics (Teaching) , Teaching