acheivement, alfie kohn, assumptions, being a teacher, believe, change, choices, communication, difference, elementary, get out of the way, grades, homework, learning, parents, promise, trust

How Homework Destroys

It finally happened; a parent decided to disagree with my new take on homework. They do not feel that I am providing enough and thus am doing a disservice to the students by lulling them into a fake sense of security in their skills. My response at first was indignation; how dare so and so question my fantastic educational shift in philosophy. Why are they not enlightened or believers as well? And then it dawned on me; I have not shown them the way.

I spend a lot of time speaking to students about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what the goal is for their learning but not enough explaining that to the parents. And while I hope that parents have faith in me, I cannot take it for granted. I am, after all, messing with a system that has been set in place for many years and that these same parents are products of. So, of course, my system may come as a shock at first, and without the proper explanation it will continue to be so. After all, parents have been trained to think that for every grade level you figure out homework load by multiplying the grade level with 10 minutes. So by 4th grade, students should at the very least be doing 40 minutes of homework a night. And yet, my students don’t. They do most of their work in class, even staying in for recess so that I may help them, and I never willingly send home a piece of homework that I know they will struggle for hours with.

Homework should be practice, a showing of skills. It should not be a two hour time consumer where both mom, dad and the encyclopedia gets involved. I explain this to my students and the sense of relief is visible in them. They know that I will challenge them in class but at home they may pursue life instead. So if you work hard at school then the reward is rest, family time, and a pursuit of happiness. And it works. My students are still learning everything they should for the year, albeit in a more hands-on manner. I am shying away from worksheets and instead having conversations about learning. Our favorite tool is our dry-eraseboards that allows me a quick check in for understanding. And the students are noticing the difference. No longer dreading the afternoon because I will continue to haunt their day. No longer dreading school because it means so many extra hours of works. No longer dreading learning because they are realizing that learning is something you do at school and that it doesn’t come form worksheets.

When I recently welcomed 9 new students into my room, one “old” student told me that she was looking forward to seeing how the newbies would react since I “teach a little crazy.” And perhaps that is true. I am loud, obnoxiously so at times, and I have high standards. I push kids to learn, I push kids to understand, and then I back off. I let them think about it, let the learning resonate within them, and then I challenge them to dredge it out again the following day.

By no means, am I the perfect teacher. I have many years of learning to come, but I do know that I am on to something here and I stand at a fork in the road signaling a massive shift in my whole educational philosophy. I believe these students are learning, I believe I am preparing them as well as any other teacher, and most importantly I believe I am letting them be kids at the same time. My students know that if something is homework it is for the benefit of their learning and is important to do, not just another piece of paper that their teacher didn’t get to in class. They know that I only assign it if it is truly valuable, and not just something for me to use for grades. They know that we will meet and discuss their learning, always knowing what is missing, what is accomplished, what the direction should be. They know that if I assign something to them it is because they have the skills needed to do it. Do yours?

11 thoughts on “How Homework Destroys”

  1. Pernille, I couldn't agree with you more. Good luck with parent education. I'm sure I would love to be in your class! You sound like the edutainer I have just finished reading about. You would love the book The Edutainer by Johnson and McElroy. I found it on Amazon. Have a great weekend.

  2. I also made an effort to minimize homework this year and explained the why and how to parents when they came to school for the Orientation meeting and in my newsletter. This week at Open House several questioned the minimal amount of homework their children are doing at night. I gave them options – playing card games for math, blogging for writing, reading together, etc. Guess some parents still don't understand – but will continue to emphasize that 9 and 10 year-olds work hard at school and need time after school to relax, play, do sports/hobbies, and be with their families.

  3. Kids don't need overkill and that's what most homework provides. Parents only know their own school lives and if it turned out well for them it's worth repeating. So what you have is an education situation. Keep on doing what your doing because you're so right. I truly feel so many of our kids drop out because they're board & unnecessary homework is a contributing factor.

  4. Wow! You guys are so awesome! I'm a certified K-6 teacher, but currently don't have my own classroom, yet. Homework is such a cause for some serious debates. I don't believe it should be assigned, especially in the lower grades. The kids with great parents are going to always make sure they read with their children – extra. Those children will always do better. And yet at the same time, their parents' good deeds continue to widen the education gap among learners. All because of some that do homework and some that don't. My son is in the first grade and his teacher assigns homework on Fridays! Granted, most of the parents voted for it so they wouldn't have to deal with it on Wednesdays. I didn't. I believe that if a child can't do the work completely on his or her own (including reading, esp. for beginners), then it certainly shouldn't be assigned as homework. My homework would be to read a picture book to your child every night at bedtime. Homework for the parents.

  5. "Homework should be practice, a showing of skills."Couldn't have said it better. Do you have any thoughts regarding the level of homework at the high school level? Would your philosophy still apply? I try to limit the homework my students do. Most of the time, homework that they are given is an extension of what the just need to finish up from class. Or research on a long-term project. I too try and shy away from worksheets. Worksheets are fast and easy in my subject (history), but I don't find them to be very meaningful. Instead, we spend our class time answering more meaningful questions about the material we are learning. Sometimes homework is a creative by-product of those discussions. I was told by my administrator my second year of teaching (I'm currently in my fourth) that I didn't assign enough homework. It made me furious, but of course I kept my mouth shut. So then my lesson planning revolved around the question: what can I make them do in class and what should I make them do at home?Now that I feel more confident and comfortable with teaching, I don't prescribe to this method of lesson planning anymore. But it's a hard habit to break when "homework" is made such a big issue in education – both at the elementary and secondary level. Thanks for your post!

  6. I'm just coming across this post now. I wonder if you wouldn't mind updating how this has worked…2 years later. I'd love to know what you've learned; how your students/parents have adapted to thi

  7. Hello,I'm a teacher at a Title 1 school meaning that the majority of my students are qualified for free/reduced lunches. The average income in this community is $17,000. Our school is a low-achieving school whose principal is only concerned with standardized test scores. I completely agree with your idea about not giving homework for the sake of giving homework. However, I'm wondering if that is plausible with students from different setting or in a community that has always been plagued by low expectations.What type of school do you teach in and would you consider the culture of achievement to be high or low? Is school pride and academic excellence evident throughout the entire school?If you could let me know, that would be great. As this year comes to an end, I really want to reevaluate my teaching strategies.

  8. What I love about my school is the great mix of kids and the backgrounds they come from, so as far as expectations; they are very high at the school and continue to be in my room even without homework. Students can meet our high expectations for academic excellence within our school time, I don't need homework to do that. I hope that answers your questions – please feel free to email me, I would love to discuss more.

  9. I just found your blog (I was at ISTE) – It looks like I have 5 years worth of reading to “catch up”. I’ve had the same thoughts about homework since I started teaching 15 years ago. It’s nice to hear the similar ideas from someone else!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s