alfie kohn, classroom expectations, no homework

I Don’t Think Your Students Are Ready – When We Don’t Assign Homework

Mathematics homework
Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“….I worry about your students next year, I don’t think they will be ready…”. My heart is pounding so hard it sounds like a truck, I can feel my checks blazing, my hands are clenching. She worries? About my students? About those kids that I have poured everything into? Those kids that have set higher expectations for themselves than any other grade I have taught? Those kids that demand a better education, a deeper discussion, a better understanding of what we do and why we do it. This teacher worries about my kids? My ears fail to listen and I feel the need to explain myself, to defend and argue but instead I raise my gaze and ask simply, “Why?” The answer is swift, “You don’t have any homework…” I wait, what else, but there is just silence. Homework and not giving it once again the center of a discussion.

So what is it about homework and whether to assign it or not that becomes such a flashpoint in education? Both sides are passionate in their reasoning for or against but the discussion seems to happen more outside of our schools than in them, not amongst colleagues. This teacher had decided, without speaking to me, that since I did not assign homework, students were not held responsible for their learning. Students were not held accountable for showing what they knew and I had no idea of how to challenge them. This was not a fair assessment by any means but still the one that had been made. So when others are misinformed about what a “no homework” classroom really is like, is it up to us to reach out and educate? Or should we expect them to come to us to become informed before they pass their judgment?

We may have all of the answers ourselves but how do we communicate them to other staff? How do we make others realize that there is a way to still deeply teach something without assigning outside of school work? How do we help others realize that homework does not have to be an integral part of what school is and that children will still be prepared for what is to come? Are we only fooling ourselves when we do boast that we are still creating responsible, accountable, time managing students without the use of homework? Can we truly not prepare students for the “rigors” of school if we do not do what others around us do? Can my fifth graders still be succesful in middle school even though I did not expect them to do two hours of work every night? Have I fooled myself into thinking that I am helping them become deeper thinkers when all I am really doing is robbing them of their chance for success? Was that teacher right? Should I be worried about my students?

6 thoughts on “I Don’t Think Your Students Are Ready – When We Don’t Assign Homework”

  1. Pernille,I don't necessarily think its up to you to educate your colleagues about the decisions you feel are right for your students. This situation sounds as if she/he had already passed judgement and wanted you to be aware of it. As for your question about not being prepared…I honestly am on the fence here. From my experience with my own son, when he entered middle school he was totally not prepared for the amount of work that was expected. He would literally have 3-5 hours of homework many nights, which is completely ridiculous. Our experience is one of the reasons that I don't "assign" homework in my own classroom (except classwork that is unfinished). I do expect my students to read, practice math facts, and to study for tests, though. I feel like that is adequate and reasonable, and still allows parents to be involved with their students' education. In your case, I would say that if the amount of homework your students can expect in middle school is reasonable, then there's nothing to worry about. Kids can adjust pretty easily. If it isn't, then there is a problem–not with you or your teaching style, but at the middle school. At the end of the day, each one of us has to do what we really believe to be best for our students. FarrahThinkShareTeach

  2. Most of my students are involved in a lot of things after school. I hear so many comments about how they are working on things after 10 o'clock at night because of their busy/hectic schedules. If they are working on homework at these late hours, then they probably aren't retaining the information. Due to this, I don't assign much homework. Most of the homework that they do are just things that they didn't finish in class. With that being said, I do expect them to do some things as home like reading and definitely studying for assessments. If I do assign homework it needs to be as meaningful as possible. journeyofaneducator.blogspot.com

  3. And I always return to what are we preparing them for? I want to have my students be prepared for how to take a text apart, how to use tools to learn, how to think independently and not be afraid to try something. I want them to be prepared to charge of their learning and discover what they are passionate about. Of course, they should have a solid educational foundation as well but I am just not sure one needs homework to accomplish all of this. I ask my students to read something every night, I dont have them log it, I don't ask them for proof but I hope they will come and tell me about or share a recommendation. That to me is much more meaningful than a reading log for example.And David, you are right, that is insane to think you have the right over that much time outside of school.

  4. Pernille,I always look forward to reading your posts; you are a passionate and insightful educator who sets high standards for your students and for yourself. You know your students better than anyone else, and if you believe, and your students believe, that they are prepared and capable learners, then all of you have succeeded.Perhaps your doubtful colleagues could spend some time in your class? Nothing can change a person's fixed mindset better than seeing new things in action. But, again, only if they want to change.I wonder, have you ever had the chance to speak to any of your former students or their parents or their middle school teachers? What kind of feedback do you get from them? Are your students prepared for lies ahead of them? (I'm sure they are, and I am sure they miss your classroom terribly.)Trust your instincts and your passion.

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