Before You Assign That Homework – What Students Wish You Knew

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“Should teachers assign homework?” was the question I asked my students today.  I thought I knew the answer, a resounding no I was sure, and yet, once again my 7th graders surprised me.

While some pleaded for no more homework, many said they understood the purpose of it, that it was a necessary component of school and then wrote a paragraph asking for change.  Asking for their thoughts to be considered.  Asking for teachers to think before they assign.  So what my students wish teachers knew before homework is assigned is now written here for the world to see.

They wish teachers knew just how busy they are.  That we ask them to live balanced lives that involve sports, family, friends, and sleeping, yet assign hours of work that pushes their bedtime later and later.  They cannot fit everything in, even though they try.

They wish teachers knew just how stressed they are.  That they feel like our expectations are through the roof at all times, but sometimes they are bound to mess up, and can we make that okay as well?  Can it be okay to forget once in a while or to not get it all right?

They wish teachers knew that they don’t always need the practice.  That homework should be for those kids that don’t quite get it, not assume a need for everyone, and that those that really don’t get it won’t get it after they do the homework.  That they need help in school instead.

They wish teachers knew how much we all assign.  That we spoke to one another more so that we see that our class may not assign a lot but when you add each class together, it is now hours of work, not just a little bit of time.

They wish teachers knew that they have worked really hard in school and wish they could have a break.  That homework on some days is okay but it doesn’t need to be every day. Nor does it need to be over the holidays.  That tehy get we have a lot to cover but can they promise us to work hard in school in exchange for time off from school?

Finally, they wish teachers actually did their own homework.  That they tried the assignments so they could see how difficult or confusing they may be.  That they worked through it with kids, not in a pretend way, but really, and then shared their own learning with students.  That teachers truly felt what it means to live the life of a student, along with the pressure of homework,  to understand why homework continues to be a problem for some.

Once again, my students thoughts push my own thinking.  I quit assigning homework years ago but still run into my old ways once in a while; there always seems to be so much to cover, so much to do.  Now, I only assign reading every night, but even that adds up with everything else.  So I wonder; if we all asked our students, what would they say about homework?  And what would we do about it?  How would their answers change education?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

41 thoughts on “Before You Assign That Homework – What Students Wish You Knew

    • I have been a principal for over 20 years and have never expected homework. I advocate that if homework is given that it be meaningful to the student and advances the “individual” learning of students.

    • I regret that you place all principals into the category of assigning homework because it makes us look good. I could not care less about looking good as I’d rather use multiple forms of formative assessment to see how students are learning. Try reading Carol Dweck’s book Mindset….it may open yours..

    • I have to vehemently disagree, I know many principals who are actively trying to get teachers to stop assigning homework. I think the homework problem is tied in with our culture; we feel the need to assign to show how serious we are about our teaching, parents expect it because they had it and students will battle it as much as they want. There are meant people in education who are rethinking homework, as well as parents and communities.

      • I agree! Administrators are educators too, and treating them as people who are in it for the wrong reasons is unfair. Most that I know care deeply about students and their learning. What’s really needed, rather than blaming, are more conversations between teachers, administrators, parents, and students about the “why” behind homework and whether it is meaningful learning for students. Culture shifts are difficult and will not happen overnight… Thanks for sharing your students’ thoughts, Pernille!

    • How the hell does giving HW make a principal “look good?” That’s like saying tithing in church will get you a trip to Disneyland.

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  3. Reblogged this on Our Global Classroom and commented:
    3/4J as we start our journey into preparing for NAPLAN let’s start exploring ways we can have an opinion and persuade others. What a great place to start is with the topic of home work. Here is an article about what Year 7’s thought now what do you think ?

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  6. Pernille, I love this post. I hear the kids and see it with my own. Our kids live such busy lives and do a lot of thinking throughout the day. My only homework in elementary is reading with their parents and playing math games. I also give parents questions to ask while they play those games. This helps them with that practise and getting the thinking into their homework. However, I still have parents asking for more. I agree with you that parents are asking because that is what they think should happen. This is what they had so their kids should have it too. Thanks for another great post.

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  9. I teach an AP history course and a regular level course. Nearly all the time, the homework is a reading assignment. I have the students spend five minutes at the start of class writing in response to a question that relates to the previous night’s reading. These don’t have a big impact on grades. Students generally do the reading so they are prepared for class. But I do tell them that if they are short on time they can skim (and I teach them skimming techniques), as long as they go back and read more thoroughly on a less busy night. I also tell them if there is a choice between going to bed at a reasonable hour and reading for my class, opt for bed. As I don’t call on students who don’t raise their hands, I’m not putting them in a position of possible embarrassment in class. This system works a lot better than nightly writing assignments. Our school also has an online homework assignment system, and when we schedule tests we get ‘alerts’ if any student already has two tests or projects on the day we’re planning to test. We are then supposed to pick a different day or contact the affected students and work out an alternative day for them. We also give no homework at all over the two week December break, and are allowed to give only one night’s worth for winter and spring breaks.

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  11. After going through the struggles of middle school students not getting homework in on a regular basis I made it simpler for both of us. Homework goes home once a week and it is a spiral of concepts that have been taught and even assessed in class. This allows students the full week to complete the practice problems and the material covers something they know.

    Not only do students have social lives but we as teachers need to as well and if we spend all of our time grading unnecessary work then we are depriving ourselves of our own pleasure.

    Jennifer Smith-Sloane
    4mulaFun

  12. In my early days of teaching (this is my 8th year) I gave lots of homework. I thought I was supposed to. Now, I’ve learned a lot of ways to engage the students in their learning in the classroom. We do a ton of hands on work (I teach a self contained 7th grade class) and it’s much more effective than sending home work that is either not completed, or is completed by siblings, friends, or parents. I want to know what my students know and what areas they are weak in and mostly I want them to love learning. I’ve discovered that overwhelming them with homework makes them less willing to give their all in class. Thank you for writing this article, as it reinforced my thinking. Occasionally that little voice inside my head makes me think I’m doing it wrong, but no… I don’t think I am. 🙂

  13. Homework is a fact of life, if they ever expect to go to college they need to get used to it and writing papers. Besides, American kids aren’t getting any smarter and do not spend the hours in school like other countries such as Japan. I personally think they’d be better off in school longer hours than getting extra homework.

  14. I am the Campus Minister and Theology Instructor for 11th graders at an all-girls Catholic School in Texas. As a young (24y.o.) teacher, I remember how busy and overwhelmed I felt in high school though it seemed normal for me at the time–my parents were stressed, so as my sister and I were getting older it seemed logical that as we progressed in our learning that we should also be stressed. Now, after being an instructor for three years and having a few graduate courses in education I realize that the culture of stress and overworking which pervades American culture (at least regionally) causes more harm than good. I try my best in my classroom to not assign homework, but when it comes down to it there is simply not enough time to cover the curriculum properly without some occasional homework. I think that as schools progress technologically there will be an increase in communication wherein teachers can view exactly what their students have assigned to them and thus (hopefully) re-evaluate what is necessary homework/assessment for the 21st century and what was perhaps necessary in the past, but not longer is encouraging a life-long desire for deep learning and deep understanding.

  15. Going to make people mad here, but you know what I want students to know!?? I want them to know that they need to bring pencils and paper to class. They can leave the cell phone. I want them to pick up their paper off the floor that I spent hours grading the night before. I want them to know if they would get off of their phones before 2 am, they might be a little less tired. I worked full time in school, was involved in everything, made straight A’s, and I was not special. I cared about my work, and I did not have an excuse for everything. This generation is declining at a scary rate. Talk to them. Most will admit it. They acknowledge, but still don’t care.

    • I don’t think it is about making people mad because I do think you say valid things. My students and I have had that conversation as well about the choices they make and how it effects them the next day. It wa s good conversation because we ended up talking about the choices we make, their effects and also what normal expectations can be.

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  17. I don’t assign homework either, but for different reasons. It is more about widening the achievement gap for me because only a small percentage of my students have an environment conducive to doing homework at home. Many are taking care of siblings for absent parents, or dealing with the stress of not having their most basic needs being met. Some have families that don’t speak English, while others have families that are abusive, on drugs, in prison, etc. It doesn’t feel right to me the add homework to that, while another kid has a stay at home mom walking them through every step of the process. It was great to read this post and look at the homework issue through a different lens.

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  21. i love that you listen to your students! I taught for 12 years and have been homeschooling my 5 for 5 years now. I assigned homework on Monday and checked it for completion and effort on Friday when I was in a regular classroom. On the flip side my then 3rd and 1st grader we’re bringing home anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours of homework a night each and it was terrible. At the point my 3rd grader brought home practice worksheets for the standardized test I drew the line. As a parent, I made the decision to write a note on the assignment as to why it would not be completed and continued to write that note each night one of those sheets came home. That amount of homework is torturous to students and parents. Now all of our work is homework (haha) and is completed between the hours of 9 and 3. My kiddos are excelling. We do NOT miss the long hours spent on homework after a full day of school each night!

  22. I teach high school English and still assign homework to my students. I feel like homework should be worthwhile though: an extension of something we’ve practiced or an important skill they will legitimately use throughout their lives.

    My students will not be served by endless worksheets that only address the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. If students are analyzing information to synthesize something new, that seems worthwhile.

    I agree there should be more cross-curricular planning, but it can be so difficult to accomplish. Have others had success collaborating building wide to create a sense of homework flow? We used to have a Curriculum On the Wall, but when we changed scheduling and new curriculum maps were sent out, nothing got updated, so eventually it fell away.

    To my credit, I do complete my homework. I work to create assignments everybody can complete in some way so they can participate on some level. I also try very hard to stay caught up on my “teacher homework”. It only seems fair that if I am going to assign it, then I should grade it in a timely manner.

    What are others doing instead of traditional homework tasks? I’m always open to trying something new 🙂

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