. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: Homewhat?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Let's discuss homework for a minute.

To be clear, let's discuss how much I hate it.

I hate homework!!!!!


Well, here are my thoughts. (THAT was a useless line since every post on this blog are my thoughts.)

Let's look at reasons people have given me for homework:

1. Homework is practice.

If a students knows how to do a skill well enough to complete it independently at home, they don't need more practice. If the students don't know it well enough to complete it at home, they need to practice it with me.

2. Homework promotes responsibility.

Responsible students do it. Irresponsible ones don't, and then I have to chase them down and give them consequences for not doing something that I am not there to ensure they do in the first place; eating into my valuable teaching time.

3. Homework is an indicator that we are doing a good job.

Schoolwork is our job. I take that job very seriously, as I know you do too. I will give up prep time every morning before school, every recess and every lunch to work with kids who need extra help. Homework is no substitute for what we teachers can do for kids with a little face-to-face time. My students' success or failure in class is an indicator that I am doing a good job.

4. Homework is part of school tradition.

School is changing. How we teach and what we teach is evolving. As that happens, we need to seriously reevaluate our traditions and look for evidence that they actually improve student performance. If they don't, dump them.

5. We all did homework as children, and it didn't kill us.

Really?!?! I ate an entire value-sized bottle of vitamin C as I child, and it didn't kill me. Should I promote that knucklehead idea too?

Now, you should know that my teaching partners and I do assign homework. Every night our kids must read for at least 30 minutes and study their times tables for 15 minutes. There are no book reports, no worksheets, no spelling words to practice, and no essays to write because none of those activities could be more valuable to a fourth grader than reading practice and math practice. If they just do those two simple things, the rest of the year will be a breeze.

But the parents still feel like we don't give homework.

We've been conferencing this week with them, and every one of them asks when we're going to begin assigning homework.

Which we have.

Since day one.

And we told them about our homework policy at Back to School Night.

And their kids told them in a video we made for Back to School Night.

And the principal told them in the video we made for Back to School Night.

And we sent a letter home about it after Back to School Night.

And the kids write it in the homework planner each night.

But still they are asking where the homework is.

So we reexplain our policy, one parent at a time, and also explain why we feel this is best for their kids.

But they still want worksheets.

To keep their kids BUSY!

Parent: "But what is Timmy supposed to do after school?"

Us: "Read for 30 minutes and practice multiplication for 15 minutes."

Parent: "So, no homework?"

Us: "Reading and math is their homework."

Parent: "Oh, so there is no homework."

Us: "No, there IS homework!"

Parent: "But they don't bring home any worksheets or a packet or anything?"

Us: "Nope, that is not what they need. Reading and math is what they need."

Parent: "Oh, so no homework."

But they want packets that keeps their kids busy, and our type of practice doesn't seem to fit the bill for them.

But I sleep well at night knowing that we are working hard in the students' best interests every day. The parents might want busy-work, but I will not offer that.

What are your thoughts on homework?


Unknown said...

As a parent and a teacher, I completely agree with your opinions on homework. I can absolutely imagine that conversation with a parent, they are comfortable with what they know from childhood and the aversion to change is, i think, one of the biggest issues in the parent teacher relationship. By the way, you are hilarious, I love your blog.

Molly said...

Love this!! We have parent conference day coming soon... if this question comes up from a parent, I hope I can turn it around on them and ask the parent why they think their child needs to have more homework, then respond according to whatever reason they give (if they have one).

Unknown said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I want to say it a million times over. I totally agree with this. A billion percent. I absolutely hate homework. I hated it as a child, (why couldn't they teach me during the time they had me?). As a teacher, I can relate to parents insisting on homewokr. As a parent, I hate homework! I hate not being able to do stuff with my family because my kids have homework. The experiences are worth more than any homework any teacher has assigned. But not too many people agree with us.

Mrs. Smith said...

I completely agree. The only homework I give is to read 20 minutes everyday. The other point is that if a student does it wrong, they are practicing it the wrong way which will only make it harder to teach the correct way. I get really upset when I don't get to spend time with my children because they are too busy doing homework. That's my time! I wish more people saw it this way.

Phoebe said...

This blog is really awesome!

Unknown said...

I work as a Tutor Coordinator, and have 8 tutors in 4 afterschool programs. We deal with homework every afternoon. Every day we see pages upon pages of homework that the kids can't do. They don't understand. Their parents, for the most part, won't understand their homework, either, so we have to help them. We could spend our time much more efficiently by digging deep into skill-building and simple practice (reading and times tables!) but instead are bogged down with worksheets that truly don't show the child's ability, because they had help every step of the way. More teachers need to think like you! Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Homework as worksheets, no.

However, I will say that the gradually scaled problems when I was in high school were what I needed to take and mix and match the more advanced math skills and theorems I studied later on. The key thing was, though, that it wasn't rote replication (well maybe a bit to warm up and refresh) but had gradual escalation and application of the skills.

Edna Lee said...

Thanks for all the kinds words, folks! You are the best!

Homework may have its place, especially in middle and high school (as anonymous pointed out), however I just don't see the benefits of that kind of independent skills practice for our elementary students. I'm lucky enough to work with teaching partners who feel the same way and have a principal who supports us.

Now, if we could only get more parents on board...

Miss Angel said...

I totally agree with you! I have horrible childhood memories of spending hours at the kitchen table each evening, struggling over math problems. Plus, especially with younger school kids, when they don't bring their homework it is usually because their parents were too busy, or maybe not very reliable. It isn't really fair for small children to have to face consequences when their parents aren't able or willing to sit them down and help them with homework!

Anonymous said...

What about the idea of having homework be something that will get the parents involved? I agree that sending home worksheets is bad practice, but there are other options. I work with middle school ELLs and strongly believe that they have to take some responsibility at home for advancing their language skills. The school day will never be enough for them to really advance linguistically and academically. Reading is great - but they have to interact with the text in some way to pull meaning out and prove they actually did it. I assign things like reading and writing new vocabulary words with the context from the text and then reusing the word to show they can. In elementary I also have them interview family about certain topics that relate to our class that they can then share with the class. In addition, rote learning is so ingrained into some cultures that I often find it more sensitive and helpful to give them what they know and want.

Anonymous said...

In response to Te last comment... Having the parents involved is great in theory but not realistic in many cases. My students for example come from very low income homes, with often only one parent and many times that parent is limited him/herself. It is especially unfair when the teachers punish the student for not doing to the homework or worse they grade it.

happy chickens said...

well i'm not a teacher.. and actually liked homework as a kid.. but rarely did them:)
i think that the fact you ask the student to read and practice without any sheets, in his own time, is the best way to promote responsibility.
i think it makes you feel that your teacher (and parents) trust you, they don't need any sheets as a blank proof for your learning and accomplishments (<-is that a word?)
that's the best. super positive reinforcement. :)

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in a middle-school special education classroom, I HATE homework. It either doesn't get done, and I need to chase after it, gets done wrong (usually at the direction of "helpful" parents who "know what they're doing") or just gets done by parents or older siblings, instead of showing what my student knows. I had a parent get very irritated with me when I explained (as I did in my parent letter and at back to school night) that I do not assign homework. I assign classwork. When they do not do their classwork, it becomes homework. We also have a half hour study hall at the end of the day, which is usually enough time to finish their homework.

Anonymous said...

I have lived it...and am still living the homework nightmare - going no where. Whole heartedly agree with your thoughts. We are too fast paced in this society today to enjoy the moments, especially our childrens moments. We can engage and learn in so many better ways. Love what your doing and THANK YOU!!!

Fran Lafferty said...

As the parent of 3 over-homeworked high schoolers, I so whole-heartedly agree!

Your words at the end of this post sound eerily familiar to those used to discuss over-prescription of antibiotics and the resulting antibiotic-resistant strains.

And not to totally blame homework here, but we certainly have produced generations of people who are resistant to the concept of learning outside of formal places of education... i.e., "home work - resistance"!!

Unknown said...

I completely agree. Reading and math are the two subjects that children are falling the furthest behind on. Increasing their knowledge in these two fields is essential. By the way, I love your blog. Please keep it up!

Unknown said...

I completely agree. Reading and writing are the two subjects that children are having the most problems tackling. By creating this type of homework, children will not feel nearly as hard pressed to do this homework at night, and may actually end up enjoying it. I love your blog, by the way. Keep up the good work!

Chris Smith said...

Agree with you that reading and math are the two skills that need reinforcement. But not sure that idea is consistent with your statement "If a students knows how to do a skill well enough to complete it independently at home, they don't need more practice."

Repetition builds fluency and confidence in students - whether they're hitting golf balls or simplifying fractions.

That kid who is out there in the evening shooting free throws (on his own) till it gets too dark to see will perform better under pressure. Likewise for kids who spend real time practicing math skills independently at home.

Unknown said...

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Homework Assignment

Mrs. Mohr said...

I teach sixth grade English and the only nightly homework assigned is reading, but I am thinking of adding a daily 15 minutes of independent free writing as well. I was thinking that every couple of weeks, students would highlight portions of their writing to show me they have independently reached the common core standards we've practiced in class. I want to see that students write correctly in independent situations rather than the structured setting of school. We are switching to the Smarter Balanced test, and having piloted the Language Arts portion, I feel the pressure to get students to write even more than we do now.

Nikki B said...

Our third grade team doesn't give a lot of homework, but our school put a policy in place a few years ago that says if students don't turn in homework when it's due they get a zero. Unless, of course, they are absent. Then they get a day per absence. That can be troublesome, but otherwise we have cut out the paper chasing. Also, homework assignments aren't all 100% and they are weighted to account for about 20% of the total grade. I think it was a happy medium for the teachers who wanted homework and those who didn't care as much for it. If the parents complain that their child has a zero, we get to say, "The principal made that rule! Sorry!"

Unknown said...

I agree, great explanation! Homework is considered a tradition but its not necessary. Class time is utilized for formative assessment to provide feedback the students need during class time, this assessment can be through small groups, discussions, projects and so much more.