Homework: To assign or not to assign?


KayPat / SXC

I used to think I was weird.

What I’ve been doing is so countercultural to what many of my colleagues do. I’ve thought that maybe I’ve been failing my students even though it just seems and feels right.

My students love it, and that scared me just a little, too.

I don’t assign homework. (Well, I hardly ever assign homework.)

And now I’m realizing that I was right all along.

I am weird. And I’m OK with that.

For several years in my formative teaching years, I assigned homework in my high school Spanish classes. Usually it was mindless verb conjugation practice.

Some students had it done neatly every day. Others “forgot it at home” and I never saw it. Others raced to complete it before it was collected. It was generally not their best work. And they still struggled on quizzes and tests.

I got frustrated with homework and eventually cut way back. I had several reasons:

  • Copied work.
  • Sloppy, thoughtless work.
  • Kids’ busy lives. They don’t need hours of extra work at home.
  • There HAS to be a more effective way.

There was. For me, it was more conversational Spanish in class and more engaging, real-world practice. My students do their best when I rely on those two tenets.

[RELATED: 5 ways to use cell phones for homework]

Sure, students have to be held accountable for learning. But trivial homework assignments just can’t be the best answer.

I visited the #sbgchat (standards-based grading) on Twitter last week (an archive can be found here), and I found that I wasn’t the only one disillusioned with homework.

  • “Homework has a very low statistical correlation w/classroom achievement. If student doesn’t do it, there are still othr ways to lrn” – Rick Wormeli (@RickWormeli)
  • “I quit assigning homework because too many dogs were eating it. It’s not my job to feed the neighborhood pet population.” – Sean Junkins (@sjunkins)
  • “Worksheets are the definitive way for teachers to pretend to teach and students to pretend to learn.” – Joe Bower (@joe_bower)
  • “Students motivated more by descriptive feedback than grades, and they learn a lot more, too.” – Wormeli

Do I think that any homework has its place? I suppose it can. But I think it should be intentionally assigned by the teacher as the best, most relevant option for learning. Instead, I think many of us assign homework as the status quo instead of investigating if it’s a good return on investment, time-wise and effort-wise.

A student told me recently about his favorite Spanish homework. He visits an authentic Mexican restaurant semi-regularly and has made friends with a waiter. Effectively communicating with his new friend in a new language is powerful motivation for him.

Wow. Homework I didn’t assign and I didn’t grade, and my student is motivated to do it. That’s the kind of homework I aspire to.

How do you feel about homework? Have you done away with it or have you found a good system? Share your experiences with a comment!

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