9/19/11

Ten Reasons to Get Rid of Homework (and Five Alternatives)

photo credit: what_marty_sees via photopin cc


I don’t assign homework and I haven’t for the last four years. It’s been a slow journey, because it runs against a very powerful ideology within the United States. Here are ten reasons to abolish homework:
  1. Young Children Are Busy: If a child cannot learn what needs to be learned in a six hour day, we are expecting too much of a child. We are creating a jam-packed hurried day without a chance to play, reflect and interact. Adding hours to an already busy day is absurd.
  2. Older Children Are Even More Busy: So if younger students need a chance to play, the reality is that many older students are busy with extracurricular activities.
  3. Inequitable Situation: I have some students who go home to parents that can provide additional support. I have others who go home and babysit younger siblings while their single parent works a second shift. I have some who don’t have adequate lighting, who constantly move and who lose electricity on a regular basis. Call those excuses if you want. I’ll call it systemic injustice instead.
  4. Kids Need to Play: My son loves school. He loves the chance to learn to read, write and think in a way that is different from how I engage him. However, when he comes home, he needs to ride a bike, throw a ball or climb a tree.
  5. Homework Creates Adversarial Roles: It is possible for homework (or rather home learning) to be a positive force. However, when a parent is stuck as a practitioner of someone else’s pre-planned learning situation, it becomes an issue of management.
  6. Homework De-Motivates: It is possible to provides students with meaningful learning experiences after school. However, if that’s the case, why make it mandatory? Why not say, “I offer tutoring if you need help” or “here’s an idea of something you might want to pursue on your own?” When I was in high school, I wrote pages upon pages of poetry, a novel (never even told an adult) and countless short stories. It was, on some level, self-directed homework. And honestly, I would have allowed a teacher that I trusted to provide feedback. However, if the process had been formalized, I would have kept all of that even more underground.
  7. Homework Doesn’t Raise Achievement: I know Marzano looked at one study and concluded that homework works. However, Duke University’s study (by Harris Cooper) concluded that homework does not increase achievement and it often decreases it instead. I spent some time looking at the “studies” regarding homework and they all point to a correlation rather than a causal relationship between homework and achievement. The bottom line is that the research is sketchy at best.
  8. Most Homework Is Bad: Most homework recreates school within the confines of a home. So, instead of having children do interviews, analyze a neighborhood or engage in culinary math, the traditional approach involves packets.
  9. Homework Teaches Bad Work Habits: I know this sounds crazy, because it’s precisely the reason that so many people give for offering homework. However, homework doesn’t teach good study habits. It teaches kids to study, because they have to rather than need to. Similarly, homework doesn’t help children become hard workers, because the work is not self-directed. Want to watch a child work hard and take ownership of learning? Watch a child build a bridge for fun. Let a child read a book for fun (without the bribery of fried dough) and see just how hard a kid will work when there is a meaningful goal. Hard work is a product of motivation. It is an internal drive. When we a parent steps in an makes a child work hard, the work ethic diminishes.
  10. The Wrong Focus: Homework is precisely that: work at home. The goal is often increased achievement. The bigger question is whether we want achievement or learning. If the goal is learning, homework kills the desire to learn.

What I Advocate Instead:

  1. Emphasize the idea that learning can and will happen naturally at home or elsewhere in a child’s world. Visit a skate park and watch the learning that happens. Spend some time watching kids develop new games in the neighborhood.
  2. If parents really want homework, let teachers give workshops (might be a great time to bridge the gap with homeschoolers / unschoolers by doing a co-teaching workshop) on how to engage children at home in authentic learning.
  3. Provide ideas and support for students who are interested in doing more. If a teacher had said, “Hey, I’d like to meet with you on that novel you’re writing,” I would have met one-on-one or in a small writing circle.
  4. Treat homework as an extracurricular activity: Students in my class voluntarily do homework when we create documentaries. They take pictures, film interviews, complete community surveys, work on neighborhood ethnographic studies and volunteer with local charities. The key here is that it is not graded and is treated as an extracurricular activity. Provide tutoring for students who are struggling and activities for parents who ask for additional practice. Just don't make it mandatory.
  5. Ultimately, we need to tackle injustice. If parents can’t be home with kids after school, there is a systemic flaw that needs to be addressed socially, culturally and politically.


Looking for More?





John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.

46 comments:

  1. Word. As I was reading this, I thought of the times I have assigned homework and I've discovered that 9/10ths of the time, homework assigned in my class is either reading for class discussion, or something we started in class such as a long-term project or a paper.

    Maybe it's because I teach high school English that I don't see the need for gratuitous worksheets?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for phrasing so succinctly what I, as a parent, former educator, and journalist, have felt in my gut for years. (Heck, I even felt this way when I was a high achieving kid - forced to do busywork just for the sake of it.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. How many teachers give homework because that is how school was modeled to them? How many give homework because they are required to take three grades a week in their class? How many give homework because the school climate expects/requires it? How many give homework because they believe it is best for their students' learning? I would suspect that most fall in the former, but they would argue the latter.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If there is a major homework assignment, what is measured is the involvement of the parents not the understanding of the student.

    ReplyDelete
  5. John,
    you are so very right. I agree with you as a dad, of a 12 year old who wants to be a pro skater, to a VP of an international school...we / they need our / their childhood and play...thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I could not agree more... let kids follow their passions. Allow them the opportunity to go beyond the classroom on their own terms. Facilitate and encourage them to explore ideas of interest and keep curriculum contained to a few hours in school. Let's celebrate all that life has to offer and not just math, science, history, and language arts. Let's play together, eat healthy together, exercise together, create together, converse and collaborate on great ideas together.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dear Tom,
    I think meaningful work is critical - at home or at school. You have a very strong b.s. detector. I always appreciate that.

    Dear Anonymous,
    Thanks for the kind words. I hated busywork when I was a kid.

    Dear William,
    I love the questions you ask. The reality check you offer is a hard one. In many schools, homework is mandatory. In some, there is a mandated set of worksheets (i.e. Homework Link). It's the death of teacher autonomy.

    Dear Gerry,
    Excellent point! Huge projects become a chance for parents to show their skills!

    Dear Neil,
    Thanks for the kind words and for the perspective you offer.

    Dear Preet,
    I love the verbiage you use: play together, create together, move together, converse together, collaborate. Exactly!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sounds like we're enabling those that feel entitled.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Dear Anonymous,

    I don't even know how to answer that point. Enabling? I think we're empowering students. I'm not advocating doing away with school. I'm simply asking that we allow kids to be kids when they get home from school.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great post! We just enrolled our oldest son in a very cool charter school (http://westgateschool.org/) that is a working example of this exact philosophy (among several innovative forward looking educational concepts). Funny enough, the school performs extremely well on standardized testing despite having virtually no regular daily homework.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Parental desire is the problem,they were brainwashed into thinking homework was good so now they expect it for their kids.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank you for this post. You have said it more eloquently than I did. I will be linking your article and blog to mine because you say exactly what I feel on this topic.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think that this is a powerful article.
    I especially like the correlation of the amount of parent help with homework. While some students have a strong support system at home helping them understand concepts, other students do not and they could become frustrated and resentful of school. In this case I totally support the idea of teaching and supporting them within the school day without assigning homework.
    Where I hesitate to agree though, is in the "practicing" aspect of homework. As a teacher I've noticed that (and I'm thinking of math as my primary example) that it is really hard to fit both the teaching and practicing into a short time slot. Math homework is a way for children to practice at home (now I'm only advocating a few problems, not a ton) so the children can assess whether they actually understand. That way, the next day you can spend time at the beginning of the lesson discussing the homework and any misunderstandings and make sure those that need additional support are getting it.
    I think that children need to play and learn through the environment and on their own. But I also think we need to make sure our students are "getting it" and are successful and sometimes students just need to take a little bit of time and practice. So although I might not quite agree with no homework altogether, I agree with a reduction in homework, so that the student can both practice and have a good amount of time to play and learn naturally.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Each one who has been through schooling is very clear how homework has helped them.none would deny that it has done no good to them. what i don't understand is even after facing the naked truth, why schools insist on homework and why parents recommend it. this article is my voice and i would like to link it to my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Here's the real problem ... the teachers reading blogs like this are not the ones that need conversion experiences, and a real conversion is what is needed. I've come across too many people who claim to be changing but really just are doing the same thing but giving it a different name: pre-reading, revision, projects - they are all just homework in disguise. Unless the student is taking ownership for learning in the hours outside of "school", it all just busy work assigned by a teacher!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I found this post very helpful. As a first year 5th grade teacher, I find myself stuggling with homework issues. I never give homework. The students are required to take home what they do not finish at school. My students are always give time to complete each assignment, however some may require a more time.

    Instead of homework, I give a newsletter each week, and in the newsletter I suggest a family/involvment activity that goes along with a topic of the week.

    I got a little discouraged, however, when a student told me today that her mom feels she will not be ready for upper grades, because I do not give enough homework. This being the reason for searching the internet on the topic.

    I work very hard at my job, and I do MANY hands-on activities, that I feel are way more effective than giving "busy work." My goal as a teacher is to TEACH, I think of as many creative ways for the students to learn, without having them take home packets of useless material. I would really appreciate feedback. Am I doing the right thing? Should I take this personally?

    ReplyDelete
  17. I agree with u john...children these days are having too much hw and too less time to play and relax

    ReplyDelete
  18. I need to show this to my teachers! :p

    ReplyDelete
  19. Espically my reading teachers

    ReplyDelete
  20. A well thought out post and you raise many excellent points here. It is so important that children learn to love school and everything that goes with it. Homework has a place, but should not feel like a punishment.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I like your overall idea, but I think that time management and organization is one of the most important components of education. When the students go to college and the real world, they will be required to juggle work and play. Students need to learn how to prioritize at a young age so they can find a balance that works for them in the future.

    I think flipping the classroom and PBL projects are a good compromise. Watching short video lessons and working on authentic, real-world PBL activities with friends don't seem to have the "boring homework" connotation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If time management is so important, why not allow that to be optional? Let a kid manage time with sports or chores or independent projects. Give a child free time and see how they handle the responsibility.

      Delete
    2. To me, time management is so important I can't imagine it being optional! ;) I teach K-8, so I think we need to teach the students how to be organized and manage time using some degree of homework. If properly prepared at a younger age, I can see giving students the option in middle school or high school. Thanks for the reply!

      Delete
    3. I find that parents have questions about what their children are learning and are generally receptive to homework. It is a connection between home and school. I have also found that parents that complain are typically those that value other activities more highly than education.

      Delete
    4. I see your point. However, I value learning. In fact, I value learning so much that I would rather have my own kids learn at home rather than do compulsory work.

      Delete
  22. The general guideline for homework is ten minutes per grade too. Thanks to poor communication, it's generally more like ten minutes per subject per grade.

    Sueann, perhaps the kids are wondering why they have to do homework. If time management is so important, shouldn't you have managed your time so that you didn't have to inflict your poor skills on them? Just a 'kids' point of view'. thing.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I agree with you that often times homework is adversarial or punitive, however, at its best, homework can also be great practice for skill sets taught in school. At my school, homework is meant to be practice/formative. It is only worth 8 percent of your grade, and it's intent is to build towards mastery. Yes, too often we as a profession do not always use best practices, however, to completely eliminate a valuable tool is a huge mistake.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I agree with my heart and soul. I wish the government would just put an end to this forceful, stressful, useless homework. I, a thirteen-year-old child, agree that homework should be a voluntary option. I am stressed already with school alone, yet alone all the homework and assignments I have been given. I have, already, a pile of at-home work to be done for school that is due very soon and I have not even started it. I believe the fact that mandatory homework and assignments is ridiculous. It also forms a hatred towards that subject or topic if the task is stressful enough and unwanted. I take a liking to writing and the subject English, therefore I prefer the "wordy" task like reading or writing. I especially enjoy writing fictional, reality-type novels of my own and I will accept assignments of such. Unfortunately, people with the idea of yours--if there are any--are not powerful enough to endorse this great opinion.
    - GG

    ReplyDelete
  25. I strongly support this article. It's exactly some of the problems I have experienced and dealt with or have known others that deal with this. Thank you for sharing this, it really spoke to me.
    ~C

    ReplyDelete
  26. What gives a State Employee the right to tell children AND their parents WHAT they MUST do during their personal time in the EVENINGS AND DURING THE WEEKENDS?

    ReplyDelete
  27. I enjoy the argument about the reasons in which to get rid of homework; I think today's student has more to be a participant of in order to really prepare for the real-world and his or her success in society beyond secondary schooling.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Strongly supported. We're debating this in our class and I find this article a great resorce.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I have found practice makes permenant...and so homewirk is effective in so far as itcalkows practice as well as a chance for parents to have some meaningful structured academic discourse with their child. Parents need to have an idea of how and what level of work their child is doing routinely in order to effectively fuage their child's progress. Teachers and parents must partner... And a parent cannot be an effective partner if they do not work with their child on materials their children on academic tasks.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I have read what has been said about the giving of homework and the reasons for it and i totally agree with all the above, homework teaches a child nothing as most of the time they are just worksheets that offer not learning but a punishment if not completed.Some times the piece of homework has nothing to do with the class, also students at home have access to the internet most of the time and can search up the answers.Moat children don't tell their parents about homework they have and so parents do not actually see what there child is up to in class.I am actually a student at high school and can first hand expieriance and agree with all these things and i would like to add, if writing about my opinion was a piece of homework i was given i wouldn't care about it but since i found this article and i was passionate about it i wanted to do it.

    ReplyDelete
  31. thank you are speaking my language

    ReplyDelete
  32. I know a girl who last year suffered from anorexia due to stress from school. I think people like you are the kind of people the world needs to help students, children, from living horrible lives due to overload of work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a teacher, prior to having my own children, I viewed homework as a necessary means to practice and reinforce skills and to establish responsibility. Over the years, as a parent of a now 4th and 7th grader, I've come to realize that my own children don't see the value in homework and neither do I anymore. I've witnessed my son, who has ADHD, often struggle with completing homework independently and lose confidence every year. He excels at sports where he does experience confidence, yet has to prioritize playing outdoors over long hours of homework, for fear of not getting good grades. On the opposite end, my daughter completes homework with ease. Yet, she still views homework in a negative way, because she says it's just "busy work" that "gets in the way" of allowing her to have more time to do what she really wants to do. I think making homework "optional" is a great compromise between teachers/parents who just can't let it go and those of us who see the greater value in allowing "downtime," where kids can build autonomy, social skills, and creativity!

      Delete
  33. I HATE homework. It is exhausting to me as a working mother--let alone to my kids who have to do it all!--and I resent how destructive it is to my otherwise wonderful relationship with my kids whom I adore and would love to have the chance to really talk to and relax with each night. Instead, when my kids come home after school (around 5 if I have to stop at the grocery or run an errand) they are in need of downtime. They've been moving and working since 6 a.m. That is ELEVEN HOURS. Instead, I have to rush them through dinner and then keep after them about all of their homework. My 7th grader can't get her homework done before ten and is so stressed she doesn't fall asleep until closer to 11. The sleep deprivation alone is hugely detrimental! (Let alone when do my husband and I get any time together in the midst of this nightly zoo!?) This homework situation is destroying our society--and I think since it affects children and women the most, it is not given the attention it deserves. I just wish public schools that are ALREADY known to be outstanding schools could offer a "no-homework" track to see for themselves that it makes no difference on kids' testing scores, and that the kids who do not have homework can then be happier in all other aspects of their lives!!!! Not to mention the benefits to the mom and dad--and THEIR professional working environments that want them focused 24/7 in this economy, too! To have two parents working AND kids working day and night is just too much for families to cope with. I know people are worried about "spoiling" children. But my goodness. Kids are NOT spoiled in the academic world these days. They work like dogs trying to get into over-crowded, highly-competitive colleges. Let's give them (and us adults!) a sanity break. But you worded it so much better than I ever could. Thank you. Just seeing it in print with other parents' comments makes me feel less alone in this craziness. My in-laws came to visit last week and thought our house was out of control. But I have good kids, and just can't believe it's different than any other houses in my neighborhood w kids of similar ages. It's just that nobody likes to talk about the ugly underbelly of nightly nagging to our wonderful--but overloaded and overtired--kids. Please school administrators, PLEASE at least offer a test "no homework" track for a few years and see what difference it makes. I promise, you will be ASTOUNDED!

    ReplyDelete
  34. I really enjoyed this article--not necessarily because I agree with it, but because it got me to think about why I issue homework. I have so little instructional time with a student on a daily basis. In a typically 41-45 minute period, once you subtract out getting students into seats, taking roll, passing out/in papers, giving assignment reminders, any classroom discipline issue, there is so little time to focus on content. If the basic model is to teach new content, let students explore that content, re-explain it or troubleshoot problems, and then assess it before the bell rings, well....there's just isn't time usually.

    Homework helps fill the gap. Homework allows the students to take the work home, and in the study-space of their choosing allows them to creatively come up with their own take on the lessons. If we are reading literature, at-home is where a lot of the reading will take place. If we must cover it all in class, it will dramatically change the depth, and even the books we can read (most novels will have to be tossed at that point).

    The ability to use homework as a teaching tool greatly opens up teaching to all the creative responses both the student and teacher can bring to the table. I'm glad we can still use it.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Homework has been an issue in my classroom year after year. Our school’s parents are big proponents of traditional schooling, particularly because they were raised similarly, and so they know nothing else. They sincerely believe in the benefits of homework, as you have addressed in “Five False Claims About Homework”, and request that more be assigned to fill the empty hours. I also have bought into the misconception that homework is a necessary component to learning, and it was only recently through my masters’ program and classroom experience that I began to see it through another lens. There is a general lack of motivation to learn because many conventional lessons are task-centered rather than student-centered. I agree that students are busier than ever before, and that they need to invest in developing their physical health rather deteriorate it by sitting behind a desk at home, too. On top of that, I have seen homework become the catalyst for arguments in the family, resulting in bitterness between parent and child. Too many times have I heard parents pressure their child into producing perfect homework, but rarely do they emphasize scholarly habits and a desire to learn.
    Although the debate on Common Core continues, I believe that the standards are steering us in the right direction when it comes to in-depth learning. There is now talk about assigning projects instead of worksheets at our school, and we are in the works to develop parent education workshops on student academic needs and home support. I am taking on the challenge to assign a personal academic portfolio of my students’ choosing. They will be required to focus on a passion and share their expertise, including examples of accomplished work, with their peers by starting a classroom blog. I am looking forward to the excitement this is sure to ignite. Thank you for opening the doors to this controversial topic.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Homework has been an issue in my classroom year after year. Our school’s parents are big proponents of traditional schooling, particularly because they were raised similarly, and so they know nothing else. They sincerely believe in the benefits of homework, as you have addressed in “Five False Claims About Homework”, and request that more be assigned to fill the empty hours. I also have bought into the misconception that homework is a necessary component to learning, and it was only recently through my masters’ program and classroom experience that I began to see it through another lens. There is a general lack of motivation to learn because many conventional lessons are task-centered rather than student-centered. I agree that students are busier than ever before, and that they need to invest in developing their physical health rather deteriorate it by sitting behind a desk at home, too. On top of that, I have seen homework become the catalyst for arguments in the family, resulting in bitterness between parent and child. Too many times have I heard parents pressure their child into producing perfect homework, but rarely do they emphasize scholarly habits and a desire to learn.

    Although the debate on Common Core continues, I believe that the standards are steering us in the right direction when it comes to in-depth learning. There is now talk about assigning projects instead of worksheets at our school, and we are in the works to develop parent education workshops on student academic needs and home support. I am taking on the challenge to assign a personal academic portfolio of my students’ choosing. They will be required to focus on a passion and share their expertise, including examples of accomplished work, with their peers by starting a classroom blog. I am looking forward to the excitement this is sure to ignite. Thank you for opening the doors to this controversial topic.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Homework has been an issue in my classroom year after year. Our school’s parents are big proponents of traditional schooling, particularly because they were raised similarly, and so they know nothing else. They sincerely believe in the benefits of homework, as you have addressed in “Five False Claims About Homework”, and request that more be assigned to fill the empty hours. I also have bought into the misconception that homework is a necessary component to learning, and it was only recently through my masters’ program and classroom experience that I began to see it through another lens. There is a general lack of motivation to learn because many conventional lessons are task-centered rather than student-centered. I agree that students are busier than ever before, and that they need to invest in developing their physical health rather deteriorate it by sitting behind a desk at home, too. On top of that, I have seen homework become the catalyst for arguments in the family, resulting in bitterness between parent and child. Too many times have I heard parents pressure their child into producing perfect homework, but rarely do they emphasize scholarly habits and a desire to learn.

    Although the debate on Common Core continues, I believe that the standards are steering us in the right direction when it comes to in-depth learning. There is now talk about assigning projects instead of worksheets at our school, and we are in the works to develop parent education workshops on student academic needs and home support. I am taking on the challenge to assign a personal academic portfolio of my students’ choosing. They will be required to focus on a passion and share their expertise, including examples of accomplished work, with their peers by starting a classroom blog. I am looking forward to the excitement this is sure to ignite. Thank you for opening the doors to this controversial topic.

    ReplyDelete
  38. This makes a lot of sense!!! Thank you so much. Anyways you have to do something to just not have homework. ( I am just saying this because I HATE DUMBWORK)
    Translate of DUMBWORK is homework.
    Marie

    ReplyDelete
  39. Hi! My name is Shona Omori and I'm 10 and in 5th grade! This article makes so much sense! This is actually homework right now! I'm supposed to be finding reasons why students should not have HW (homework) for a debate tomorrow with my teacher or someone who disagrees with the fact that students should have no homework. It's funny how I'm reading an article about how student's shouldn't have homework when I'm actually doing HW.

    ReplyDelete

Contact Form

Name

Email *

Message *