To Give or Not to Give: Homework

   Chances are, we’ve all had homework assigned to us at some point during our K-12 years, and if we attended college, then doing more work out of class than in class was a given. Those that didn’t develop the study skills necessary to succeed in a traditional educational environment (what we generally have in the U.S.), then chances are they will not be successful in higher education. However, I know for a fact that just because one ‘skates by’ in high school doesn’t mean that will be how college classes will be passed. And even if both high school and college are met with half-hearted attempts at learning, it is no direct link to a failure in the ‘real world’. There are those anomalies that drop out of high school or flunk out of college, or barely earn a diploma or degree, and yet they become incredible business people or have other value to offer to enrich others’ lives. I do point this out to my students when they argue about completing homework, and on occasion I have debated with myself on how I learned and how this new generation ‘learns’, and whether or not homework is obsolete.

   I teach on a block schedule (85 minutes a day, every day) and due to the type of the classes I teach, I have the students all year long instead of just one semester. My classes include direct instruction, but there is also a ton of other opportunities to learn and practice the material as well as allowing the students to show what they know in different ways. Despite all this, my students benefit greatly for nightly homework. I make it as easy for them as possible. They don’t have to lug their books home and back to school (or leave them in their friend’s car) because I pass out a worksheet. So, if you’re rolling your eyes at either 1) the trees I’m killing in making copies, or 2) the dreaded ‘worksheet queen’, that’s alright, as you have the right to your opinion.

   A single worksheet eliminates the misplacement of a textbook and days on end when it is forgotten at home or various other locations. A handout doesn’t weigh as much as a book, and I make sure we complete a few problems in class and that they have copied down any extra instructions before it is tucked away in their binders and backpacks. This doesn’t mean that it always comes back the next day or that it is always completed. There is extra incentive to bring it back completed because I award participation points daily for having the homework and also for offering answers and working problems out on the board. By the end of the quarter, the points end up to around 400 to 450, and it is quite indicative of what the student knows. Those that are consistent in returning with the homework are the ones who do better on assessments, have something with which to participate in class discussions, and with more points, their grade is either bumped up to the next letter (occasionally it brings them down if they continually choose to forego completing the homework assignments), or stays the same with a solid letter grade.

   I have been told ‘horror’ stories of students spending six hours every night completing homework. Some parents believe that all school work should be completed at school. Since I assign it regularly, I ensure that it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. I know that students have other classes that also assign homework, and I do believe that ‘down time’ and ‘family and friend’ time is important if kids are to grow up well-adjusted. Occasionally, I’ll ask my students to record information at home (how many minutes of commercials there are during a 30 or 60-minute television show) or to bring something in from home or off the Internet or out of another textbook (like a graph). In any case, I’m very careful as to what I assign (that the students can complete it by themselves) and that the time needed is minimal.

   I’ve heard of some teachers assigning homework as punishment. Okay, I won’t step up on my soapbox, but how are students to care enough about assignments to do them diligently and consistently if it has a negative connotation and is assigned as a ‘bad’ consequence? Almost all of my homework (with the exception of the examples listed above) is assigned in order to give the student the opportunity for more practice on a skill or concept. Why? Despite what parents and others who are not in the classroom teaching think, there simply isn’t the time.

   Even if one were to set aside all the interruptions (assemblies, fire drills, bus evacuations, presentations, author visits, heath screenings, pictures, testing, etc.) the amount of information that each State has decided that every student needs to know at each grade level, the Standards, is enormous. The question was raised years ago as to why the U.S. consistently places last in math and science testing when compared to Japan and Germany. The explanation: other countries teach deeper, the U.S. teaches wider. In essence, students in the U.S. are exposed to concepts and skills one day, and a couple of days later, there is yet another piece to learn. Anyone who has been in school can say that they, or someone they know, passed a class and never did an assignment. Or, the student admits that they’re not sure what they are learning, but they try to memorize (or find a way to cheat) for the next test. The next semester, the next year, it is on to another class and more information that they are exposed to, but don’t have the opportunities to learn in-depth. The solution? Homework.

   To give or not to give homework is a question that each teacher (sometimes influenced by the building they work at) must answer for themselves. I choose to assign homework, most often to give the students an opportunity to practice what was presented in class. The side benefits are responsiblity and pride in completing the assignment. When a student begins to connect the dots in how one concept is related to another, then ‘learning’ has taken place, and the hope is that the extrinsic motivation of grades moves to intrinsic for the love of learning, or at least, the recognition that there is now some piece of information in their brains that wasn’t there the day before.

   What are your reasons for assigning homework? What kinds of homework do you give? Do you choose not to assign homework? Why? Another option I offer my students is to practice the skills and concepts in different ways. I’ve created some math kits, complete with writing assignments, assessments, and a variety of individual, group, and whole class activities. You can view them on my website at Leave a comment and share your opinion about homework.