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Stop Giving Homework

Stop giving homework (1)

One of my favorite lines is “technology allows us to do things differently, so we do things differently.” Now that we have technology, how do our classrooms look different from when we were students? Start by challenging assumptions. Many things we accept as norms for school may not be because they are best for learning but instead are a response to the culture and technology of a time long gone.

Homework

As a parent of 5 children, I do not want my children doing homework. I have yet to see anything of value that necessitated doing work at home. I have tried having conversations with my kids and do things with them only to be told that they have to fill out this worksheet of stuff they already know. The assignments are not differentiated for their ability level. When my son did not know about the commutative property for his 3rd grade math homework I had to teach him the math lesson. First, doing 3rd grade math is not my idea of a good time. Secondly, I have a degree in math and can explain this to my son. However, I really question how many of the other parents could have taught the commutative property to their kids. If I could not have helped my son he would have been frustrated and spent an inordinate amount of time struggling and possibly crying. We have all cried over homework, I know I have.

Homework widens the inequality gap. Students with parents who are able to help them with their homework are at an advantage. Every student goes home to a different situation. Beyond the door of our classroom, the playing field is not level. If the system is designed to require students do work outside of class then we are setting up some of our neediest students to struggle.

I want to start with the premise that school should be designed so every student can be successful. The environment should be as fair and equal as we can make it.

I Do Not Grade Every Night

I know very few adults who do work every single night. I do not grade or lesson plan every single day. Some days I have the intention of grading but am so exhausted I end up not getting it done. If our students are tired or have family stuff come up they are not able to say “I’ll get to that tomorrow.” In some cases, those students are given detention or other penalties.

I want kids to be involved in sports and other things they are passionate about exploring outside of school. Homework can get in the way of family time, the ability to do extra curriculars and playing outside.

Independent Practice

Absolutely, students need independent practice. Should they do this practice without the guidance of a teacher when they get stuck or if the directions are unclear? No matter how clear I thought I made my directions there were always some students who had questions. Everyone filters information differently and has different life experiences that causes them to interpret information differently. As a teacher I want to be there to support my students as they do independent practice and to clarify directions. This means they need to do the work in class.

Do Things Differently

You can not just stop assigning homework and think students will have enough time in class to get the independent practice completed. If your class is structured like a traditional class like when we were in school, then homework is an essential part of that structure.

Digital Haversack

To stop giving homework, you have to change what your classroom looks like. Move away from a teacher-centered classroom to a more student-centered model. Start by creating a really good classroom website. I call this a digital haversack. Your digital haversack is not where your syllabus goes to die, but rather is the central hub of your classroom.

Give Directions Digitally

Information should not be ephemeral. When you speak directions, the students who are absent are not able to access the directions. Even students who are paying attention can not memorize every word. Directions have to be repeated often times. This takes up a significant amount of instructional minutes. This leaves less time for independent practice. It is also difficult to differentiate directions when you have to attempt to direct different groups of students to do things differently.

Use your classroom website to disseminate directions. Students walk in the door, go to the website and get to work. Daily organize the agenda, which includes the directions for tasks, onto your classroom website. I always make my first agenda item something students can do independently so they can get started right when they walk in the door. Students start getting independent practice right away rather than sitting and waiting for the teacher to provide them with directions on what to do. Directions can be written, visual graphics, short videos or short animations.

Placing directions on your classroom website also provides transparency for parents to know what their child is engaged in all day. This also makes it easier to collaborate with other teachers when they are able to see how you are running things in your classroom.

Buy Back Time

It takes time to go over homework, collect it and record it in the gradebook. Eliminating homework buys back instructional minutes that can be used for independent practice.

Digital Work

I have a rule, if the computer can grade it, it should. Sending students home to do non-digital work can be frustrating for the student and creates paperwork for the teacher. This is lose lose. The student may do the work incorrectly and has now practiced doing it wrong. Going over the homework, students may discover they did the assignment incorrectly. This is frustrating and demoralizing. Showing a student how to do the work correctly and asking them to redo the assignment is rarely welcomed by a student. Mentally, when a student is done with a task they are done. Asking them to go back and redo work can cause grumbling or resistance.

If students are doing the work digitally they are able to receive immediate feedback. This is better. Students immediately know if they are on the right track. Getting a problem incorrect, the student can try to figure out why and tackle a 2nd problem. Getting the second problem incorrect they do not go onto a 3rd. Doing this independent practice in class allows the student to get help when they need it. This reduces frustration and increases motivation. I use Quia.com to create some of my digital independent practice, however, there are a lot of great tools that teachers can use.

Classroom Management

Technology allows me to improve my workflows for many classroom tasks. If I am using something like Google Classroom to distribute and collect student work I no longer have to wait for papers to be passed forward. This savings in time can be applied to allowing students to do independent practice during class.

Modern Teaching

Computers and technology do not reduce the importance of the teacher. The exact opposite is true. Technology allows the teacher to reduce time spent disseminating information and directions. This allows the teacher to instead work with students on building critical thinking skills, engage in interesting projects and discussions, and provide high quality feedback.

If you spend the majority of your class time giving students information, you have been replaced by YouTube and Google. Technology changes what our classroom looks like and what our role is.

Students can and should do independent practice in the presence of their highly skilled teacher. When we shift what our classrooms look like, we can rethink the need to assign homework.

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26 thoughts on “Stop Giving Homework”

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  3. This is an excellent article, and has some great points, but the problem is you have made the assumption all classrooms have technology! My class and all the ones in my school are still writing on chalkboards and I have one working computer desktop in my room and 32 students! So this is where the frustration comes in as We are supposed to be preparing students to be 21st century learners but we are still using chalk and writing on a chalkboard so the kids are certainly not getting what they need to prepare them.

    1. Even without technology it can be done. If homework is not equal then we have to start with that premise. It is easier with technology for sure, but not required.

  4. I made HW optional 2 years ago and it has been the best decision I have ever made. To do well in a high school math class, you need practice so never doing HW makes it challenging to pass. With my new HW policy, Ss have the control over their learning through the HW. When I ask at the end of the year, I have Ss telling me they love the policy and they end up getting more practice. I’ve also given my class a huge makeover for many of the reasons you have stated above. Great blog post! http://keaysclass.blogspot.com/

    1. I taught high school math and stopped giving homework. It can totally be done. I love when students are so excited by learning they WANT to do work outside of class.

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  6. I just had this conversation with a colleague. Homework for students makes homework for me which is not good. It’s just not going to happen. I want my class to be engaging, and the kids will not be engaged if they have been up all night doing busywork.

    1. Let’s start with school should be equitable for all students and that is non negotiable.
      Who says we can not prepare students for college without homework, we can absolutely. Best thing to do is to get kids critically thinking and doing research. Homework is not what prepares them for college. Create independent learners who know how to think, adapt, create, invent. They will be great in college!

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  11. I have really been struggling with homework. I have been partially flipping my classroom this year and I think making homework be the source of basic knowledge (very short videos connected to a brief quiz that can be discussed and re-attempted) and then we can come to class and students are free to work in groups where they seek clarification or apply the knowledge gained from homework. I also provide opportunities for students to complete homework during lunch or before school (and at the start of class if necessary).

    Is this system really that bad? <Legitimate question, like I said, I'm struggling!

    1. Here is my take on homework. Home situations are not equal. We really do not know what kids go home to every day. Even if kids normally have a good home situation, there can be reasons why any particular day is a struggle for a kid. What if the parents are fighting? What if the parent just wants to take the family out to dinner and a movie. Family time is important. I have 5 children, I personally get really frustrated when I want to do something with my kids only to be told they “can not” because they have to do something for school. I spend my whole morning trying to get the kids out the door ready for school, that is not time to spend with kids. I am at work all day. The number of hours I can actually spend with my kids is limited, I want to choose how to spend that time. Regardless of me, it CAN be done. When a kid does work in class 1) I know they did it 2) If the directions were not clear I am able to clarify 3) If the assignment is frustrating I can modify on the spot. I see the impact of my assignment. If you’re doing a flipped model, make sure your videos are SUPER short (I make mine 12 -30 seconds) and make a list of them. That cuts out dead air, um,, etc… so that you maximize instructional minutes. Give kids lots of opportunities in class to think and engage with the information not just write it down. A flipped model does not have to front load the information. Can look at inquiry too. Think collaboration and practical application so the kid see the “why are we doing this.” That will stick longer. Try having a mastery model where it is not necessarily one lesson a day, but a little more fluid so it can flow into the next day. Anything that is DOK 1 or DOK 2 that can be graded by a computer, let the computer grade it. The immediate feedback is more motivating and you get more time to work with kids. Give kids some CHOICES and challenges. If a kid is really into it and it is a good challenge you probably could not stop them from working on it outside of class. (Minecraft…. that is a great way to get kids excited about learning). Focus on the learning objective instead of the assignment, if kids can choose “Hey Mr. McClary I want to build this solar system in Minecraft, would that be okay?” they might really impress you with how they go above and beyond. There is not magic bullet. No one thing that will work for every kid. I like to see that it isn’t working for that one kid so I can try to adjust for the kid. If the video is confusing or longer than you meant it to be or…. you can see what support you need to provide.

  12. Would you be willing to share your classroom website? Or set up a model one? I would love to see an example. Also I am assuming based on your degree you are teaching math? And what level?

  13. I love your ideas. Two questions:
    1) What do you suggest for a classroom that is not 1:1 for devices. I have two desktop stations, and I have my teacher laptop that I could forsake. I can sign out an iPad cart, but not daily, and then I have to sign out/ sign in the iPads.
    2) RE: Google Classroom — Do you have parents as members? I haven’t done this because sometimes students post answers to questions and have discussions, and I didn’t want parents to see other students’ responses.

    1. Having technology definitely makes it easier. However, it is not required. First let’s recognize that research shows that the benefits of doing homework are slim to none. Homework causes severe stress and fighting in families. What amount of gain makes it worth that? Homework takes away from family time, nothing is more important than families doing things together. I can not tell you how many times I hear a parent lament they wanted to take a trip or go to a movie or something with their kid but the kid had homework. That is sad. My #1 reason is equity. Basically, homework advantages those kids who are advantaged. The research says kids whose parents did not go to college are at a disadvantage with homework. This is not a good system to perpetuate. Did I mention it isn’t even that helpful?

      The first thing to tackle is the paradigm shift that homework is not necessary. Just decide you’re not going to give it. If you design your lesson that the independent practice is at home, then sure it’s important. Kids need to do independent practice. So now ask, how can my students do independent practice in class?

      Stop talking so much. If we do all the talking and the thinking and the doing… the students are not as actively engaged in their learning then they need more time to do active activities.
      Rethinking what the classroom structure looks like. How can I talk less? How can students work together to construct knowledge and do inquiry rather than be consumers of information? I like a small group instruction model. Students consistently work in small groups and I work with students in small groups. This way they are working the whole time and getting the practice.

      You can actually buy back a lot of instructional minutes when you stop giving homework. You are not going over homework, explaining the homework, collecting or passing out homework, you’re not spending time prepping for homework, you’re not hassling kids over homework, you’re not making parent phone calls about homework.

      My husband teaches High School English with NO HOMEWORK. While he encourages reading, he does not require outside work. The first couple of weeks of class he has no technology. So he prints collaborative activity directions on paper and puts them into a plastic thing that stands up. Students go to stations and follow directions. When students are not waiting for you to give directions and you do not have to repeat yourself that is time for students to doing the practice.

      Google Classroom: I love that it is a private and closed environment. I am with you on not letting parents in. That being said, I encourage parents to SIT with their child at night and look at Google Classroom together. Before the parent emails me with things they don’t understand, asking their child can clear up a lot. Also, looking it over together allows the parent to ask their child specific questions about class activities besides “what did you do today?”

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