If you’re a teacher, you’ve heard it: the groans, muttering, and dramatic sighs.
“We have too much homework!”
“By tomorrow? But tonight I was going to…”
Excuses bombard you, but you’ve heard them all before. On the other hand… could your students have a point? Could they be onto the benefits of the “no-homework movement"?
Before you close the books on the idea of not assigning homework, let’s do just that: the homework.
Homework opponents justify their position with a number of arguments.
Why Should We Get Rid of Homework?
Homework doesn’t improve performance: Research has shown that, in many subjects, homework doesn’t improve student outcomes. Proponents of the no-homework movement, including Alfie Kohn, Dr. Etta Kralovec, and Sara Bennett believe the impact of homework on test performance is limited. The Economics of Education Review concluded that ELA, science, and history homework had “little to no impact” on test scores (although math homework did prove beneficial). Researchers studying the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) test determined that the countries with the highest scores assign the least amount of homework.
Homework takes up class time: When teachers give homework, they spend significant class time assigning, collecting, and correcting it. Schools without homework have repurposed that time, allowing teachers to spend more quality time working directly with students to apply the material.
Homework requires parental assistance and contributes to the learning gap: Students, especially those at the elementary level, are often unable to complete their homework without help. Young students who begin their educational careers without sufficient assistance view homework as a struggle and may skip, rush through, or even cheat to finish it. Some professionals believe homework contributes to the gap in students’ learning success. The classroom is a place where all students have access to the same resources and assistance. The same cannot be said when work is sent home with students. While some children go home to well-educated parents, internet access, and plentiful resources, other children struggle to do the work on their own.
Homework deflates the joy of learning: An increasing number of people view homework as a “stress-inducing, mostly useless practice that saps students’ desire to learn rather than nurtures it.” Alfie Kohn describes it as what “may be the greatest extinguisher of children’s curiosity that we have yet invented.” And research supports these bold statements...
Homework reduces reading: A Scholastic study analyzed the reading habits of 500 children. The study determined that time spent reading for enjoyment dropped off dramatically at about age 8, at which time only 29 percent of students read daily. Parents mentioned homework as the top reason their children didn’t read more. Parents and educators are beginning to wonder whether memorizing words is really a more effective way to teach children vocabulary than having them read and nurturing their interest in books.
Homework adds unnecessary stress: Students feel pressured to perform at high levels – to get the best grades, be highly involved and excel in extracurricular activities, get accepted into a good college, and work a job. They stretch themselves too thin and overextend themselves. Something has to give. Typically, students sacrifice sleep and time to relax, play, and live balanced lives. Living this fast-paced, pressure-filled lifestyle is not healthy. In a study by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, 70 percent of parents said their 9-to 13-year-olds suffered “moderate to high levels of stress.” Parents cited homework as the number one cause.
Homework eliminates time for other learning opportunities: Homework has blurred the separation between home and school. After spending all day in school, many students spend hours doing schoolwork at home. A minimal amount of time remains to engage in other opportunities such as playing an instrument, exercising, volunteering, and helping with projects at home – or just spending time with family.
When homework is removed, students and families experience a host of benefits: Without the demands of homework, students have more energy and are sick less often. They are less stressed and have time to play, exercise, and sleep. Families can spend more quality time together. Students take on other responsibilities such as helping prepare dinner or taking care of a pet. In addition to developing cognitively, they grow emotionally, spiritually, socially, and physically. Students become more well-rounded individuals.
Of course, the homework discussion is not one-sided. Many parents and educators point to the benefits of homework.
Why Should Homework Stay?
Homework teaches life lessons: Students who complete homework learn important lessons such as how to manage time, be responsible, work independently, and prioritize. Homework also prepares them for higher education and the work world, where they will undoubtedly be required to complete work on their own time.
Homework increases achievement levels: Some researchers point to positive effects of homework and believe it correlates with higher test scores. Conclusions regarding homework’s effectiveness seem to be split, depending on the study conducted. Most researchers can agree, however, that these benefits don’t apply for elementary students. “I can’t recommend getting rid of [homework],” said researcher Robert Marzano, “except at the primary level. But make sure you use it purposefully.”
Homework encourages critical thinking: Memorization, not application, is at the heart of much of the homework students complete today. However, homework can be beneficial when it requires critical thinking. A study by the Canadian Council on Learning showed that homework helps students, but only if it is “judiciously assigned” and engages the student.
The amount of homework can be controlled: The National Parent-Teacher Association and National Education Association suggest the 10-minute homework rule: The maximum amount of homework students complete (all subjects combined) should not exceed 10 minutes per grade level per night. Therefore, a first grader should spend no more than 10 minutes on homework while a senior in high school spends no more than two hours. The research of Dr. Harris Cooper, who studied homework practices for more than 15 years, aligns with this suggestion. He found a point of diminishing returns, a time after which completing additional homework did not benefit the student. For students in junior high, that point was 90 minutes. For high school students, it was between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours.
Finding a Happy Medium
It’s time to find an approach to homework that will ultimately benefit our students the most. Perhaps the aspect of homework that we should most strongly consider is not the quantity of it, but rather the quality.
The Race to Nowhere created Healthy Homework Guidelines Supporting Student Health, Family Engagement, and Active Learning Nationwide (and released a toolkit with additional information) which schools across the country have been adopting. The guidelines encourage teachers to only assign homework when it advances a spirit of learning, is student-directed, and promotes a balanced schedule. The Race suggests that teachers design homework assignments with students, not for them, inviting students to contribute their ideas for engaging work. It also suggests assigning project-based learning that enables students to choose topics of interest to them. There should be a reason that students are motivated to their homework – aside from the fact that they’ll fail if they don’t. Finally, the Race says homework should never include assignments based on rehearsal and repetition. This kind of work, if required at all, should always be completed during the school day.
Many districts see some benefits in eliminating homework, but don’t quite want to do away with the practice altogether. Some schools have adopted modified plans such as eliminating homework on weekends and over breaks, removing it at the middle and/or elementary school levels, and designating “no homework nights.” Other schools have proposed cutting the amount of homework by 50 percent, or asking students to read 30 minutes each night instead of doing homework. Still other districts have replaced homework with “goal work” specific to each student’s needs. Some high schools have adopted the practice of continuing to assign homework but no longer counting it toward students’ grades.
Though the topic is heavily debated, it seems like homework can benefit upper-level students – but only if it is carefully assigned. The next time you are going to give homework, ask yourself three questions: Will it truly engage my students? Will it foster creativity and a desire to learn? Will it provide me with valuable information to help inform my instruction?
The Final Grade
Remember, you have the power to influence the way your students view their education. Students will appreciate knowing that you have their best interests at heart in everything you are asking them to do.
Has your district adopted a no- or limited-homework approach? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!
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