Thursday, June 14, 2012

Should Teachers Assign Homework?

A few days ago, teacher (and founder of the short lived but hilarious #pencilchat hashtag) John T. Spencer wrote Ten (Really Useful) Ways to Cheat-Proof Your Classroom. Cheating - especially in the form of plagiarism - is a demon I am constantly trying to exorcise from my students and I think nine of Spencer's suggestions do just that. There's only one that I find disagreeable.

Spencer suggests that cheating takes place largely on homework assignments so the easiest way to solve the problem is to simply stop assigning homework. This is the equivalent to sawing off your hand to ease the pain of a hangnail. Homework is needed not only as a summative assessment but also as a means of teaching responsibility and accountability. What standard are we setting by making students responsible for nothing more than physically showing up to class?

While I agree that there are still far too many teachers assigning crosswords and word finds, meaningful homework absolutely has a place in the classroom. Perhaps there needs to be discussions in schools about what homework is and why it should be assigned in the first place. If a teacher struggles to answer these two questions regarding a particular assignment, then it's probably not worth assigning in the first place.

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10 Responses:

@educatoral said...

What about the argument that kids already put in a 6 or 7 hour day? Why extend their work day? Don't kids need time to play and be with their families? I, for one, do not want a teacher dictating how I spend my after school, weekend, and summer time with my kids nor will I impose my will or work on my students' family time.

Mr. Rogers said...

Why are schools responsible for teaching responsibility and accountability? And how does homework do that exactly?

John Mikulski said...


Shouldn't learning be a 24 hour process, not just something that happens in isolation during school hours? I recognize the need for kids to have time to play and be kids, but when the homework is meaningful and at a length that is appropriate for the age, I feel it's far more important that leaving kids to their own devices to fill that time.

@Mr. Rogers,
I would hope that every teacher - regardless of grade level or content area - will agree that teaching responsibility and accountability is inherent in what we do in the classroom. Meaningful homework not only furthers the curriculum, but also places the responsibility of learning on the student. Without this kind of accountability, teachers are doing all the work while students become passive participants.

Mrs. K said...

"Homework is needed not only as a summative assessment but also as a means of teaching responsibility and accountability."

I'm not sure I fully agree with this statement. I do think homework CAN provide these two things for kids. I also agree that we NEED summative assessment and we NEED to teach responsibility/accountability. However, I think there are other ways to squeeze those into our curriculum besides just giving homework. Don't your classroom activities, projects, and tests provide enough summative assessment? I mean, how many times do we really need to test the kids to figure out how much they know? A few in-class assignments are fine; there's really no need to assign extra homework. Furthermore, I teach responsibility and accountability with the in-class things I assign. I assign projects that are due in the near future, so that students must plan ahead and be responsible about what choices they make in the meantime. I grade every piece of work I put in front of them and hold them accountable for doing their best on every assignment. But I don't NEED homework for those things.

And I agree with @educatoral, who says that kids need time to play and spend time with their families. I understand that learning is a 24 hour process, but I have seen many children LEARN from what people call "play." There is also something to be said for LEARNING social skills and conflict-resolution while working/playing with others. Individual assignments for homework every night will not accomplish that. Besides that, do you go home and spend a few hours more working on teaching things? You probably did when you first started teaching, and you MIGHT spend an hour or two after school once or twice a week at this point in your career, tweaking and prepping for upcoming lessons. But don't you need a break? Yes. There actually IS such a thing as "too much of a good thing," although I did not believe it until I ate too much ice cream once when I was 10 years old. :) If we bombard kids with structured learning at all times of the day, wouldn't it be logical that those students would tire of education in general more quickly? I want my students to be EXCITED about learning and EXCITED about school. Part of that excitement may come from letting school be a novel experience, and that doesn't come from making students drag home their work day after day.

There can certainly be a time and a place for homework. I assign it minimally -- the only reason a student has homework in my class is if he/she was playing during class and did not finish during the time given. I have gotten positive remarks about this model. It is not perfect, but I like it so far.

~Mrs. K. from The Teacher Garden blog

Lindsay Parvin said...

Hi! My name is Lindsay Ann Parvin. I am a former high school history teacher and a coach, but I am currently enrolled in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama renewing my teacher's certificate.

Homework was the bain of my existence for so long in the classroom. I constantly struggled with students not completing a full assignment. I decided one day that I was going to try and fix the problem. I agree that the students are putting in a full day, and I think that homework should be used strictly for reinforcement. Crossword puzzles, word finds, and such don't really do the job. I found myself using those as more a chance for my students to get extra credit. I ended up composing homework assignments that were short and to the point. No busy work.

I recently read an article about teaching our students time management and responsibility. I had never really thought about it. My students new that we would start each class with a quiz over the material covered the day before in class. Would it have been so bad to give them their homework assignments at the start of each unit and gave them a date that it was all due (just before the test)? They could work at their own pace and learn about time management. Sure, it may have created more work for me right after a test, but I could use the time going over the correct answers the day before a test as a study prep. I was so OCD about homework being turned in the next day. We do it with papers and big projects. Why not do it with daily homework assignments? I plan on trying this! I think it will be beneficial to me and my students.

Christina Mason said...

My name is Christina Mason, and I am also enrolled in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. As the mother of a 21 and 13 year old, I feel the pain of children having too much homework. Since I have gone back to school it makes me a bit more sympathetic with my children. I have had a college professor that assigned so much busy work that I could not adequately study for tests, and I have had instructors who have assigned meaningful assignments that I have learned valuable lessons from. My opinion is, if you're going to give homework, make it short, sweet, and meaningful.

Ashley Earnest said...

Hello, my name is Ashley Earnest and I am taking EDM 310 at The University of South Alabama. I 100% agree with you that homework is a must. I enjoy Mr. Spencer's work, but this I do not understand. Thought provoking and stimulating homework is necessary to drive the message/lesson home. I think that homework does instill responsibility in students and holds them accountable for their own success.

Jen said...

Just curious if you've read the research by Alfie Kohn and others that suggests that at the elementary level homework doesn't have any measurable positive impact on achievement. In my classroom I assign very little homework (I teach 5th grade). My students put in 6-7 hours of hard, rigorous work for me during the school day, and I want them to have time to do other things once they leave me. And as a parent of a kiddo who's starting kindergarten this fall, I understand more than ever how valuable our time is together in the evenings. I want to be able to spend it on family things, not more school things. I totally understand that assigning homework is the norm/expectation in most places, and I even do send things home occasionally. If you feel you have to, then yes, I agree that it should be meaningful and related. Just my two cents. :)

John Mikulski said...

Hi Jen, thanks for the response. I am vaguely familiar with Kohn's work, but I think I was looking at it from more of a behavioral standpoint rather than through an academic achievement lens. I feel part of being an educator is teaching good behaviors. These can be taught with follow-through on assignments.

Jessica LaForce said...

Hi, I'm Jessica La Force, and I'm in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I commented on one of your posts before and I'm back again. This was a very interesting post. Kids do cheat on homework. I know this because I used to be one of them. I think the best way to limit that is to give more in depth homework. Make the ideas come from the student's heads rather than just filling in the blank. Just a reminder I'm summarizing my posts to you today on my personal blog.