Why I Don’t Assign Homework

Homework: The eternal struggle of student, parent, and teacher.

I see it all over my Facebook feed and Twitter feed. The lament of parents bemoaning the amount, the complexity, or the sheer ridiculousness of their children’s homework.

Homework seems to be the bane of everyone’s existence, doesn’t it? Teachers hate grading it; students hate doing it; and parents hate begging their kids to do it. So why is it a thing? What good does homework do?

I will admit up front that as a high school teacher I give very VERY little homework.  I never had a theory grounded in research other than my own, but what I saw was that students who did the homework were the “good” students and those who didn’t do the homework were the “bad” students. After about two weeks of school I could pick out who would always do the homework and who would never do the homework.

I started asking myself questions starting with “If a vast majority of my students are not doing the homework, what is that homework for?”

And if the homework isn’t necessary to passing the class, why am I assigning it?

And if it is what makes a child FAIL my class, is their grade really reflective of their ability to meet the standards of my class or is it reflecting their irresponsibility/lack of resources?

Which lead me to wonder what a grade in my class was really communicating vs what it should be communicating.

Why I Don't Assign Homework

The past couple months I have spent much of my free time devoted to reading about homework practices and wondering if I was off-base with my beliefs. Many teachers give me the side-eye when they find out I give next to zero homework to my high school seniors. It seems that the idea is if you don’t give homework, you must be “too easy” of a teacher, and if you pile on the reading and writing you must be a “hard” teacher and therefore “good”.

In the book, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs by Cathy Vatterott, I read about the culture of homework and how these ideas of “more is smarter and better” have become ingrained in our society’s theory of a quality education.

Most parents who bemoan the endless hours of homework their kids have, also question a teacher who gives less (or no) homework. What is that teacher doing? Why is there no homework? The teacher’s credibility as an expert in her field or in his profession get seriously questioned.

The idea that doing homework  makes students better or smarter, and not doing homework hurts students is a false dichotomy.

Homework is only as beneficial as the assignment given and the purpose behind it. Homework for the sake of homework is actually doing more harm than good.

Why I Don't Give Homework

When I am deciding whether or not to put something in the gradebook, I ask myself, “Is this task showing that the student has mastered (or not mastered) a standard for this unit?” If the answer is “no”, I don’t grade it.

This has resulted in my gradebook having WAY fewer assignments than most teachers, and it has gotten me emails about what else will be going in the gradebook toward student grades.

Just because there are fewer graded assignments and virtually zero homework, does not mean we are doing nothing in my class, which seems to be the popular conclusion.

Each day when my students walk in there are goals (which align with my standards) on the board next to their bell ringer assignment (what they work on as soon as they enter the room). My classes are busy from bell to bell. Lately, we have been reading Macbeth. 

Yes, I could assign the reading for homework, but where does that leave slow readers, students who are still learning the English language, and/or students who do not have the time due to family/personal obligations? What happens when only one student “gets it” when reading on his own?

School is not supposed to be full of traps to try to fail students.  School is supposed to be a tool to help students learn and learn TO learn. We read literature like Macbeth together because the stopping and explaining helps students know when to do stop and question on their own. While reading, I teach students to write in the margins of their copy of the play. I teach them to re-read sections and make meaning.

The homework I give falls under the categories of “practice” or “pre-learning.” Practice means I KNOW the students understand the concept and they just need to put forth some practice. I might ask students to choose a passage from something we already read in Macbeth and look at the figurative language of it. When they bring it to class, we would discuss what they brought back, but I might not grade it. I’m looking to see if they “get it” so it can be formally assessed later or if I should re-teach it.

The “pre-learning” homework is like having students read something that I know they can handle.  Maybe I will have a chapter due for discussion. I don’t give points for having it done, but I do informally assess whether the reading is going Ok and if they are “getting” the concept we are working on.

When I do assign outside work, I remind my students of their options for getting it done.

Our school offers extended library hours for students, so those who don’t have a good place at home to do it, can do it with teacher guidance at school.

I make myself available after school almost every day to help students or to just give them a place to do homework.

We also have something called Third Period Extension. This is a half-hour block between 2nd period and 4th period for students to do everything from ACT practice to homework time. At least once a week students get their grades checked by their extension teacher.

In the end, I am not going to assign students homework just for them to not do it. I am also not going to punish students with zeros for assignments that are not showing mastery of a standard.

When a parent looks at their child’s grade in my class, I want them to know that the grade shows what level of mastery the student is currently at in English 12. Not that they are good at getting work turned in. Not that they struggle with finding time between basketball practice, taking care of their little sister while mom works 2nd shift. Not that they are still learning English.

I still manage to make my class rigorous and challenging; I just don’t do it by assigning loads of meaningless homework.

**read more about the studies on the effectiveness of assigning homework**

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a high school English teacher, college adjunct instructor, freelance writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. I like that you do practice and pre-learning exercises, versus just traditional forms of homework. Especially for subjects like English, where actually understanding the text given, is very different from a student’s ability to do and finish homework.

    For certain subjects that require repetition and practice like Math, I do think students can benefit from some form of daily tasks that they should be able to complete in a short, given time, just to get their heads around mathematical concepts, and apply their understanding to those concepts. This doesn’t have to be “homework” per se though. I think there are many ways teachers (and parents) can help the kids ‘practice’ math without actually doing homework.

    If you can’t tell already, I am a big fan of zero homework. 🙂
    Alison recently posted…How We Survived International Travel With Two Young KidsMy Profile

    • math would be one of those classes that homework as practice is important. The problem is that some teachers give students HOURS of math homework. I just don’t think that is necessary. Each student should only have as much as he or she requires. Some students don’t need to practice AT ALL. When I taught Spanish, I did not require that my native speakers practice certain pronunciation things. To me, homework should be individualized.
      Katie recently posted…Why I Don’t Assign HomeworkMy Profile

      • Hi,
        I teach math. I am seriously considering doing away with math homework all together. I hate spending the time correcting it. I hate having to deal with kids emailing me how to answer a problem that their parents can not help them with in my free time, and most of all, I hate grading it.

        As of right now I am leaning towards having homework be “here watch this video of an introduction to a new topic, then post a comment on a blog” or “create a note card to study for a test with” rather than endless sheets of practice problems. I would rather have them practice with me…where I can see their misconceptions and fix those before they turn into “problems.”

        I liked your post. I am going to have to go pick up that book now. 🙂

        Cheers,
        jameson
        Lessons With Coffee

  2. I wish I’d had more teachers like you in high school. And that I knew more teachers in my kids’ schools taught this way.

  3. I love that you are reading MacBeth in class instead of assigning reading. There are so many things that I would miss just reading a play on my own. Speaking the words aloud and stopping to discuss the nuances is the best way to learn Shakespeare, I think. I personally find that classroom learning has stayed with me more than any homework lessons I did over the years.
    Kim recently posted…Old School Blogging – Valentine EditionMy Profile

  4. I couldn’t agree more! Now that I have kids of my own I understand what a big effort homework can be. I think of it this way, *I* don’t want to do more work after I get home from work. My mind is wiped from working all day.

  5. My son is in grade 7 and does not get homework either – for my daughter in grade 10 it’s a little different, but minimal if assigned. I said it before and I’ll say it again – you need to move here and teach at the High School 😀
    Kerstin recently posted…Wasting TimeMy Profile

  6. I love your thoughtful and tested reasons why you give minimal homework. I do wonder how homework fits into a student’s lifestyle these days. While I think that learning time management is important for kids, your thoughts on what is being graded – knowledge or ability to use resources – shine a light on the shifts in education.

    • I think time management is important for kids to learn too, but truthfully, that is not my job as their English 12 teacher. I have a list of English standards I need to teach. I DO teach students how to use their time wisely, but I feel like it’s unfair to place a grade on that because A) it’s not one of my class standards and B) that is like grading their home life. I simply won’t do that.
      Katie recently posted…Why I Don’t Assign HomeworkMy Profile

  7. I can still remember my high school days . . . there were classes where my test average ALWAYS was an A, yet I ended up with a C because I didn’t turn in the homework. Because I knew what I was doing, and was bored. I wish more teachers were like you, simply.

    Homework, I feel, is necessary when there are specific tasks that a student needs to work on, to bring said student up to the level of the rest of the class. When I was an adjunct instructor, when I assigned homework, I would actually sit down with the student and say “this is what you seem to be having trouble grasping, so, with these exercises, you should be able to better understand how X plays into Y”. It aggravated me to no end when I saw instructors dishing out what would take hours (and would also take the instructor hours to grade . . . but I fear that few instructors are willing to put the same effort into looking through the homework they assign as they expect their students to put into the assignment).
    John (Daddy Runs a Lot) recently posted…Where I describe a truly absurd dreamMy Profile

  8. When I taught 8th grade, I rarely gave homework. Like you said, it just showed who was self motivated and who was not. I also had no insight into how the homework was completed (Hint: Most of the time copied from someone else on the bus.) I needed to watch my students’ process. The end result by itself was not enough.
    And when I did give homework, more students did it because they knew I would never just give them busy work for the sake of giving homework.

  9. I love everything you said. I do have a question. I had papers due as assignments all through my junior high and high school English classes. While these were longer term assignments and not homework, per se, I was wondering if you do have longer term assignments like papers for your students?
    Brittany recently posted…Just a Boy and His RobotMy Profile

    • We do longer term assignments, yes. But even with those we work in class enough so that I know everyone is on the right track. There are “check” points and conference days and nothing gets graded until the end.

      But even with the character analysis my students are writing, there are so many different levels my students are working at that I devoted five class periods to working on computers with students to get each portion of the paper started (quote gathering, thesis, intro, body, conclusion).
      Katie recently posted…Why I Don’t Assign HomeworkMy Profile

  10. I can definitely see how literature or english would be better suited to learning INSIDE the class. Math, though, takes extra practice, don’t you think? At least for some? My second grader rarely has homework this year, but last year (and for his 1st grade sister this year) there was/is quite a bit. They both hate it (of course).
    Greta recently posted…Valentine’s Day Shenanigans. #iPPPMy Profile

    • I agree that for some subjects you need practice. And I agree with homework for practice (I taught a foreign language after all and that takes practice). What I don’t agree with is 50 problems a night of the same thing over and over. A) is the teacher really going to give feedback on all that? B) what if the student doesn’t get it? C) wouldn’t a couple practice problems show the teacher what he/she needed to see? D) kids should not be spending HOURS doing homework. There is no study that supports that does any good academically.

      So practice? YES!
      Katie Sluiter recently posted…Why I Don’t Assign HomeworkMy Profile

  11. I would have loved to have you for a teacher! I think your ideas are brilliant actually. We happen to homeschool, but lots of our kids friends in school are drowning in homework. It is sad to see how they have no time left to just be part of their family, explore the world around them, etc. Keep up that great idea…I bet kids are learning more!
    Christa Sterken recently posted…An “E” Ticket LifeMy Profile

    • exactly. And I teach seniors. Many of them have sports, clubs, and/or jobs on tops of wanting to see their family and do TEEN stuff. Hours of homework a night is ridiculous. And there are NO studies that support that much homework does any good!
      Katie Sluiter recently posted…Why I Don’t Assign HomeworkMy Profile

  12. I’m torn on this topic because without homework, I wouldn’t have passed a couple of classes because I’m one of those people that does not do well under pressure and bombed tests even if I knew the material backwards and forwards. But, busy work for the sake of busy work is no fun either and now that i have a school aged child and homework will soon be inevitable, I’m scared! Truly scared.
    Tonya recently posted…It’s All Coming Back To MeMy Profile

    • My thing with this then is that your assessments should have been reworked. If you have mastered the content, you should not fail the class. No student who has mastered the standards/content of a course should fail that course. The tests were poor assessments. There should have been accommodations made–assess you how you can show you have mastered what you needed to know.

      My district changed it’s grade weighting about ten years ago so that 70% of the grade was dependent on assessments and only 30% on course work/homework. The idea is that your assessment should be built to show mastery of your standards. course work/homework is practice for those assessment.
      Katie Sluiter recently posted…Why I Don’t Assign HomeworkMy Profile

  13. Yet again, I wish you had been my teacher.
    Keely recently posted…A Recap, Killer Events, And My Favorite Pic Of My Folks.My Profile

  14. This is such good info Katie, and I agree with all of it. Thanks for sharing a different perspective than what a lot of us see.
    Jennifer recently posted…SnappedMy Profile

  15. I have an 8th grader, 6th grader, and 2nd grader and have never experienced the hours of homework with my children. My two oldest generally get a math assignment every night (takes about 15 minutes) and a couple of times a week maybe another 10-15 minute assignment in a different subject. They usually have a couple of projects a term, the majority of which is done in class. My youngest has a couple of less than 5 minutes assignments a week and then free reading every night. All manageable. And I am truly thankful for that. I hate busy work.

    I do like that thus bit of homework does require my children to develop some organizational and time management skills which are so important in middle school.

    Your homework philosophy sounds right on target!
    Heather recently posted…Do You Want to Build a Snowman?My Profile

  16. I agree completely that the homework issue needs to be revisited. Homework for the sake of homework helps no one. My oldest is in second grade so it’s not so bad yet, but she’s had a few assignments that I’ve had a hard time defending. And? She’s exhausted when she gets home. Hardly in a state of mind for learning.
    Candy recently posted…Surviving the Witching HourMy Profile

  17. This is one of the major issues I see in the switch to common core–everyone is rethinking their TEACHING strategies, which is fabulous. It is harder for teachers to rethink their ENGRAINED METHODS.
    I have never given a lot of homework. I started teaching in the High Desert, which is an area of high poverty. Many students did not have a safe, quiet place to do homework. So why should I force them? Why should I hurt their grade? If you are active in my class, and doing what you SHOULD be doing, then you will learn in my class. Now, of course, freshmen especially still struggle with this learning curve, but I do not feel badly if you had class time and you decided not to do it. But at home? Home is a different place for every child. And that place is not always positive.
    However, a lot of teachers are just “used to” assigning homework, so they are continuing to do it. This is a big discussion at our school right now–homework policies and grades. How does homework measure learning? How do you USE homework the next day? If the answer is, you collect it, grade it, and never revisit it, then there’s no other thing I can say beyond: that’s wrong. My husband is a Statistics teacher. He will assign 3-4 problems a night, and the lesson the next day focuses around those problems. That I can understand. 50 problems of practice that you never review? No. Just no.
    My IB students have told me they have up to 9 hours of homework a night. NINE.HOURS. AND they have sports/extras/clubs etc. They are already run ragged at 17. Why? They have their whole lives for this crap. We shouldn’t be killing their spirit NOW.
    The majority of my homework is reading or finishing something from class to be used the following day. I couldn’t imagine having to grade a crapton of homework on top of a crapton of essays. I would lose MY mind, not even taking theirs into consideration. But, at the end of the day, since my job is THEIR minds, it comes first. And thus, little homework. So yay us for being progressive 🙂
    Isha recently posted…Her Kind HeartMy Profile

  18. I LOVE this and I wish the vast majority of teachers thought this way. My 1st grader has 14 pages of homework each week on top of nightly reading assignments. It is INSANE!! He needs my help with everything except the math assignments (which there are very few of). Honestly it take all of the fun out of learning. He doesn’t read for pleasure he reads to beat the clock. My 5th grader has a reasonable amount of homework and most of it is self-directed. My 7th grader NEVER has homework and is bored out of his mind in school. Any tips on how parents should approach teachers/school about homework?
    Robbie K ( recently posted…Things I Don’t GetMy Profile

  19. It feels like, at least from my standpoint — having elementary and middle schoolers — that most homework they receive is for the sake of having homework. While SOME is beneficial, meaning specific to my child as in you didn’t do well on these questions, why don’t you reread it at home tonight and try them again, I think most is simply time-wasting. Moreover, if it’s not going to be graded, don’t assign it. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be all over YouTube and Kahn Academy trying to figure out a math problem that no one is even going to tell me whether I (I mean my child. Right) got correct.

    My pre-K guy gets “homework.” He has to practice writing his name or all letters or numbers. Sometimes he has to read a book and draw a picture. He likes sitting with his sisters being a big boy. I don’t mind it because it’s a skill reinforcement.
    Arnebya recently posted…Again. And Again. And Probably Again.My Profile

  20. My kids are younger than the ones you teach but they are SO much happier this year with less homework. My theory is, you’ve got 8ish hours of school (of course not all is instruction time) you SHOULD be able to get the vast majority if not all of the work done in that time.

    Once again, Katie, I like the way you teach. 😉
    Elaine A. recently posted…Happy AND Proud #HappyMamasMy Profile

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  1. […] a former teacher and current parents, I am in love with this post at Sluiter Nation about being a teacher that doesn’t assign homework.  At least not the kind most of us are used […]