Homework has been a part of the American Education System for decades and is an expectation by many parents and teachers. Parents often see homework as proof of learning in classrooms and if their child says they don’t have any homework, often they are either assumed to be lying or it is thought that the teacher isn’t doing their job. Teachers go into the profession expected to give homework as “Independent Practice” which will have a variety of “benefits” including reinforcing the content of the day, preparing for an assessment and teaching responsibility. The reality is, homework has not been doing any of these things and we have to shift the mindset of adults regarding homework.
As educators, it is our job to make sure students are learning the skills and content necessary to be successful in school and in society. This is why students attend class with a teacher and their peers to work together to develop mastery. The “Learning Environment” provided at home to do homework is completely different; no teacher, either loud or very quiet, and the student is typically alone. Everything we know about good teaching and how to help students learn/master content is ignored when it comes to assigning homework. If a student is going to be given 30 math questions to “reinforce the content” and the student doesn’t know how to do the problem or does it incorrectly, there is no reinforcement or the student does 30 problems to reinforce the WRONG way of solving the problems.
The idea of homework being independent work stems from Madeline Hunter’s Elements of Effective Instruction (EEI) that states a strong lesson concludes with the student doing Independent Practice. This same idea is brought up in Fisher and Fry’s Gradual Release of Responsibility in that the ultimate goal is for the student to get to the “You do it alone” stage. Both of these research-based lesson design models are effective and valid. It is also important to note that the “Independent Practice” and “You do it alone” stages have never been declared as Homework. The idea behind both of these stages is like riding a bicycle; eventually you take the training wheels off and try to ride the bike without any help (but typically an adult is standing by just in case you fall).
Research has yet to show a strong correlation between doing homework and academic success, especially in elementary school.¹ There has been, however, some research that shows a small positive correlation between homework and academic success in high school. It is important to note that the correlation disappeared when students had more than two hours of homework a night. When I first started teaching I remember being told by many practitioners that as along as you assign 1 hour of homework or less you are being “reasonable.”However, none of us followed up with the reality that students take at least six classes which means there could be at least six hours of homework a night!
There are so many more things students could be doing after school. Family time is increasingly important as students get older, extra-curriculars, social time, and time to relax are all crucial to a student’s well being. Most importantly, sleep has to become a priority. We live in a world that continually distracts us and when we expect students to work hard in school for seven hours and then do hours of homework on top of everything else they do, sleep gets left out which ultimately impacts student learning.
I am not saying students should not study, read, and review what they learned. Those are habits that successful students and adults do, but, assigning points to that work won’t teach students those skills, they have to develop them on their own.
I call all educators to rethink their homework policy. Take a pledge to not assign homework or at minimum, do not assign homework over the weekend and vacation. If you already do not give homework, be more public about it and work on convincing your colleagues to join you.