Homework: To Assign or Not Assign
I have never worked in a school in which the topic of homework was NOT a debate. Some schools are very prescriptive and insist that students receive a set number of hours of homework every evening/week. Some schools are a bit freer in their philosophy of how homework should be assigned and insist that the amount of homework assigned must vary based on age because, developmentally, there are other things that students need—not simply completing homework assignments everyday. Realistically, homework should simply be a tool used to support student learning—nothing more, nothing less.
This brings up the debate: should I assign this as homework or not? Below are a few things to consider BEFORE assigning something as homework.
#1: Does it reinforce something? Homework should be assigned if you are reinforcing a new skill that you want students to practice. If you noticed that students need a bit more support with a specific task, this is when the homework for that assignment should appear. On the flip side, if you notice that students are struggling with a skill as a group, DO NOT assign homework for the task, but instead take a moment to reflect and reteach.
#2: Does it support the students’ ability to complete a task? In some cases, homework helps move instruction. Students need to complete a specific section of reading so that they can be prepared for a science lab the next day. Students need to read two articles to prepare for an in-class debate. There are times in which students must complete homework so that they can be prepared for whatever task is next in instruction.
#3: Is it something that students can realistically complete? A great Facebook memory popped up today and it focused on this question: are you making assumptions about students’ ability to get homework assignments completed? Are you assigning tasks that require resources that students do not have access to? Before you assign it, consider just how doable your assignment is.
#4: It is part of a routine? Many are guilty of this one—are you assigning homework because your syllabus says that you will assign homework every night? Do you always assign a spring break packet? Assigning homework should not be something that is assigned because that’s what you do, but should be a purposeful, meaningful addition to whatever it is that students are learning. Remember, your class can be rigorous without overwhelming students with homework assignments.
#5: Is it punishment? I think that many are guilty of this one. Perhaps your class did not finish a task because there were distracted that day, so you assigned the rest of the class assignment as homework. Homework is not, and should never be used as a means of punishment or control. Do not assign an extra chapter to read or extra 10 problems because of something that has happened during the day. This is a moment in which you must step back and reflect so that the real problem can be fixed. Students should never be punished with homework.
#6: Is it timely? I know that many are guilty of this one as well. Perhaps you assign one worksheet for each subject area to that you teach, or you assign all 25 problems in the textbook, or you assign all 25 comprehension questions at the end of the chapter…and these tasks take students hours upon hours to do. Be considerate of students’ time. Student does not need to answer 25 questions; perhaps 5 will really help them understand what they read. Remember, students are at school all day too. They also go home to spend time with their families and participate in extracurricular activities. They shouldn’t have to stay up until 1AM every morning completing homework assignments because they have four or five hours of homework every night.
Homework is a wonderful thing. If used properly, it is extremely helpful for instruction. As educators, we cannot lose sight of its purpose. Be sure to assign work that is timely and useful for students, not simply a means to overwhelm and control them.
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