Thursday, November 16, 2017

6 Don'ts When It Comes to Homework

My last post was on my 6 Do's for Homework. Here are my top 6 Don'ts:

Don’t Say You Are Preparing Them for the Next Level
Let’s stop pretending that students aren’t flexible and can’t adjust when given a new challenge. In my previous blog post, I wrote about how if another level has a bad policy that it is not our job to match bad policy. If you teach elementary students, then do what is right for elementary students. If you teach middle school students, do what is right for middle school students.

At middle school they don’t have recess, does that mean we should take away recess so we can “prepare them” for middle school? No, of course not. The high schools in our area start around 7:45 and most of our elementary and middle schools start closer to 8:45. Does that mean that high school students don’t make it to class their first year because our elementary schools didn’t prepare them to wake up earlier? Of course not.

Also, a lot of times you will hear middle school or high school teachers say they are preparing their students for all the homework they will have in college. In college, you go to class 15 hours a week. In middle school and high school, you go to class over 30 hours a week. In college, you get to choose your classes and possibly even choose which days and times those classes are scheduled. Do we do that in middle school and high school? No, we do not. Usually, when a student starts college they are 18 years old. Let’s stop pretending an 11-year old (or worse, a 5-year-old) should have the same responsibilities as an 18-year-old.

Don’t Punish Students For Not Doing Homework
I usually like to hear what people have to say on different topics because I know I am not always correct in my beliefs. However, if a school or teacher is not allowing a student to go out to recess because they did not do their homework, it is wrong. In elementary school, this is usually called putting the kid on a bench. Kids need recess. If they didn’t do their homework more than likely they don’t know how to do it, have other activities that are important for that child and family, or don’t have a parent that is able to help them.

For middle school, punishment usually comes in two forms: lunch detention and taking away enrichment periods. If a student doesn’t have their homework, teachers may have them sit in a room to work on it during lunch. Some schools have built in time during the day for enrichment and intervention. Sometimes the enrichment will be taken away for not completing their work. If they don’t understand a standard and you want to reteach, or if it is an assignment that they need to complete to show understanding, that is one thing. But don’t make students come to intervention just because they didn’t do homework.

As Stanford Professor Jo Boaler states, “When we assign homework to students, we provide barriers to the students who need our support. This fact, alone, makes homework indefensible to me.”

Don’t Make Homework Part of a Grade
If you do give homework it should be for students to practice something they already know, reflect on their learning, or give them suggestions on ways to improve to meet a certain learning target.

Assessments or projects that are assigned to see how students are doing on specific learning targets should be done in a controlled environment like the classroom. When students are doing assignments for grades outside of the classroom you are more likely to cheat or have a parent do the work. We also know students’ home environments are not the same and it is not fair to have them showing their learning in an environment that is not the same as their peers. If you are truly measuring student learning, then the work needs to be done in the classroom.

Don’t Say You Are Teaching Students Responsibility
There is no research to back this thought up. A student completing the exact work a teacher assigned falls more under the category of compliance than responsibility. As a teacher, I had plenty of students who did their homework that were far from responsible and I had plenty of students who never did homework who were plenty responsible.

Don’t Worry What Parents Will Say
One other thing that comes up with teachers anytime I talk homework is that they are worried what parents will say. If you give parents the research, explain why you are changing your homework policy, and show you have a plan for communicating, a lot more parents will be happy with the change. At Stoneridge, we had around 575 students. I only had three parents that were adamant that their child needed more homework. I gave them websites and other resources and told them they are more than welcome to work on any additional work with their child, we just would not count it for points or punish their child for not doing it.

Don’t Give Homework That is Due the Next Day (or to be done over a break)
If you give a student an assignment on Tuesday and expect it back on Wednesday you are dictating how that family needs to spend time that night. As a father of two girls who have sports and other activities, there are some nights where we do not get home until 9:00. If we are going to have homework it is better if there is a window. And for all those math teachers thinking they need to practice what they learned in class that night, learning is not so fragile that if it doesn’t happen right then it will be gone forever. In college, you never have homework that is due the next day. If we don’t do that to college students we probably shouldn’t do that to our youngest students.

If you feel you do need to give homework here are some guidelines I would recommend:

-It needs to be something they can do independently if it is for practice.
- The hardest thing you do is done in class. Kids shouldn't be assigned independent practice problems that they’ve never seen in class and be expected to do them successfully or held accountable for those problems.
- If you are using it as a check for understanding, make it short (and definitely do not count it as a grade).
- There is no point in reviewing the homework answers in class as a whole class. You only get so much time in class with your students, use it wisely.
- It is not new learning.

Do your students see you as an advocate or an adversary? If you are doing any of the don'ts above, they will see you as an adversary. We have to have high expectations for our students and demand a lot from them, but that should be done in the classroom. The classroom is where you can give them feedback, not at home where you as an educator have no control over their environment. We should all be advocates for our students and change old homework practices.


  1. Again, great thoughts and well put. As a dad of two boys who have been crying and fighting over homework for many years now, I agree with everything.
    I heard Alice Keeler speak about homework and she said if there is any question on how much homework you give, ask them to imagine going home after a staff meeting/inservice/conference and having two more hours of learning and work.
    I also am a firm believer that work done away from the teacher is not very useful to the student.
    Keep up the campaign Brandon! I'm a supporter of the cause!

    1. Hi Corey, thanks for the comment. Agree that at the end of a conference I am exhausted from learning so much new information and yet that is what students do every day. Keep up your great work as well!

  2. I wish they used these principles in high school. My son has HOURS of math nearly every night. He is exhausted by the end of the week.

    1. Math seems to always be the subject that gets brought up as giving too much homework. As a former math teacher I will never understand why teachers give so many problems.