Wednesday, November 15, 2017

6 Do's When It Comes to Homework

Before school started in August 2015 I wrote a blog post to the Stoneridge staff discussing my thoughts about homework. I shared with them that I wanted to have a conversation about homework as the year progressed and by the end of the year I wanted to see if we could come to some common agreements. You can read the post here: Let's Talk Homework.

After reading over research and discussing throughout the year, we came to common agreements for our staff and to share with our parents. At that time, I wrote another post that was shared with the entire school community: If We're Going to Have Homework, Let's Do It Better

It was a great experience leading a school site through changing homework practices. I have continued my learning on homework through attending conferences such as the Assessment Institute by Corwin, read Ditch that Homework by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller, read Hacking Homework by Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton, and also presented about the research on homework and alternatives to current practices with Kristina Allison at Fall CUE.

Through my learning, here is what I consider 6 Do’s when it comes to homework. Tomorrow I will post 6 Don'ts when it comes to homework.

Do Look at the Research
It’s common knowledge that homework causes stress for students, parents and even teachers.  It takes away time that our students can be playing or doing other extracurricular activities.  A lot of times it decreases a student's love of learning.  We also know it takes up a lot of teacher time to think about homework, grade homework, and worry about students that do not do their homework.  That time could be spent working on lesson design or giving students actionable feedback on work that was done in class.  For all the stress, time, and potential harm that homework can do, you would think that doing homework would have a strong impact on learning for teachers to continue doing it right?

John Hattie is a leading educational researcher.  He has looked at 195 different influences on student achievement.  An effect size of .40 is what he calls the "hinge point.”  Anything above the hinge point is considered something that has a greater than average influence on achievement.  Homework comes in with an effect size of .29 which would rank it 120th out of the 195 influences on student achievement.  Now .29 might not seem that far off from .40 but that is for all students, not just elementary students.  In the book Visible Learning for Literacy, it states the the effect size of homework for elementary students is only .10, which would rank it 171st out of the 195 influences.  In fact, Hattie himself says that homework for students in K-3 has an effect of zero.
For students in grades 7-9, the effect size is .31, still below the hinge point.  Student-teacher relationships have a larger impact than homework for students in those grades.  Even for students in grades 10-12 where there is more of an impact on learning, there is danger in giving too much homework (where learning can actually decrease).   And feedback has an even higher impact size than homework.  Could you imagine if teachers took the time they usually spend on homework (thinking about what to assign, grading it, and going over it in class) and put that time into how they could build student-teacher relationships and give them specific and actionable feedback on how they could improve?  If this change happened, student learning would improve a lot more than it is right now by giving homework. Do Put Reading First
I am a former math teacher and would never have imaged this would have been one of my most important Do's when it comes to homework. However, the research behind reading is clear. Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who read for pleasure make more progress in vocabulary, spelling, and math than those who rarely read (Sullivan and Brown, 2013). As Donalyn Miller points out in her blog post, I’ve Got Research. Yes, I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?, “Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume—how much reading people do.” Not only are there academic benefits but studies have shown that both parents and children find reading together as a special time.

We want our students to seek out reading on their own and read for pleasure. We need to provide them books they want to read if they don’t have those books at home. And no, this does not mean making them read for points like AR. If a student wants to read a science book, comic book, or poetry book, let them read! Do Give Yourself Permission to Stop Giving Homework (Or At Least Assign Less)
It was interesting when we were presenting at Fall CUE to see how many educators were just looking for someone to give them permission to stop giving homework or to give less. Yes, it is ok to not give homework.

I know some teachers feel they are “fitting in more of the curriculum” by assigning homework. You might be assigning more of the curriculum but it doesn’t mean students are learning more. Find the key standards that need to be taught and teach those in class. If it is that important, it needs to be done in class.

Every year I worked at Stoneridge less and less homework was given. Here are our scores over the past three years:  

72% (38% exceeding)
65% (31% exceeding)
73% (40% exceeding)
67% (31% exceeding)
73% (45% exceeding)
71%(33% exceeding)
I cannot stand that we make so many judgments about learning and schools based on a single end of year exam given by the state, but people do look at that data.  My point in showing this data is not to say that whatever gains we had was because we gave less homework. Some might say if we gave more homework scores would have gone up more, but anyone making that claim would be doing so to provide evidence to support that more homework would have made the gains even higher.  Based on the effect size data above, there's no evidence in support of that being the case. Do Give Specific Things that Parents Can Work On With Their Child If They Ask
If you lessen homework or get rid of it, you will have some parents that still want their child to do work.  I know some students are behind and their parents want to help.  It is ok to tell parents what their child needs to work on to improve and share resources that are available.  It is important though to not just give a student work to do if they do not have the support at home to do it.  Instead, focus on what interventions you can put in place when they are at school.

Do Make Sure You Are Still Communicating With Parents
I also know some parents say that homework was their way of knowing what was happening in the classroom.  In this case, homework is a form of communication.  There are many ways to let parents know what is happening in the classroom without sending home homework.  It could be an assessment binder, using a tool like Bloomz, a class blog, website, sharing on Twitter, or emailing parents what is being covered.   Do Know That Homework Takes Longer Than What You Think
I came across this interesting survey of teachers asking how much homework they assign.  My problem with surveys like this is that teachers are reporting how many minutes of homework they think they are giving, not how long it is actually taking the student.  We also know that an assignment that takes one student 10 minutes might take another student 50 minutes.
One rule we implemented when I was principal was that if an assignment was taking too long, a parent could just write a note to the teacher.  Parents didn’t abuse it and multiple parents commented to me how much they appreciated being able to communicate with the teacher that their child did not know how to do the work without worrying if they would be punished for not finishing.   This obviously isn't an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it helps educators, parents, and students. Tomorrow I will post 6 Don'ts when it comes to homework.


  1. I'm reading "Ditch That Homework" and these 6 Do's are exactly what I want for my classroom. Thanks for a great post that will hopefully make teachers think about the purpose of homework. As a parent I'm not against homework as long as my kids are excited about it and want to do it. Can't wait to read the "6 Dont's".

    1. Hi Corey,
      Definitely agree that the best thing is when my own child comes home excited about a topic and wants to learn more. I gladly will do that type of homework because they are owning their learning process and are excited about learning more. Unfortunately most traditional homework looks nothing like excitement or a child owning their own learning.