Friday, May 21, 2010

3 Observations on Homework

1. If homework can be copied, it is bad homework.

Most kids will cheat on homework if they can. Why not? It usually feels like a waste of their time, especially if the teacher just checks it off and doesn’t give constructive feedback on it.

What kind of homework can be cheated on? Fill in the blanks, word searches, crossword puzzles, end of chapter summaries, math problems, etc.

What kind of homework cannot be copied or done by someone else for you? Reading for pleasure, personal journal entries, & studying for a quiz or test.

What kind of homework is good homework? Homework that turns the students on to whatever it is they are learning. This could include just about any type of homework, but typically it will involve: working on something of interest to the student that they can do on their own (or with a classmate) that they have plenty of time to complete, like a really creative, student-driven project. This may also include reading for pleasure (if they enjoy reading) and writing for pleasure (if they enjoy writing).

But how will a teacher know if a student understands material if she doesn’t give worksheets and chapter summaries? Instructional devices like work sheets, writing and reading exercises, and discussions are formative assessments teachers should use during class time. These learning activities are practice for students and will help the teacher evaluate her instruction. If these activities come home as homework, the teacher doesn’t have a true gauge of the student’s learning because someone else can do the work for the student. See this article: “To Grade or Not to Grade Homework”

2. If homework must be given, make it the exception, not the rule, and please make it creative.

If teachers occasionally must assign homework, it should be teacher designed (not copied out of a text book or a work sheet).

This tip is from one of Alfie Kohn’s articles: “Changing the Homework Default”

Assign only what you design. In most cases, students should be asked to do only what teachers are willing to create themselves, as opposed to prefabricated worksheets or generic exercises photocopied from textbooks. Also, it rarely makes sense to give the same assignment to all students in a class because it’s unlikely to be beneficial for most of them. Those who already understand the concept will be wasting their time, and those who don’t understand will become increasingly frustrated. There is no perfect assignment that will stimulate every student because one size simply doesn’t fit all. On those days when homework really seems necessary, teachers should create several assignments fitted to different interests and capabilities. But it’s better to give no homework to anyone than the same homework to everyone."

3. If homework must be given, do NOT grade it.

Students tell me they must do their homework because they cannot lose points. What is wrong with this statement? Wouldn’t it be ideal if students said they had to do their homework because otherwise they wouldn’t understand something they were supposed to be learning in school? Or, better yet, that they wanted to do their homework because it was so interesting to them and they were really getting excited about something they were learning in school.

When teachers make homework about points and grades, the emphasis on learning disappears and students begin to focus on grades instead of the content of the subject. Additionally, “of all student work, homework assignments are the most likely to receive zeros. The accumulation of zeros can unfairly skew the total grade far below the total grade as indicated by tests. And, the effects of zeros on beginning learners can place many dangerously at-risk. Failure does not motivate, but frustrates and discourages.”

Read more at Suite101: To Grade or Not to Grade Homework: Homework is for Diagnosis and Practice

Your thoughts on any of these 3 homework observations?


  1. I have a third grader and a fourth grader. The third grader's homework is the exact same worksheets the fourth grader received last year. One of my friends who has been a teacher for twenty or so years. She said it was easy after the first year because her day to day teaching and homework is filed away by month, week, day. Pulll out the file Voila! Her work is complete.

  2. 1. When a teacher assigns a lot of homework the last thing a student wants to do is spend more time on the subject to study for a quiz or test - assuming that there is still enough time in the day to do so without sacrificing sleep.

    2. This is what I think is good everyday homework that has been proven to be effective: eat with your family, exercise vigorously 40-60 minutes, do a few family chores, have some downtime and read, read, read.

    3. Homework skewing a grade can go both directions. A student who is diligent about doing their homework and taking advantage of receiving extra credit points for things like purchasing a three colored pen for taking notes (true example) can actually not understand the subject matter very well at all but end up with enough "points" to get an A or B in the class (or classes).

  3. My 8th grader has figured exactly what he needs to do to just to pass a class. He sometimes does not do his homework because it will not affect his grade. He has it figured out. I rarely see him do homework that is useful or thought provoking. I like the idea of doing a few "homework type question" while still in class (math), so they can ask questions of the teacher, while she is still available to help them understand the process.

  4. Kerry,
    Martha Ross here. I couldn't find your email but Walnut Creek schools are rethinking their homework policy. I published an article on my new site, Walnut Creek Patch. Don't know if you saw it yet, both the site, and the homework policy. But here it is.
    Feel free to email me at or at my blog,