You Don’t Give Homework?!

I think I might be the queen of unpopular opinions when it comes to my teaching philosophy. If you were feeling scandalized by my refusal to acknowledge holidays in my classroom, this post might not be for you. If you think spelling tests and math practice sheets are awesome, this post is definitely not for you. That’s okay! You don’t have to agree with me. This post is all about what works for me and why I do it. It is in no way meant to imply that you should be doing the same.

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I don’t give homework to my students.

Every year, I make sure to tell my students’ families about my homework philosophy (in that there isn’t any) right at the beginning of the year so that they are prepared. My students, of course, are quite excited to learn that I don’t “do” homework. Their families’ reactions, on the other hand, range from “oh thank you, we were so glad to hear you don’t have homework in your class!” to “I don’t think you’re preparing them for the real world by not providing them with homework.”

People feel strongly about homework. Who knew?

Before I get into my reasons for not giving homework out, let me talk about what I consider to be homework in the first place. When I talk about “homework,” I’m talking about Math practice sheets, language work, spelling tests, finishing projects at home, etc. I do NOT consider reading to be homework and absolutely think that all students should be reading at home.

So, why don’t I give my students homework? Here are my top five reasons. I could go on for hours about homework and how I don’t give any, but I’ll save you all from that and limit myself to just these five.

1) You can’t assess anything done outside of school. Without the student completing the work at school, you can’t be certain that the work wasn’t in part done by someone else, meaning it isn’t an accurate reflection of what the child can do independently. Many boards have policies against using homework for assessment.

2) It’s a lot of busywork for the teacher. Preparing homework for students, checking for completion, and marking (if you mark it) all take a lot of time. It’s a lot of work for very little gain, in my opinion.

3) Families are busy. Some of my students have a different extra-curricular activity every night of the week. Many of them are gone on the weekends to sports tournaments, family get-togethers, religious services, etc. Some of my students just have very busy homes where finding time to sit down and work on homework is difficult. I don’t feel right asking all families to somehow make the time to sit down and work on homework when I can’t really do very much with that information anyway.

4) You aren’t there to help the child with the work. In the classroom, you can check in with a student regularly to make sure he or she is headed in the right direction. You can do a lot of course correcting as students work, meaning they don’t have the chance to do too much work the wrong way before you redirect them. At home, you don’t have that benefit; a student could think they understand the directions and spend hours working on something only to find out they did something wrong right from the beginning.

5) Not all families are able to help the child with the work. Language barriers, for one, are huge problems when it comes to some students getting help at home, and it’s unfair to assign work to all students when they don’t all have access to help. There are a lot of reasons why children don’t all have equal access to help at home – language is just one of the most prevalent.

 

In my opinion (which I keep writing because then I feel like I’m making myself painfully clear that it’s really, honestly, completely okay if you don’t feel the same way), there isn’t anything you can teach a student through homework that you can’t teach at school just as effectively. Many of my colleagues assign homework as a way to help their students develop good work habits or responsibility; that’s great, I’m not denying those are useful things to learn, I just think I can teach them other ways.

I could write about this topic all day, but I’m sitting in a villa in Costa Rica enjoying a much-needed vacation with my whole family (which is a little crazy) before going back to work in January. A glass of wine is calling to me.

Try not to hate me too much when you read that, okay?

I’m curious, though… how do you feel about homework? Do you assign daily practice for your students? How do you mitigate the problems I mentioned above?

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Updated: November 30, 2015 — 9:34 pm

The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 4/5 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and TTRPGs. Former member of the ETFO New Members provincial standing committee. Current member of the OCETFO Collective Bargaining Committee, among approximately one thousand other things that I am always doing. No, I do not actually have spare time, I am just perpetually putting off things that I *should* be doing. @rollforlearning on Twitter.

8 Comments

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  1. David Burns says:

    Interesting article. I struggle with this myself. If it was up to me I would assign no homework because quite frankly creating it and chasing it down is a major headache. Mostly chasing it down to be honest with you. We all know the good students who complete the homework, and we all know the students who will just not do it most of the time and be in trouble. Well I’m getting angry that they’re not doing it and stressed about it, there seems to be very little effect in terms of then actually completing it.

    On the flip side, I don’t feel like I can get through the curriculum without assigning homework especially in math. There’s just too much to cover. I do try to make all homework purposeful as in the students are practicing something we did in class not simply completing busy work.

    Also there are often times where they do need to finish things at home that they’re doing in class because once again there’s not enough time in the day. However, I do try to assign homework only two or three times a week. And I’ve also reduce the amount of time and energy I expend chasing it. I try and keep up with recording who has done his new hasn’t because with Mark so low it’s an easy thing 2 do in terms of explaining the students lack of effort or engagement.

    Finally, I do worry that it may not be fair to lower achieving students actually. Because there are many times where I will give the students extra practice at home to catch up and if I say no homework that means they will not have that opportunity.

    It’s a tough one, in theory I would like to completely get rid of it. In reality I can’t cover the curriculum without it, & I do think there is value in students practicing some skills at home.

    1. David Burns says:

      Apologies for the typos in the previous post. That’s what you get for talking your reply into a phone. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Shawna Rothgeb-Bird says:

      I can appreciate your concerns about teaching everything in the curriculum without assigning homework. Here’s the mind-blowing truth that helped me overcome that particular bit of teaching anxiety: you aren’t expected to teach every single specific expectation in the curriculum. As soon as a teaching coach told me that, it was as if half of my stress just… disappeared. What do you mean, I don’t have to teach everything?!

      As it was explained to me, the Overall Expectations are the big ideas you are trying to convey. The Specific Expectations are how you teach the Overall. It just is not even remotely possible or feasible to teach every Specific Expectation in the curriculum, and no one should even try to do that; but over the course of the year, every OVERALL expectation should be taught, assessed, and evaluated.

      That was world-changing for me.

      With respect to students not finishing work in class, so needing to take it home to finish: as soon as it goes home, you cannot assess it or use it in evaluation. It would be better to assess an incomplete project than send it home and have it be finished but unusable for assessment and evaluation. I realize a lot of teachers send work home and subsequently use it in assessment and/or evaluation, but that doesn’t mean it’s best practice. It doesn’t mean it follows board policy.

      And finally, with students who need the extra help, I totally agree that having a bit of extra practice at home can be valuable (especially in subjects like Math). I have used sites like IXL for ongoing Math practice at home because it has immediate feedback, you can track student success, and it’s an engaging website for students. I’ve also prepared packages for students who need review or extra practice with a skill at their request or the request of their parents. The problem comes when you assign homework to all students just because you think a handful of them will benefit.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Homework is a tricky subject and every teacher has a different approach.

  2. NIcola Jennings says:

    HI Shawna,
    Thank you for saying what I’VE been saying for many many years – and you’ve said it so well!!! Every point you’ve made is exactly how I feel about homework – it’s busy work that can’t be assessed, it’s a huge source of angst and frustration for busy, hard working families, and for kids who have put in a full day already. I’d much rather see those families enjoying a walk, sitting down to dinner, heading out to sports, music lessons, brownies and scouts, and enjoying a wonderful bedttime story. I’ve got enough on my plate without marking a lot of busywork, AND ….you’re so right about families that are unable to support their kids with homework. I just had a meeting tonight with a mother who lacks the skills or understanding to help her son with homework, but who loves to read to him and to listen to him read! So – thank you for this article!
    All the best, Nicola

    1. Shawna Rothgeb-Bird says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Good to know there is someone out there who feels the way I do. I find it’s often an uphill battle for me when trying to explain to parents why their child can’t finish a project at home when they’ve been allowed to do so every other year before my class… I persevere and stick to my guns, but it comes up EVERY year, heh. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m with you: I’d rather students be spending time together as a family or doing extra-curricular things than working on more schoolwork. Six and a half hours a day, plus transit time, is more than enough for these young souls. There is so much more to life than school, and that’s a good thing!

  3. Louise Corsi says:

    I also do not give “homework”. I believe that schoolwork and homework are 2 different things, and the 4 main points you have made are my reasoning as well. I believe that things done at home such as helping in the kitchen, trying to fix a bike or computer, swimming lessons, piano practice, etc. are all things that give a reference point for schoolwork (real life stuff). The argument that students need to be prepared for homework in high school is invalid in my opinion. Students are streamed once they enter grade 9 and those students who do not take academic courses will not have the same amount or type of homework (if any) that students have in academic courses. Our classes in elementary are comprised of students based on age and are a mix of all three streams. Our students are in need of guidance (gradual release of responsibility) at home and homework imposes on a parent’s household. I do provide writing exercises to parents who request them (only once has this been requested), but I am clear about nothing been returned to me for review or feedback.

  4. Dawn Kaasalainen says:

    As a 20+ year elementary teacher and a parent, I couldn’t agree more! Children need to exhale !

  5. Michelle T says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write. I agreed 100%. This is how I tell parents about why I don’t give homework. I ask them how would they feel if their boss tell them to bring more work from their job and do it at home. I also remind them that their children come to school and do their best all day in class and deserve a break when they come home. Parents go to work and kids go to school…it is the same concept because we all do our best at work or school. Sometimes I do send work that was not completed at school to be finished at home for those students who may not be using their class time appropriately. Besides reading at home, families should spend the little time left during the evenings epecially on week nights after parents picked their kids off daycare or coming home from work. Some parents just needed a little reminder of what school was like.

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