Rethinking Homework: The Great Debate


Bowtie Guy's Take
What to do about homework?

Before I begin, it is imperative that I mention that homework has always had a funny taste in my mouth – as a student and teacher, and it will eventually as a parent, I'm sure.

Why do teachers give homework? When should teachers give homework? What is good homework material?

I have never held a tried-and-true method concerning homework because I have developed an epiphany about it. Homework doesn’t work for everyone. It is homework – not parent work. This leads me to my point – why give homework?

Is homework a necessary evil? I have long had parents fall into two clear categories concerning homework: a.) love it b.) hate it – very few fall into the apathetic category.

In the 1940s, Americans by most polls held a negative view concerning homework. To combat Soviet intellectual aggression, Americans began to think that homework was essential to combat Soviet domination in space – notably with the launching of Sputnik. Cyclical opinions developed up to modern times, where the debate is as relevant as ever. Chart Below Courtesy of ASCD:

I admit to failing at where the highest percentile gains can be achieved. Time always seems to be my excuse when looking at homework and commenting on it. Time is almost always the excuse for students not completing homework. Interesting parallel, eh? Time is of the essence. I am learning to not take my time during my hours at school for granted. I have no idea what “home” is like – whether is be busy, chaotic, and sadly and rarely, devoid of the ability to understand and help with homework.

I learned that too much homework is not a good PR (public relations) move – for you and the parents of the students that you teach. Parents value their time. Students value their time. Even the genius Benjamin Franklin said, “Let everything have its time.” Let’s not get off topic… Homework or no homework? In paying attention to the news lately, I am seeing massive achievement gains in school districts that give their students more time at recess. Perhaps maybe we overthink homework. Every child has different needs. Perhaps use item analysis on a quiz to evaluate who needs what. Perhaps let students give you feedback about homework. Have you ever given an inventory to parents to see what trends are developing amongst your stakeholders? I think the key to homework is an open dialogue. Ask the administration what the policy is if you are not sure. Consult veteran teachers to evaluate best practices. Look at the research. Is it worth it?

Badabing badaboom – realest dude in the room,
Bowtie Guy

Real recommendation – Jack Johnson - “Good People”

Bowtie Guy's Wife's Take
To me, my definition of homework is drastically different depending on which grade I am teaching. Also, my idea of it actually being beneficial completely changes too. And, with anything in education, my ideas and beliefs have evolved the longer I've taught. My idea of homework may not be the typical teacher's opinion, but here goes! #bloghonesty

As a kindergarten teacher, I was a huge supporter of homework. I had a great system in place, the students knew the routine, and parents knew exactly what to expect each night. At the beginning of the year, I would always give students a homework folder where they completed something short and sweet Monday through Thursday night. It was usually something like Miss Kindergarten Love's Morning Work. It was short, simple, and good practice so that parents could see what their child needed extra help with. Once we begin progressing more through the year, I would use sight word fluency passages to hopefully take care of several things at once, with just a few minutes of practice and little or no writing. I especially love Tweet Resource's Sight Word Fluency and Word Work printed and put into a folder. As the year progressed, I would move students who were ready to A Teachable Teacher's Blends and DIagraphs All-in-One Reading Passages. I found when parents knew my expectations, recognized its relevance, and realized it wouldn't consume more than 10-15 minutes of their time, they were on board. In my experience, kindergarten parents, for the most part, generally want to help their child to be successful and since school is so "new", the family as a whole isn't burnt out on homework.

I would also send home weekly sight words for them to practice, already on rings and hole-punched. I would do a majority of the sight word instruction at school and then simply ask parents to find a "non-school" way of practicing throughout the week. With so many ideas on Pinterest, I was thrilled to have parents text me with how they chose to practice with their child. Shaving cream, sidewalk chalk, songs, dances, and more made me happy to see parents interacting together in a way that they normally may not, if I hadn't assigned that for "homework". To me, that is the whole idea of homework: having parents involved in their child's education. I would check folders on Friday and usually comment on their work. Yay! I followed what the chart said helped achieve greatest gains-for once ;)

My second year in kinder about halfway through the year, I decided to try sending home readers. Honestly, we weren't having as much time as I wanted during the school day to practice. There was only one of me and 21 of them. I wanted to make sure they were getting daily practice reading aloud, with an adult. Because of the circumstances, I changed my homework routine and made that a top priority. Each week, I sent home 1-2 readers based on their guided reading level in a book bag. Each child had a notebook with an activity for each day of the week.

Monday -read the book to your child and then have them read it back to you. Point out sight words and have your child correctly write 5 (or more!) of those words in their journal. Please encourage good handwriting.
Tuesday- Reread the book again. Have your child pay careful attention to each page’s illustrations. Have your child to draw and label their favorite part. Your child should know what labeling means. If their favorite part is a cat outside, they should draw a cat labeled with the word cat, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc. Since it is outside, they should draw pictures to show that it is outside. For example, drawing a sun and writing the word sun.
Wednesday- Reread the book with your child. Take turns on each page. Make sure your child uses their finger to point to each word as he or she reads. Talk about punctuation marks. Look for rhyming words (cat-hat), word families (dog-log), consonants, vowels (aeiou), find “sneaky e” and the tricky y that “dresses up like an e” for Halloween. (They will know what I mean J)
Thursday- Reread the book for the last time. Have your child retell the story to you aloud. If they skip parts, have them go back and find parts they missed. Have your child write 2-3 sentences (or more if they wish!) about the story. They should start each sentence with an uppercase letter and end it with correct punctuation. Please work on the correct forming of letters and good handwriting.
Friday- Please return the book bag with the book and journal inside in good condition. 

Later in the year, I differentiated this to meet my readers where they were and extended the activities. (ie Draw and label a picture from the story, write a few complete sentences about your favorite part, etc.) They could complete the activities in any order they wished, but it had to be returned on Friday with the activities complete. I would consider this mostly successful. I was sure to comment each week and I could definitely tell the parents that had taken the time to help their child through a meaningful reading time and those who didn't. It was fun to see students come in on Friday morning and read their book aloud to the class- not because of anything I had done, but because of what they had accomplished with their parents help.

When I taught second grade, it was much the same. I was a stickler for a set routine and homework folder that was kept together for an extended period of time. It was low maintenance for me and parents and students knew the expectation at home. I was (am) a huge advocate for Words Their Way, and students usually had a tic-tac-toe choice board that they could choose a few activities to practice for the entire week. I would also have them practice if they wanted to as an option. Occasionally, I would send home incomplete work to be finished at home. Mostly, I encouraged parents to read with their child and talk about it.

While in third grade, I was overwhelmed to say the least. So many standards, so little time. So many high needs students, little admin/parental support. The list could go on and on. I don't know if it was "the year" or just my philosophy on homework at the time. I honestly thought older kids=more homework. Older kids=need more homework. While I definitely don't think this is true now, it was my thought at the time and a way to ensure I checked things off my list. While I never assigned "busy work", I definitely didn't take time to comment or grade it. In my mind, it was a way to re-emphasize what I had taught during the day. Security. Our schedule was so busy. I hardly mentioned homework and yet expected them to do it. #setitandforgetit Pretty sure I wasn't making those achievement gains from the chart above. I justified homework as a way to ensure their child was "prepared for THE TEST", especially toward that time of year. #imsorrykids Homework was mainly social studies and science study guides, reading a book, and occasional math. Also, I had some super slow workers that took forever to complete any regular classwork, so I'd stack that on top as well. No wonder that parent hated me. I had a Facebook post written to personally attack me and my teaching. Nevermore mortified in my entire life. And for the record, the "stack of worksheets" was optional practice for the state test that would replace their lowest 2 test grades. But whatever. The student honestly needed the practice. I felt justified that the parent needed to see the daily struggle of what we went through at school and why their gifted learner wasn't making the grades mom wanted. #teacherrealtalk Regardless of who was right in that situation, it definitely helped mold and shape my perspective of homework.

All in all, homework is a good thing; in moderation. Some no brainers to leave you with-

  • I never agree with penalizing students for not having their homework. (in elementary school, at least)
  • I immediately call out parents (nicely) for doing the work for the child. I'm all about the parental involvement and I encourage them to be stakeholders, but never do the child's work for them!
  • I always ensure all students have the materials they need to successfully complete the work.
  • I try to stick to a short assignment that reviews or extends the most important concept from the school day. Or, in the case of kindergarten, the most important thing to emphasize depending on the needs of the class.
  • I try to integrate wherever possible!

Way to go for making it through a super long opinion post! It is our hope that our transparency will help you adjust (if needed) or affirm your thoughts on homework as we head back to school.

-BTG's Wife, Dana