1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600
The End of Homework
July 17, 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 21
Table of Contents
Equitable, Purposeful Homework
No matter the setting, size, or population of your school, chances are good that there have been debates and questions about homework. Teachers have varying opinions about the need for and nature of homework. Parents frequently also have strong opinions about how often, how much, and what types of homework their children should have. Some parents want more, and some parents want none. It seems impossible to make everyone happy.
One of the reasons homework is such a contentious topic is that there are so many factors to consider.
One of those difficulties is equity (Eren & Henderson, 2011). Students whose parents are available and able to help with homework have a distinct advantage over those whose parents work in the evenings or are unable to help with homework because of language barriers or their own lack of educational opportunities (Dumont et al., 2012). When assigning homework, we must consider how to ensure that all students have equal opportunities for success.
Another issue that is closely related to equity is time. Starting at a young age, students have many other demands on their time (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013). These demands may include sports or art activities in the afternoons, caring for younger siblings, or a part-time job. Sometimes they may have all three. Where does homework rank among those priorities?
Even if you feel you have negotiated the above issues successfully, how do you handle those students who do not do their homework? Are there repercussions? If so, what are they? Repercussions should be logical and should reinforce the homework's purpose. For example, if the homework is designed to practice a skill, students who do not complete it may need to spend some of their free time practicing (once they have finished other work and have choices about activities). Students who do not complete homework that builds responsibility could create a goal with a plan to solve the problem. However, if students are regularly responsible and complete homework but miss one assignment over several weeks, giving them the opportunity to make it up rather than face repercussions may be the best solution.
Assigning with Purpose
The purpose of the homework is also crucial. Homework should never be assigned solely so that students have homework. Homework can be designed to practice a current skill, such as learning multiplication, identifying plants, recognizing continents, or understanding an author's purpose. The skill must also be something a student can do independently (Kitsantas, Cheema, & Ware, 2011). If the student cannot complete the assignment without support, equity again becomes an issue (Ronning, 2011).
Another purpose for homework is to build responsibility. In this instance, students are solely responsible for completing and returning homework. Completing assignments, keeping track of materials, and managing one's time are all important life skills (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011). Again, with this as the purpose, the homework must be something students can complete independently and in a reasonable amount of time.
Once we address the primary concerns of assigning purposeful, equitable, and reasonable homework, we should next consider the age-old question—to grade or not to grade? Grading homework may mean that it is no longer equitable because students with support at home are likely to score better. Grading homework also requires a considerable amount of teacher time. Not grading, however, may make it more challenging to ensure that students actually complete the homework.
It may be advantageous to get creative about grading. If one purpose, or the purpose, of homework is to build responsibility, give students their homework for the week on Monday and have it due on Friday. If certain days are busier than others, with after-school sports, a part-time job, or other responsibilities, students will have the opportunity to plan ahead and complete the work at another time (Bembenutty, 2011). Homework given mainly to build responsibility can also look quite different from regular assignments.
In my 5th grade class, I gave students two historical quotes and one image every Monday. By Friday, they had to write responses to each quote and image, and we would spend part of our morning meeting discussing them. Students built responsibility and time-management skills, and we had fascinating conversations that expanded all of our learning throughout the year. In my 1st grade class, students’ homework is to share a specific part of their day with their families. It is homework that doesn't require time away from any other activities and it can be done anywhere. This type of creative grading allows my students to benefit from talking about their day, reinforcing what they learned while informing their parents about their learning. It also eliminates the need to use letter grades that may interfere with equity.
If you do assign homework, think about what it is you want your students to gain from this time and effort (as well as how much time you're willing to spend on it before and after). When you have determined the purpose and an estimation of how long students should spend on it, you can create homework that is meaningful both to you and your students. Remember to consider unusual options for your assignments that maintain equity and purpose. Traditional homework is far from the only option.
Bembenutty, H. (2011, May). Meaningful and maladaptive homework practices: The role of self-efficacy and self-regulation. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(3), 448–473.
Dumont, A., Trautwein, U., Ludkte, O., Neumann, M., Niggli, A., & Schnyder, I. (2012, January). Does parental homework involvement mediate the relationship between family background and educational outcomes? Contemporary Educational Psychology, 37(1), 55–69.
Eren, O., & Henderson, D. (2011, March). Are we wasting our children's time by giving them more homework? Economics of Education Review, 30(5), 950–961.
Galloway, M., Conner, J., & Pope, D. (2013, July). Nonacademic effects of homework in privileged, high-performing high schools. The Journal of Experimental Education, 81(4), 490–510.
Kitsantas, A., Cheema, J., & Ware, H. W. (2011, February). Mathematics achievement: the role of homework and self-efficacy beliefs. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(2), 310–339.
Ramdass, D., & Zimmerman, B. (2011, February). Developing self-regulation skills: The important role of homework. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(2), 194–218.
Ronning, M. (2011, February). Who benefits from homework assignments? Economics of Education Review, 30(1), 55–64.
Jennifer Orr is a 1st grade teacher at Annandale Terrace Elementary School in Annandale, Va.
ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 21. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our free e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.