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General Science and Teaching

Rethinking Homework

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Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

There have been a lot of discussions floating around my building during the last couple of months of the school year around homework. This year we had a record number of students failing to even try to complete classwork let alone homework. Over 60% of our just over 700 students had at least one D or F on their report card for 3rd quarter. When I queried my Design and Engineering students, many said, “Middle school doesn’t count anyway,” “I have other baseball after school and don’t get home in time to do homework too,” “I have to take care of …” I know Flipped Classrooms have been around for a few years and the jury still seems to be out on their effectiveness. I know I have mixed feelings. As with all things, it works with some topics, concepts and classes better than others. In the back of my mind is the nagging question, if students don’t have time after school to do a few hours of homework, how do they have time to engage in flipped learning where they are learning the concepts and then doing the homework inside the classroom? Recently ASCD made available a series of articles on Homework and its effectiveness. As I read through the various articles, this quote really stuck with me, “In the quest for equity and meaningful practice, teachers are designing alternatives to traditional, one-size-fits-all homework. Instead of forcing students—and their families—to work what Alfie Kohn calls "the second shift.” One article in particular, “Making Homework Work,” Lisa Schopf, presents some alternatives to traditional homework. I am not sure many of the ideas presented are workable in the middle school classroom, but could be beneficial to high school. I understand the value of rich and engaging lessons. In my classroom we do a lot of hands-on STEM activities that range from toothbrush robots, woodworking, building everything imaginable, etc. I am not sure whether there is a question of rich and engaging when students will do the hands-on part, but not the written and reflective work. I am curious how others, especially middle school teachers are handling the homework issue. I know I don’t have much in the way of homework because I am a project-based class. Still, I had record numbers of D’s and F’s as well. I am wondering if indeed it is a homework issue or a motivational/work ethic issue.

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

Susan, I love and agree with your thoughts on “gaming the system.” Middle school students seem to be the masters of gaming. I switched to standards-based, mastery learning eons ago. You are correct, it does take the game out of learning. I think it also makes students better learners overall. They are able to see, point blank, this is the standard. You have to meet it. How you show me you know it is up to them. I try to give a variety of ways students can demonstrate understanding. I give them multiple opportunities over time to show growth in the skill. I too do a lot of projects and provide check in points along the way. If the student gets the work done and turns it in at the check in point, I can provide feedback so they can make the necessary changes early on. By having these built in to the schedule, the student ultimately has the choice of providing a finished product that has received feedback along the way. Should they choose to just turn in the final finished project, that too is their choice, but the quality is often not the quality that will earn them a higher grade. I post scores for the check in points to the online gradebook so parents can monitor progress. It always amazes me how many totally ignore going on line to check their students grades. If I had a dollar for every time I got a parent email or phone call at the end of the quarter or semester whining, “Why didn’t you tell me my child was flunking,” I would be able to retire. At what point does the child have to learn to be responsible for their own work? I strongly feel the middle school experience is all about teaching students to be accountable by providing them with the tools for success – scaffolded learning, check in points, calendaring their progress and final project completion for a grade. Basically, I am teaching them the skills for successful learning. Bottom line, you can lead the horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. All any of us can do is provide the opportunity, it is up to the student to decide whether or not they want to access the learning.

Megan Rawson Megan Rawson 50 Points

Like many other teachers in this thread, my students struggle with homework. Thank you, Susan and Sandy, for sharing your standards based approach. I am a newer teacher. Could either of your recommend any specific resources for this approach?

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

I've been pretty vocal on here about my dislike of the idea that "the kids aren't doing we should stop asking them to do it" mentality. I get that middle school is a hard thing...especially since we don't seem to hold kids back from anything anymore. When I talk to freshmen at my school who struggle early on...they all say that its hard to transition to high school because they aren't used to things actually mattering.

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

Thank you Chris for your perspective. I know that my students are able to do whatever I ask them to do if I provide them the opportunity to learn and scaffolding for success. When I give them the parameters and the tools, many succeed beyond my wildest dreams and expectations. I refuse to buy into the mentality that students can’t do it. I know they can because I have seen them do it repeatedly.

Judith Lucas-Odom Judith Lucas-Odom 23340 Points

Hi all! I like Susan's redo idea. I work in an inner city 100% poverty and very high special needs. Some of my parents think that science and inquiry are not necessary because in our state it doesn't count for AYP. My goal this year is try to turn things around for my students and not burn out myself! Homework is rarely seen as important by some of my parents. Welcome any suggestions!

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

I also like the idea of standards-based assessment. One thing that I have noticed though is that many students, when given the option for retakes, just throw the first assessment, because they know they will have another shot. One thing that I have found effective, at least for larger assessments, is the use of a review packet that must be completed and turned in with the summative assessment in order to be eligible for a retake. Kind of a "good-faith" effort to encourage a genuine effort the first time around.

Naomi Beverly Naomi Beverly 19130 Points

I am in elementary school that is Title I, highly diverse and 100% free lunch. Lots of people assume our students and parents don't have lots of money for computers, and in a sense that is true. Not all have desktop computers or laptops, but most have some sort of electronic device that accesses the internet. Training parents is a top priority in the first few weeks of school for me. Many have not had to use their technology for academic purposes, but they do now! We use ClassDojo, Edmodo, remind101 for text alerts, and more to communicate with parents and students. Many of the kids have tablets, phones with internet access, kindles, ipads, but simply game or surf with them. I do a technology survey with the kids on day 1, asking them what devices they have and use...and then contact parents to let them know that they now are being asked to watch videos from tutor sites, etc. on those devices as part of a homework grade. Generally, I find parents and kids receptive to the idea, and it has worked for the last few years. If there's a student who really has nothing to use to access the web, s/he is welcome to use the computers at school for an extended time. All the best, Naomi Beverly

Holly Shum Holly Shum 3665 Points

Sandy, Thank you for providing such great website regarding homework issues. As an elementary school student teacher, I had encountered the same problem, and it has been stirring conflicts between me, the students, and the administrative of the school. As an adult, I would reflect on the times when I did not do my "homework", and reflect on why and what made me wanted to avoid it. First, I would say, time is constraint. We all have excuses to not do our homework, and time is always the main factor. So, how do we solve the problem? Rule of thumb is that one assignment/task should not take them more than 30 minutes to complete. Secondly, give reasonable amount of homework that is on/slightly higher than the students' level, in which they are confident to complete them. Most of us had experienced this problem. We struggled so hard to please the teacher by all means: we put non-sense answers on the blank, we copy each other's answers, or just avoid failure by "forgetting about it". As a teacher, we need to realize that students are just like us, they need to be well-suited before getting into the pool. We need to take advantage of the classroom, and equip them with all kinds of solutions. Ask this question to yourself- "Did I cover all the knowledge needed in the assignment?" "Did I provide alternative ways for students to solve a problem?" Third, "how is the assignment connected to real-lives?" In other words, "why do I bother to do it?" Not solely because of obedience, but what the students can gain from doing it. Is it meaningful to improving one-self. How is it linked to problem solving in out lives? Tell the students how our brain works- the more we exercise different areas of the brain, the easier for us to think flexibly and creatively, which in turn pay off the debt later in life.

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

Thank you Naomi for the reminder that many students do have internet access through a variety of technology devices other than tablets or computers. I actually came to the realization the other day, my phone is more technologically advanced than my first couple of computers were. There are so many apps and software alternatives available now for submitting work electronically, it’s almost mind boggling. I really do agree with you, training parents to use the technology tools available to track their student’s progress is key to success. Several of our teachers discovered the remind app, , shared it with their students, began using it only to be told to stop because the district wanted us to use district approved app’s only. Supposedly they are building something that is similar and we need to wait for it. I understand some of their fears, but from what I can tell, this is a simple reminder application. No data goes anywhere, but then again, I may just be naïve.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

Now I hate to let you in on this but college students do not do homework either. I have yet to find a way around the need to practice. Often I here that it looked to simple when I did it. Well, I tell them it should, after all I have been practicing several decades. If not homework, what other opportunities are there for the dedicated practice need to make skills permanent?

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43175 Points

I am at a conference today for CTE, (Career and Technical Education), teachers. We had a keynote speaker that totally blew my socks off – honestly, she said she would and she did. The speaker was Corinne Hoisington, and she shared a whole new perspective on tools for student learning. For years, we have had students make corrections on their work, quizzes, assessments, etc. Today, Corinne challenged us to do it in a different way. She showed us a program called “Eyejot.” It is a free application and download from All you have to do to start is click on the “Join Now,” button, fill in a few boxes and you are up and ready to go. Corinne showed us how easy it would be to have a student create an eyejot, identifying the mistakes they made on an assignment, explain their understanding and what they would need to do to correct their mistake or show evidence of understanding. When done, the student emails it to me as the teacher. I then play the “video” and decide how much, if any credit to give to the student. No messy paperwork, a quick video to watch and the opportunity to work with the student one on one if needed. From her demonstration, it appeared to be quick and easy to use. I can’t wait to get back to my classroom on Monday and give it a try.

Jennifer Cooper Jennifer Cooper 2025 Points

I do not feel like teachers should be giving students more homework. Teachers that give more homework are taking away the child's free time, which isn't fair. Homework is meant to reinforce what was learned in class. One assignment per subject is more than enough.


I have never been a fan of homework. It takes away time from play which is what children are supposed to do. They can learn more from play than anything else. If homework is being given, it should not be graded. It should solely be given for practice.

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

Deep down, I don't think that students should have to do a lot of homework outside of class. But I do see a lot of students who are not understanding, yet are afraid to ask questions. I have noticed that many of the students are lacking a "work ethic" so often instead of focusing in the classroom, doing the homework I have given them time for, they are socializing or playing video games on school mandated ipads. The kids tell me that it is extremely easy to get off track by distractions, and technology that is not really ready for prime time. Most would prefer to go back to paper for learning, and ask me to go through the material in a more traditional manner. If we don't give them homework, how do we at least get them to give a reasonable effort in class? Most of the time, if they just did the work we assigned in class, there would be no need for more.

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