Friday, November 15, 2013

Not Assigning Homework = Lazy?

In a few, recent, unrelated conversations, the topic of "homework" has come up.  I've talked to a few parents who hate it, a few students who hate it (no surprise there), a few teachers who hate it, and many more teachers who hate grading it! 

These conversations reminded me of something I overheard last year.   A group of educators (not at North, of course) were referring to another teacher as lazy because she was advocate against homework.  What? Not assigning homework = lazy?

I felt the need to say something - I was too wimpy then, but I can totally say it in a blog that I know they will never read!   I love the variety of teaching styles among educators and think we all have things to learn from each other. #1) Let's not put labels such as "lazy" on one another.  #2) Since the reasoning behind homework has been well-articulated since...forever,  I'd like to explain why some do not assign homework.

My Four [Main] Arguments Against Homework:

1)  Students need immediate feedback so they do not waste their time doing things the wrong way. 
Example: A student writes twenty sentences in Spanish with incorrect verb conjugations every time. The student does not find out this mistake until 36 hours later (if the teacher isn't too busy to grade it the day it is turned in).
The harms: (1) The student has practiced incorrectly and perhaps has developed a bad habit.  (2) The student has been in class for an entire 90 minutes since turning in the assignment and probably cannot understand the new material because no one has fixed his misunderstandings on the foundation material.  (3) The student spent 30 minutes away from his family or anything that actually interested him the night before because he was doing an assignment incorrectly.

2)  Students time at home is important and should be preserved, if at all possible.
Example: A student needs to complete a formal lab report at home.  The student understood the lab perfectly and is not in need of immediate feedback.  The teacher will grade it ASAP.
The harms: (1) This student is involved in many activities and didn't get home until 8pm.  He had to eat his dinner while doing his homework from each class and did not see any of his family. (2) Doing the lab report did not teach this student anything - he already understood the lab perfectly.  It was just a time-consuming way to prove to the teacher that he understood it.  (3) Now you have to grade a lab report instead of spending time with your family or other students - especially sad if the actual completion of the lab report did not teach this student anything.

3)  If students get busy and/or do not understand, they are tempted to cheat. There is no way you can police that if they are not in your classroom.
Example: A student has to turn in a chapter of math problems on test day.  The student did not make the time.  He can take a zero, or can copy off a friend.  In this case, he chooses to copy off a friend.
The harms: (1) You grade this student's paper without knowing he cheated, give him points, and so have accidentally rewarded him for cheating.  He is more likely to do it again...and so are others.  (2) You wasted your time that could have been spent with family, friends, or other students grading a student's paper who did not learn anything from that assignment.

4)  Not everyone has adults at home who can help them.  They go home and are all alone.
Example: A simple math assignment is sent home.  Julie's parents help her.   Tim "google"s for help.  Sally's parents work in the evenings and she doesn't have Internet access.

Here is a video that also helps explain why some educators choose not to give homework:

Because of the four points above, my goals relating to assignments are (1) only give students assignments if I can give them immediate feedback and  (2) only give students the bare minimum assignment required to teach them the standard.   As for the cheating, I think we'll have some cheating no matter what.  However, I'm better at cheating prevention if the work is happening within my classroom walls.

I realize there must be many different schools of thought on this issue.  Thanks for reading, and feel free to share any thoughts you have in the comments section!


  1. Very interesting perspective Michelle! :) I really appreciate your points about not wasting students' or teachers' time with assignments that may not be necessary or allow for immediate feedback. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Thanks Michelle! I appreciate you sharing the book The Case Against Homework. It would be interesting to check it out!

  3. Jo - I should say that I have not actually read that book. I saw it on the other day and decided to put the photo on here :) It does seem like an interesting read, though!

  4. My arguments exactly. Thanks for being an advocate!