Homework Headaches (to my teachers!)

Homework, homework, homework! We all give it, we all grade it, we all have our purposes behind it. As we move into the spring, and the time of many an educator head ache, I want us to REALLY think about what we’re sending home and why. Thanks to my PLN, (8amber8), I came across a great article that looked at homework from a parent’s perspective. There were a couple of different sentences that jumped out at me…

So often, what comes home seems either mind-numbingly excessive (25 long division problems, anyone?) or beyond the scope of what is reasonable (three-page book reports, typed please, and make a diorama to go with it). My experience as a mother of four and as a teacher with 18 years’ experience has led me to the realization that practicing something, or being asked to produce something for which one lacks the skill, does not breed perfection, or even learning. It breeds frustration.

I can tell you from experience how homework is done in my world. If MT is at home it is completed, checked, discussed, rechecked, rediscussed and then put away. Nice and neat. If I’m home, I think I usually remember to say “Hey, did you finish your homework?’ She says yes, I say great, and we’re done. Nice and neat. 🙂 And I’m the former teacher, remember!

I want you to think about the homework you’re assigning. Just repeating something does not automatically strengthen learning. If you’re unsure of a skill or concept, actually doing it wrong repetitiously may do more harm than good! There is no research that supports homework as a tool for increasing academic achievement in the primary grades. Are you assigning it because you want them to practice? How many times do they genuinely NEED to do something in order for you to feel better? Do you have a goal? Is there a way to assess what they were “practicing” and see a correlation to what you are doing in class? Because if there isn’t, you’re creating headaches…we discussed at the beginning of the year students sitting out from recess because they ” didn’t do their homework”. We don’t like to see that happen, especially when in some students you’re depending on the self starting initiative of an 8 year old to get it completed.

ASCD had a great article in its September Educational Leadership magazine (hush, I’m behind in my reading!) that provided an awesome chart that gave some homework alternatives.

In This Learning Situation. . . Instead of This Try This
You introduced new material in class. Assigning a question set so we will remember the material. Ask us to think up a homework task that follows up on this material and to explain our choices.
You want us to read an article before a class discussion. Making us answer questions that prove we read it. Ask us to write down two or three questionswe have after reading the article.
You want to see whether we understand a key concept (such as literary irony). Making us complete a worksheet. Ask us to demonstrate the concept for the class in small groups, using any medium.
You want us to see how a math procedure applies in various situations. Assigning 10 word problems that involve this procedure. Ask small groups to choose one word problem that applies this procedure in a real-world situation, solve it, and present it to the class.
You want us to memorize facts (such as dates in history). Handing out a list that we will be tested on. Ask each student to share with the class a memorization trick (such as a visual cue) that works with one item on this list.
You want us to remember what you taught last month. Assigning a review sheet. Give frequent short pop quizzes about earlier material. Go over each quiz, but don’t count the grade.

I would love to see you experiment with some of these options. In the same way that the dynamics of the way we’re teaching has changes, let’s think about homework in a different way as well…

Homework HelpN,



  1. Amber ,
    So True and thank you for sharing that ASCD article again.

    The other problem that occurs with Homework is that the parents think that if you give Homework it means your class is serious and if you don’t then the class is not serious and the students must not be learning. This attitude of what makes a class serious and important is also held by the students. Ask a student about a teacher and often you will hear the following, ” Yeah we learn in lot in that class and teacher so and so gives a lot of H.W. ” I am not sure what the connection between learning and H.W. but I have learned that often perception becomes the reality.

    I believe we not only have to train teachers on how to give H.W. and what H.W. should be given but we have to change the culture and perception of the parents and students as well.

    Thanks for Sharing

    January 5, 2011
    • Don Lourcey said:

      i loved your read. Very inspiring. I need to send this to my daughter’s 1st grade teacher, whom I adore, but MAN, does she pile on the homework, via worksheets. The homework suggestions you duplicated from ASCD is very practical and authentic, giving kids a chance to truly demonstrate learning.

      How about starting that same process with your PLN to see if you have PLNers contribute to a growing list of Homework scenarios and alternatives. Would be a great collection of ideas. Could start in in Google. Thanks for your thoughts.

      January 6, 2011
      • Amber said:

        Thanks, AG! I have no problems making my perception their reality, 🙂

        January 7, 2011
      • Amber said:

        That’s a great PLN idea! Thanks!

        January 7, 2011
    • Amber said:

      I think pressure is huge, especially for a student who KNOWS he/she isn’t going to get any assistance from anyone at home…no wonder they choose to just not do it…

      January 7, 2011
  2. RobinV said:

    As a parent I found this article very encouraging. Homework for homework’s sake is old news. I want my child to truly learn material (and learn how to learn), not just complete worksheets. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips again and please continue to do so until all teachers get the concept of true learning.

    January 7, 2011
    • Amber said:

      I’m a mom too and there is nothing worse than knowing I can’t help my daughter…there’s a disconnect that naturally occurs when I am trying to help…I’m not in the class hearing it taught, much less cognitively helping her!

      January 7, 2011
  3. […] found the homework even tougher and like the 2 struggling students above, they do a good job of praciticing how to get practice questions wrong at home… But 1 of these students has a really smart mom who ‘gets’ math and who […]

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