The Question of Homework

Discover the importance of homework, how much should be assigned to students, and how you can make creative homework your students will enjoy. New teachers will find this resource particularly valuable.
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Sounds Good … Now What?

These suggested homework assignments include both short-term as well as long-term assignments. Most important, they let students know that homework doesn't have to be dry and pedantic but can be filled with all sorts of learning possibilities—possibilities that stimulate students in applying what they learn in your classroom to the world outside the classroom.

In Generating Hypotheses and Predictions and Problem-Solving, I talked about ways you can enhance the thinking that takes place in your classroom. You can use four of those thinking strategies to create dynamic and engaging homework assignments. For example, here are some homework suggestions for a lesson on tide pools:

  • Fluency. Make a list of all the words you can think of that describe a tide pool.

  • Flexibility. Describe a tide pool through a seagull's eyes. Or describe how a sea star might see that same tide pool.

  • Originality. You are a sea urchin. Describe your feelings about the rise and fall of tides.

  • Elaboration. Imagine that you had to live in a tide pool for the next year. What habits would you need to change?

Some Practices to Practice

Students either like homework or they don't. And guess what. Teachers either like homework or they don't! I've talked to and visited lots of classroom teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels; here are some suggestions they'd like to pass along to you.

The End Product

Students will often ask, “Why do we gotta do this stuff?” The question they are asking is one of purpose. Students at any age need to know the “why” of a homework assignment. If the response is, “It's for your own good,” the assignment will be less than meaningful for them.

Be sure you provide your students with a valid reason and rationale for any homework assignment. Attach the assignment to their real and immediate world. State clearly the purpose for any assignment. A wise assignment is one that includes the “whys.”

Shifting Perspective

Often students feel as though homework is assigned strictly for the benefit of the classroom teacher. Provide your students with alternate audiences for their homework assignments, and you will increase the interest level significantly.

For example, as part of a social studies lesson on communities, invite students to create a brochure of historical sites in your community for members of a local senior citizen center. Here are a few other audiences:

  • Parents

  • Members of their peer group

  • Community members

  • Other school personnel

  • Siblings and other family members

  • Another class or section

It's Your Choice

Expert Opinion

Many teachers give homework passes. Students earn these special certificates after accomplishing certain tasks in the classroom. Students can then use these passes to opt out of homework for a day or several days. I don't like these simply because they tend to diminish the value of homework. The message is that homework isn't very important. Instead, use a “Homework Extension Card.” Students can earn and use this certificate to extend the deadline for a specific homework assignment by one, two, or three days and still receive full credit.

As appropriate, offer students several choices within a homework assignment. Of course, not every assignment will lend itself to choice-making. However, when the teacher gives students the option of making some choices, they will be more motivated to complete those assignments. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Do the even-numbered or odd-numbered problems.

  • Select any four of the following nine questions.

  • Select any two of the following eight multiple intelligence activities.

  • Work alone or work with a buddy.

  • Select an appropriate due date from one of the following.

By providing students with choices, you are also providing them with a sense of ownership in their homework assignments. As a result, they will be more invested in those tasks.

Give Them a Break

Students have other obligations in their lives besides school. For that reason, I'm a firm believer in not assigning any homework over the weekend. Students need opportunities to be with their families, play, or just “chill out” from all the demands of the academic world. Scheduling a homework assignment to be due on Monday morning puts an additional burden on students that just isn't fair or necessary. Let kids be kids on the weekends—there's plenty to do from Monday through Friday.

The same rule holds true for holidays and vacation periods. These are times away from the academic rigors of classroom life. Let your students enjoy these breaks free of the anxiety of an impending assignment or fast-approaching due date. You'll see higher levels of motivation as a result.

Final Tips

Secondary Thoughts

Keep a homework notebook, with a separate section for each class. Each day, record the homework assignment with any necessary directions. Include copies of any handouts. When students return from an absence, they are responsible for checking the notebook and obtaining the necessary information.

Here's an assembly of tips and suggestions from teachers who have wrestled with the homework issue for years. Tap into their expertise, and incorporate some of these ideas into your classroom routines.

  • At the beginning of the year, assign each student a “Homework Buddy.” If one partner is absent, the other can gather assignments and call or visit her or his buddy to let them know what was missed.

  • Give students a second (or third) chance. Remember, very few of us mastered the art of walking the first time we tried it. Most authors (this one included) need multiple drafts before a book is finished. In both cases, many attempts were necessary. Give your students the same option.

  • Be sure to share any homework assignments in both verbal and written form. For each subject or class, post the homework assignments on individual clipboards attached to the wall. Consider tape-recording assignments for physically challenged students in your class.

  • Always put a date on every homework assignment. That way, students who are absent for extended periods of time can retrieve the necessary assignments by date.

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