Is Homework Harmful? 2 Charts Say Yes!

The Homework Mistake.

I spent years assigning worksheets and pretended they were meaningful homework assignments. They were mostly reading questions that I thought would be a proper measure of students’ understanding of the reading material. Now I know that there are better ways to check for understanding? Most of the time, students would bring in their completed homework questions and because there would be 70-90 of these every 2 days, I barely had enough time to give each one a proper glance.
Most times I checked for a couple of key questions and moved on. This was not a good formative check for understanding (because I didn’t check everyone) and not a good summative assessment (because it lacked any degree of authenticity).
I reflected:
  • Was this a formative assessment?
  • Was it a summative?

If it was neither, why did I assign it? Why did I collect and grade it?

Like many teachers, I gave it an effort grade; a grade for completion, not for quality. When students failed to complete the assignment, I would mark it as a zero in the grade book. Students then might go on to pass whatever final assessment I gave them; an essay or test. This last point did not make sense. How could students not complete my homework and yet pass my assessments? I have since redesigned my course and really like the way it is working out.

The Article.

An article was recently posted on titled: “Kids in the US do a lot of pointless homework, in 2 charts.” The author’s article, Libby Nelson (@libbyanelson), included these 2 graphs.

Chart one gives a comparison of hours students spend on homework.
The second chart compares student performance with homework completion.
Nelson concluded that more homework might not actually be better but might actually cause harm by decreasing scores.
I don’t think that millions of teachers have all been intentionally doing harm to students. And, historically, homework has had its rise and fall in popularity. But the article does raise questions about something that millions of teachers practice every day. I think data can always be debated, but isn’t that the point? Doesn’t the data at least deserve a conversation?

A Different Approach To Homework:

For now I can offer the 2 steps I use when considering assignments:
  1. Talk with colleagues. I often talk with my awesome colleagues about what does good meaningful assessment look like? Is homework the best tool to use to test student understanding? Often times they can give improvement suggestions or see pitfalls before I can. Having conversations with just one colleague can help in sorting out what should be assigned overnight and what should be done in class.
  2. Be intentional. In the past, I assigned worksheets for homework because I didn’t know what else to assign. Now, I plan out my unit in Evernote and include a note titled “Summative Assessment”. From the start, I brainstorm ideas on my essential question; what I am assessing. In the note, I will also jot down any of my ideas for how students can show their understanding; test, project, or essay.
I hope you found the article as interesting as I did and can have some time to reflect on what good assessments look like


Until next time!

QUESTION: What about you? When you assign homework, do you think that you are just wasting time? What have you tried that has worked?

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