Saturday, November 27, 2010

No Homework Week: The Fallout

My "No Homework Week" has generated some interesting discussion.  The basic premise was to do a week-long experiment by giving kids free time to spend with their families.  As expected, parents loved the idea.  A few teachers loved the idea.  The vast majority did not.

I expected some objections.  After all, reducing homework is definitely an outside-the-box solution.  I didn't expect the passion, however.  As it turns out, many teachers LOVE giving homework and will vehemently defend their decision to do so even if their students struggle to complete it.   I've received more hate emails about this than I have for promoting barefoot running.  Teachers love homework more than runners love shoes.  Go figure.

Every email I've received contained a detailed explanation of the rationale individual teachers use to justify the volume of homework they assign.  The explanations usually revolve around test preparation, practicing skills learned in class, preparing kids for the workload of college, keeping kids "out of trouble", or assigning a small amount (ranging from a few minutes per night to "no more than an hour per day").  

We like to think humans are rational animals.  I like to think of us as rationalizing animals.  

This is a perfect example.  Kids are having trouble completing homework.  Rational thought would objectively analyze the situation and ask "Why aren't they completing homework?"  The goal of rational thought it to solve a problem, which includes assessing the situation and developing a solution.  

Instead, we engage in rationalizing thought.  We acknowledge kids are having problems completing homework.  Instead of searching for a solution, we develop reasons why our behaviors are justified.  Here are a few parts of conversations about why kids aren't tuning in homework or not performing up to expectations(from teachers):
"It's just the students are refusing to do their part."

"For the ones who it will take from a passing grade to failing I will be sure to call home. Perhaps that will prompt a few of them to do better next time. That is of course assuming I have working phone numbers, which often I do not. I know you are in a school where often you do not have working number for parents as well. So really, I think you have done all you can. If they choose to not do the assignments and you know you have explained it well and they're just being lazy, I just don't see how this falls as being your fault."

"Honestly, if a student can't commit one hour out of an entire week to homework for my class, then he is far, far, far too committed to other tasks."

"My gradebook in one class looks just the same as yours...and their class attitude/behavior shows it. They are not on focus in class (or, judging by their homework, out of class either. (I've tried every trick in the book to help them get on and stay on focus. I can't do much if any groupwork, since they absolutely cannot control themselves and will get off task at the drop of a hat. They are mean to each other, no matter how I've tried to explain/show/chastise them for being that way, so some are just not going to say anything for fear of standing out. When I looked up their other grades at the quarter, most had at least one if not more D's and/or F's in other classes. Since my other classes are all going well, I just don't know what to make of this one. I'm still trying, but it's very discouraging - I sure wish they would try more, too. "

"Even if it was, the kids aren't failing because quantity replaced quality. They are failing because they are doing NO WORK OF EITHER TYPE!  That's on them - not the teacher. " 

"Don't feel alone...lack of student effort and motivation is a very common problem! "

"I recently had classes make a list of expectations: 1 list of what students are expected to do, and 1 list of what they expect the teacher to do. The list of what they expect me to do was a bit sad. They expected me to assign less work or no work, to have more time for them to work in class (which, granted, they weren't getting much, but now that they are, they are wasting it), and to be available more often for extra help before or after school. I pointed out to them, again, that I am there EVERY Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, AND Friday before or after school, unless I am in a meeting (which isn't too often). Seriously!! At least until 3:15 (45 minutes after school is dismissed)." 

"When I DO give time in class, MOST students use that time wisely, but many of them simply sit around and talk. I'm sorry, if I'm sacrificing part of my instruction time to allow students an opportunity to work on the content, then they had better USE that time for that purpose. If they tell me "I'll work on this later", then there is no reason for me to cut my instruction time short to give them time that is just going to be wasted.  Not surprisingly, most of the ones who do NOT utilize the time I give them also are failing or in danger of failing with one or two bad grades." 
"I sent out progress reports today. In one class I have about 80% failing. EIGHTY PERCENT!!! With the exception of two students I believe that it is all due to laziness. Amazing how the students who study and come to class are the ones who are passing.
I do have some students that would probably only get a D if they did come to class and study. They are just bad test takers. Group projects are a bust in that class. I needed some way for the poor testers to get a decent grade. Since 99% of the time I hear from students who do not want to work in class that they concentrate better at home, I created an assignment that has to be done outside of class. The first checkpoint is due on Tuesday. We'll see how that goes. " 

 I find it curious that other teachers don't even consider the possibility that kids could be simply overworked.  In our current No Child Left Behind environment, we're dramatically increasing student expectations to make sure we meet AYP, especially in English and math.  With the increased expectations come increased workload.  With increased workload comes an increased rate of burnout.  It seems like a much more plausible explanation than labeling a generation of students as lazy.  

But that would be rational thought...


  1. My concern is when teachers evaluate homework and include it in the grading process. We need to evaluate what we observe students being able to do. I'm also concerned about the lack of balance in our students' lives. We constantly talk about not bringing our work home. Why do we expect students to be different? I want my children to play, do extra curricular, and enjoy downtime. This is part of a balanced lifestyle. Also, what's the point in having students practice something incorrectly? Often our students don't understand what they're doing. The more you repeat an activity incorrectly the more apt you are to do it incorrectly. We need to spend more time scaffolding learning and supporting our students with intense effective instruction while they are with us.

  2. The strong feelings stirred up by discussions about homework are just amazing. I refused to do a reading log at my daughter's school 2 years ago and the discussion is still going on!

    If you say you're against homework, people react as if you said you're against puppies and kittens. It's a deep, visceral reaction. All the more reason to question it, IMHO ...