What I Mean When I Say No Homework

As with most things on Social Media, I tend to express a significantly simplified version of my position on Homework in most interactions.

I present myself as being anti-homework, and broadly speaking this is true. But it is of course nowhere near a full, nuanced explanation of my opinion.

The truth is, I think there is a time for something like homework, but that most of what I see out there doesn’t strike me as being particularly valuable.

So, what do I consider valuable?

I think for homework to be valuable, it has to be meaningful and benefit in some way from being done outside of the classroom or classroom hours.

In the best cases, this is because it involves the learner engaging with their home environment in some way. It might involve the learner spending intrapersonal time on a task/project that would not be an efficient use of classroom time. It might require them to interact with members of their community in some way.

Another valuable form of homework is that which facilitates practice. But again, while most homework set tends to come with this rationale, it often fails in my estimation.

A common example of practice homework would be a worksheet of 20 trig questions. This is not an effective form of practice. While repetition is important in habit-forming, which is should be the goal, a dense, single session, such as a worksheet, is not good repetition. You want it to be spaced and consistent over time to have any long-term impact.

Rather than setting a worksheet, which the learner will sit down to complete in a single session, (most likely either the evening after the lesson or the night before the following lesson) much better would be to tell the learners to do one or two questions every couple of days over the coming week.

And once we have established the types of homework that I consider valuable, then there is the ethos surrounding homework. Even though some types of homework can be worthwhile, the manner in which they are set is also important to consider.

So, what makes a healthy homework ethos?

One of the worst things about most homework tasks is the related deadline. In fact, “deadlines” is a whole area of debate in and of itself, and I don’t want to get sidetracked so I’ll probably address that in another post. In short, punishing learners for not completing homework on time has always struck me as problematic for a number of reasons, amongst them:

  • We have no idea what the learners’ home arrangements are like in most cases, and should not assume that there are no barriers to their completing the work we set them. That’s partly why we have them come to school in the first place!
  • If we are setting homework that has no clear value, as described above, then we should perhaps be looking at ourselves and the quality of our work rather than punishing the learners for not engaging with it (I know I’ve opened up another can of worms here, but I’ll address that separately too!)
  • Where punishment comes in the form of a reduced score or similar, at best it is nonsensical, and at worst it undermines the whole endeavour of learning (again, more on this later…)

A healthy homework ethos includes:

  • setting homework with a clear rationale;
  • giving learners a fair element of choice (optional; flexible deadlines; etc.)
  • separating homework completion from any grading of the learner’s competence/progress.
So, what is my position on homework?

On balance, I still come out anti-homework, but I truly think there can be value in well-designed independent study activities that emphasise value, meaning and effective practice. And if these became the norm, I believe the discourse around homework would shift dramatically.

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