I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years. My stance on homework hasn’t evolved or changed during that time.
A friend of mine almost got divorced over homework. He and his wife were already going through a difficult time, but his son’s schooling was really taking a toll. He had argued with her over whether or not their son should continue at the school he was attending or switch to a public school. The private school mandated homework. “Homework for homework’s sake,” he called it. When he called me to vent and ask how I felt about homework, I basically told him: “It’s complicated, but what your school is doing to your kid is wrong.” Then we had to have a long discussion.
His kid was being assigned literally hours of homework a night. He would come home and have so much work to do that he’d begin shortly after getting home and work until bedtime most nights. He was getting further and further behind. He had problems with feeling good about himself. Homework was making him hate school.
There were a few problems with this. First, homework absolutely benefits students. This has been proven as empirically as possible. Case closed, right? Not quite. The same study which showed that homework had a “positive influence” also showed significant design flaws in how homework was administered.
I’ve seen what too much work can do to a student. As an example, I’ve seen a student going from being bright and vibrant over the course of three years to cracking her junior year, found crying in a crumpled heap on the floor. Homework was absolutely the culprit here. She had no time for anything else. She was talking all of the most challenging classes, so a combination of studying and homework did her in. I could offer more examples but would prefer to move on. It suffices to say that this isn’t a limited experience.
Listen: A teacher’s secrets. (Post continues…)
I don’t give homework. I don’t teach a class in which repetitive practice without teacher guidance has a lot of use. I give students time to work in class. I give them exactly as much time as I think it will take them to complete an assignment if they understand what they’re doing and don’t waste time socialising. Anything they don’t complete becomes “homework.” I tell them, “Okay… you have an essay to write. If you follow through with the steps we’ve discussed, you could probably finish it in three hours. You’ll have a total of three hours of lab time over the course of two weeks. Anything you don’t complete you’ll need to finish on your own time. Make sure to budget for proofreading.”
One thing I do assign without giving time in class is reading. I give my students a book and say, “Okay… you have a new book. This is Monday. Read the first five chapters on your own time by Wednesday. There will be a reading quiz on Thursday.” Why so much time? I need them to actually do the assignment. I want them to have read the book. The point of homework should be doing the work, not challenging them to scramble. Besides, every other class is assigning them homework.