Should you assign homework? It’s a debatable topic in education today, and in my opinion, the answer is maybe. It really depends on the class, the age of the student, and the reason for the homework. I don’t feel comfortable making a blanket statement that homework is absolutely necessary or totally bad, because I do think there are plenty of arguments for both sides.
My thoughts on homework
I’ll start this by saying that I’ve never taught little ones, so my only experience with this is from sixth grade and up. That said, I’m a mom to a fourth grader, and I’ve seen homework come home some years and not others. From watching his grades and test scores over the years, homework, or lack of it, hasn’t really any effect on his achievement. He does his work, and he does well in school. It might be correlated, but we haven’t been assigned homework and skipped it, so I don’t honestly know. It did help me stay in touch with what he was doing in class, and for that reason alone, I liked it.
When I was a student, I liked homework. It wasn’t that I couldn’t have found more fun ways to spend my time. I just often needed the quiet of my bedroom to study, practice, and let that material sink in. If I didn’t understand it, I was prepared to come to school and ask questions. I’m sure there are other students like me that benefit from the quiet practice.
Now, from my viewpoint as a teacher: I like homework. I have always assigned homework. I’ve never assigned much, and I’ve never assigned busywork. I have found that by assigning some written work, I was able to focus on the speaking activities that ultimately increased proficiency in the language I was teaching. If students were practicing verb conjugation or vocabulary use for just ten minutes a night, that allowed me to spend ten minutes more on conversation skills. In a language class, this might be the only time they get to practice this, and homework really freed up this time for us.
Should you assign homework?
As a secondary teacher, I always have. I can say that how I assigned it and what I types of assignments I gave changed over the years, but I never decided that it wasn’t a good idea for my class. I’ve pretty much always followed the model shown in this video at Edutopia. I just heard it at the beginning of my teaching career and went with it. As a secondary teacher, I tried to limit my own assignments to about 10-15 minutes so that students would not be overburdened between all of their classes.
Deciding to assign homework or not might be a teacher’s choice or it might be mandated by the school to assign a certain amount of homework (or none at all). If you do choose to assign homework, here are a few things I’ve done that worked well in my French classes.
Assign weekly homework
I’ve taught students who were caregivers to siblings at home. Many others had jobs, and many more were involved in sports. With high schoolers, they might have nights where they had hours of homework, yet other nights they had very little. I wanted them all to be accountable, and I wanted them all to do the required work. However, I knew I needed to work with their busy schedules if I wanted them to work for me.
Each week, I made a packet of work that I wanted them to complete. They had until the end of the week to complete the work. Because they could complete the work when they had time, the quality was better. In addition, if they didn’t understand a concept that day, they weren’t going to go home and do it all wrong. They got more class time to practice the skill, and in turn, the work they completed was far more accurate.
It’s important to provide work that is the right level for the students. However, with many students of various levels in the same class, that level is going to look different for each one. Differentiation is so important, but it can be really hard at times. To make my job easier, I made a homework packet of varying activities. Some activities were harder than others, so advanced students got a challenge and struggling students worked on the basic skills needed for mastery.
Each week, I passed out the student homework packs and assigned a certain number of activities that would be due at the end of the week. The packet might have contained 20 activities, but I would ask students to pick 10-12 activities. Not only did they appreciate choosing their activities, they worked on what they actually needed.
As for grading those activities, I usually gave the students 10-15 minutes per week to ask questions on their homework. During this time, I would also walk around and check their work. At the end of the week, I didn’t grade each separate activity. With 100+ kids, that was just too much. I would spot-check their work in class, correct one or two activities per student each week, and assign a grade based on completion. It’s not the only way to do this, but it worked for me.
Weighting grades means that homework counts for a certain percentage of a student’s grade. If the weight is 10%, then even if a student completes no homework, they will not lose more than 10% from their total grade.
I personally love this for a few reasons.
1. Homework should not be a large enough part of a student’s grade to severely affect it. If a student can score well on tests and otherwise show mastery of the concepts, they should not get a low grade simply because they miss a few homework assignments. Are we grading for mastery or for how many worksheets a student completes?
2. Some students will cheat and copy homework from another student just to get the points. If the grade is weighted, they have much less incentive to do this, because the homework doesn’t count for much. Their grade is determined by their mastery of skills. If the homework is meaningful, it should be helping them attain that mastery.
3. Students who have less parental support at home are not unfairly punished for failing to complete assignments. Older students do need to learn responsibility, but some family situations just make homework completion a serious challenge.
You can pick whatever weight you feel is appropriate, and the grade books I’ve used have had a way to weight categories. If you weight homework, I wouldn’t choose a very heavy weight for homework. A grade should reflect mastery and understanding rather than completion of work. Hopefully, if students complete all of their homework, they will demonstrate mastery, but that isn’t always the case. In addition, over-inflating grades based on completion will not reflect actual understanding of the material.
So, should you assign homework?
Ultimately, what matters is the quality of the work you assign. Students should not do homework just to show they have completed a worksheet. Extra practice outside of school can benefit the students. Doing some work outside of class does free up time to do communicative activities. Students in an accelerated or advanced class should reasonable expect more work. I think it’s appropriate for some classes some of the time. Whether to assign homework or not is ultimately up to teachers and schools, and I don’t think there is one right answer.
What are your thoughts on homework? Please share them below and help continue this conversation!