Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hanging Up the Homework

This idea  has been marinating for a while, but really has gotten a kick-start lately for a few reasons:

  1. My son's recent experience in middle school. Let's just say he didn't get much sleep those two years because of the hours (not exaggerating) of homework. High School has been a completely different experience.
  2. My concern that the students who could really benefit from the extra practice are seldom the ones who are capable of completing it without support.
  3. A parent who asked at orientation this year, "You're not one of those teachers who gives a lot of homework are you?"
  4. Most of my students' days start around 6:30 and we dismiss at 2:40. Many bus riders don't get home until 3:30 or later. 
  5. Kids need time to be kids--they need to have unstructured time at home to just play and spend time with family. 
  6. I worry that it causes problems at home and can diminish a child's enjoyment of school.
  7. I've been reading blog posts like this one: by Mrs. Pripp: So What's My Problem With Homework? and this one by J. Steven Carr: Should Homework Be Banned?
  8. I've been reading online research that suggests homework is not beneficial: The Truth About Homework
Before I go any further, let me interject that I DO NOT simply send home busy work pages just for the sake of sending work home. Our daily homework consists of 3 things:
Read for 30 minutes (school-wide). I think that is reasonable. I don't require reading logs or parent signatures that are checked daily, so there isn't the dreaded "homework check/punishment. I just remind students and encourage them by having book talks and discussing what books I'm currently reading at home. 
Study for Tests: Perhaps 5 minutes of reviewing a study guide if needed. Students have a science or social studies study guide at the beginning of a unit. Social Studies tests are open-book, and many students don't really need to study the science as long as they are present at school during the lessons. (We currently alternate units of science and social studies). 
Finish Math Classwork: Here's where I have a bit of a problem. Math lessons at this point in the year have 30 problems. These are in addition to the whole group lesson, practice set problems, fact practice, or any review we may need to do. (In my post The Marriage of Saxon and Guided Math I talk about how I teach the lesson and arrange independent/group work.) I totally "get" that in Saxon Math, problems are practiced over and over in different lessons so that students don't forget how to do them from year to year. But here's the thing--why so many? I just think it is too much. What happens is that I help them as much as possible at school, but those struggling students still can't finish (which means more homework for the ones who really can't do it independently). 

So, I'm going to try something radical: I'm going to reduce the number of problems on the lesson set to between 20 and 23 and check the lesson set in class at the end of guided math time. Students who haven't finished will have to finish during recess, (where I can be there to give guidance), rather than taking it home. 

I've been warned that students who don't do the entire lesson set won't be able to pass the assessments. I don't know if this is the case or not, as I've never talked to anyone who has actually admitted to doing this in 4th grade, but I'm about to try. Well, we'll see...


  1. I think this is a wonderful common sense approach to it. There is no way cutting some problems out will greatly affect their scores. And bottom-line is; we have to do right by the students. Keep me posted on this journey!

  2. Did you see the recent post on the Responsive Classroom blog?

  3. Rebecca and Donna,
    Thanks so much for posting the link! I loved that article and it just underscored my own personal reasons for getting rid of homework.

    4thGrdTeach, I appreciate your support. That's just what I needed to hear.

  4. I have just found your blog through the Responsive Classroom site. I am excited to read your thoughts on homework. I also teach fourth grade and wonder about the homework that I send home. It sounds like we have similar homework - I have them do reading and unfinished classwork. I struggle with what to do about unfinished work or work that is left at home. I really don't like to keep kids in at recess. I feel that they need to get outside and play. I can't wait to check back to see how things are going for you.

  5. Linda, I agree about the recess issue. So far, I've cut down the math lesson sets and the students are so excited that they've been working even harder in class than before! Every day this week, every person finished every problem (with support from me). I've seen a huge improvement in morale, as well as more positive attitudes about math.



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