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Education, Leadership, Students, Teaching

Before you assign that homework…

Working out Homework policy

cc flickr photo by BrianLockwood

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.  ~ Lily Tomlin

Homework.  You will find no shortage of discussion, debate, and argument about whether or not we should be assigning homework to our students.  The purpose of this post is not to make an argument for, or against, the assignment of homework, but to encourage deliberate reflection about any assignment — be it classwork or homework.  If we are going to ask students, and families, to invest time outside of school, I believe we owe them the consideration of thoughtful, meaningful and relevant assignments.

Things to Consider Before Making a Homework Assignment

(Add your suggestions on this post, or add your comments to the linked Google Doc)

>> What is the purpose of the assignment?

Can’t identify a specific, and relevant, purpose?  Rethink the assignment.  Be sure to communicate the purpose to students.

>> Does the assignment reflect respect for student time?  How long will it take students to complete the assignment?  Can the same objective be accomplished with less time?

Assigning “busy work”, or excessive amounts of homework, demonstrates a lack of respect for student and family time.  As adults, we frequently express resentment about meetings or projects that we feel are excessive or a waste of time — students are no different.

>> Do the students possess the knowledge/skill to complete the assignment on their own?  What options do the students have if they get stuck?  Do all students have the necessary resources to be able to complete the assignment?

Be certain that students have the requisite skills needed to be successful.  Don’t set them up for failure.  Carefully consider the resources available to all of your students and be sure that assignments provide an equitable opportunity for student success.

>> Do the students have any choice in how they complete the assignment?

Allowing students choice and creativity in how they address assignment objectives harnesses their interests and passions and leads to increased levels of engagement.

>> Is the assignment engaging?  Are there any real-world connections?  Is it relevant?  Does it allow for student creativity?

Assignments that are simply more of the same…worksheets, repetitive practice, rote memorization…are likely to be received with very little enthusiasm, or effort.

>> Will the students receive feedback on the assignment?

If not…reconsider the assignment.

>> Will the assignment be graded?  Is the assignment being given solely for the purpose of assigning a grade?

If yes…reconsider the assignment.  Don’t give homework just to have an assignment to record.

>> Is the assignment purposeful?  Will the students use the completed assignment in class?  Is the assignment interactive?  Does it provide students the opportunity to work with peers, family members, other adults, etc?

If you are going to assign homework, consider asking students to do something they will use in class.  They might collect data for a project, interview a family member, find an article for a class discussion, etc.  Think relevance.

>> Is the homework optional?

Something to think about.  Give students a choice.

>> Does the assignment set students up to be successful?

Success leads to self-confidence, and self-confidence leads to improved effort.  If you predict that a majority of students will not complete the assignment, consider addressing your objective in a different way.


About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


9 thoughts on “Before you assign that homework…

  1. Really agree with your thoughts. I especially like the idea of giving students a choice! I recently wrote a blog post about homework. Would you mind if I add your post as a link?


    Posted by Nancy C | October 10, 2011, 7:34 am
  2. I can’t think why it would need to be optional.

    Posted by Barbourians | October 10, 2011, 9:24 am
    • There might be times an optional assignment could be given to allow students additional practice or exploration time. Students who feel they need additional work on a concept could choose to complete the assignment and receive feedback. May not always be the answer, but a potential option. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Posted by azjd | October 10, 2011, 9:58 am
    • You can make an assignment as an optional way to “exceed expectations” on a standard.

      Also, many students get really excited about things we start in class but do take to “publication” quality. They then continue the work in a self-motivated way. I then publish them on the class blog. Many students like to be published.

      It’s nice to have self-motivated learners who want to take on optional assignments.

      Posted by Janet Abercrombie | October 13, 2011, 5:28 am
  3. I really like your post. I work at an after school program and when we work on homework, the students have long TEDIOUS worksheets. However, these are mostly math sheets. What is your opinion on math? Many argue that children need that much practice, but if they can do 5 problems correctly they probably can do 30. I just am curious where the balance is?

    Posted by Reidun | October 10, 2011, 5:12 pm
  4. Hi Jeff,

    Great post…I think you have captured the true purpose of homework. I think it is important to note that before the ideas in your post become relevant, an atmosphere of trust must be established in the classroom. If students know that you have their best interests at heart, they will work so much harder. If they know that you assign homework so they can learn better, they will have a different attitude toward it. Then, students will understand why an assignment is optional. There is nothing more frustrating than homework that is assigned as “busy work” or homework that is assigned beacause a teacher fells that they “have to assign it”.

    Posted by Derek Hatch (Hatcherelli) | October 11, 2011, 5:12 am
  5. Experience has taught me that when HW is optional, the really good students do it and the students who need the practice don’t do it. Seems pointless to assign something that is optional if you are assigning something worth doing. Differentiate your homework? Give different assignments to students based upon their success in the classroom? That would be ideal if it was managable…

    Posted by Adrienne Thieke | October 12, 2011, 3:18 am
  6. We had an interesting discussion in our class meeting today. I shared that I believed students had “turned a corner” with homework assignments.

    First, I noticed that students were planning and doing their own independent writing – which is really exciting.

    Second, those who, on occasion, were not turning in work were no longer trying to hide the fact they didn’t have the work. Rather, they’d come to my desk, tell me what happened, and proceed to immediately email their parents (as per protocol). Part of the conversation with me (and over email) was to articulate what happened and what the student planned to do to keep it from happening in the future.

    They seem to understand that the purpose of homework (for me) is that they review classroom material and they develop good home study habits. Yeah.

    Janet | expateducator.com

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | October 13, 2011, 5:33 am

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Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
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