6 Bad Reasons Teachers Assign Homework and Why Each One Sucks

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I’ve ranted about the deleterious effects of traditional homework, in the past. Many education stakeholders, parents and educators alike, agree with me. Yet the crazy assignments continue to invade children’s homes daily.

In this brief Hack Learning Podcast episode, I identify six typical reasons teachers assign homework, why they suck, and how to circumvent each one, inspiring independent learning in the process.

Listen to the audio above for more details, and be sure to share your opinions in our comment section below.

6 Bad Reasons for Assigning Homework

1 – Teachers need a score for a grade book

What if you eliminate grades completely? If there were no letter or number grades on any activities, teachers would not need traditional homework for a grade. Check out this post about a teacher’s journey to a no-grades classroom. Meanwhile, if you can’t make the transition completely away from grades yet, at least start by never grading anything that is assigned out of class.

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Kids are more inclined to tackle out-of-class work, if they believe they won’t be punished by a zero or a low mark.

2 – Teachers believe homework teaches responsibility

There isn’t any evidence that traditional homework teaches responsibility. Learning responsibility comes with choice, and homework rarely offers any choice. Teachers typically choose what is assigned and when it’s due. Kids have no choice but to do it or lose credit or, worse, face punishments like loss of recess. A do-this-when-I-say-or-face-consequences approach to homework will never teach kids responsibility.


3 – There’s too much content to teach in one class period

Why not continue the activity the next day and the next after that? If learning is a race, we need to re-evaluate the curriculum, because it’s probably too fat.

4 – Teachers believe homework helps with test preparation

This one is easy: throw out the test. There is no valuable learning in asking kids to regurgitate information, and a test is not assessment. If you must give a test, play a fun review game in class, rather than assigning the old, boring test review sheet as nightly homework.

5 – Parents want their kids to have homework

Parents believe in homework, because they had it, their parents and grandparents had it, and they believe it’s simply a cog that theHack Learning bundle education machine can’t do without. If we educate them on better ways to inspire independent learning, parents will stop asking for homework.

6 – TTWWADI — That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It

Most of the prior five ridiculous reasons teachers assign homework are rooted in this archaic philosophy: It’s always been this way, so I’ll do it this way too. We don’t deliver mail by Pony Express any longer, because we have cars, planes, and digital content delivery tools. We rarely rent DVDs, because we can stream our content. We no longer store information on floppy disks, because we have the cloud.

In most areas of live, progress forces us to change, yet change in education is glacially slow. Isn’t it time for us to stop using floppy disks?

The Hack — Create learning opportunities that will inspire students

At Hack Learning, we don’t just highlight the problems, we provide Right-Now solutions. Here is one for eliminating traditional homework.

Begin by discarding the worksheets, workbooks, and mundane rote memory activities. Instead, provide kids with choices about what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. Consider the skill or concept you’re teaching, and brainstorm ways that students can extend the learning in ways that they will enjoy.

Instead of assigning do-this-tonight-and-turn-it-in-tomorrow activities, provide multiple options that kids can do at their leisure outside of class and ask them to share their approaches later in the week.

Think about what students like to do: play games, use social media, read content they choose that is enjoyable and relevant to them, explore, talk to fascinating adults, and shop. How can these activities engage students in what you are teaching?

Give kids choice and give them plenty of time. Encourage voluntary reading and exploration of class topics. Never grade their out of class work.

Before you know it, students will choose to work out of class and, best of all, they’ll become enthusiastic independent learners.

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A version of this post first appeared at HackLearning.org.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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