An End to Homework
Every fall, as I get ready for yet another school year, one question crosses my mind: to give homework or not to give homework? I ponder this because I am reminded of my students’ responses throughout my years of teaching: “I didn’t know we had homework due today.” “I forgot it at home.” “I didn’t have time to finish it. Can I bring it tomorrow?” Years of hearing these responses has made me rethink assigning homework altogether. Children only have one thing in mind when they get home, and completing what seems to them “mounds” of extra work is not one of their top priorities. Homework should not exist in elementary levels.
For decades now, there has been debate on whether homework serves as a learning tool that extends from the classroom and into the home. Teachers, administrators, and parents believe that assigning homework will help students academically and often assign it solely for that purpose. In my experience, though, this is not the case. My high-achieving students remain high achieving, while my struggling students remain struggling. What is beneficial about assigning homework? Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, states that there is no research that supports the idea that homework is beneficial in elementary school. Other researchers join him in saying that assigning homework proves beneficial at the high school level, somewhat beneficial at the middle school level, and not beneficial at all at the elementary level. This leaves me wondering why we keep assigning homework in the elementary school setting.
Many believe that homework serves as a tool to teach students responsibility. Homework allows for children to develop organizational skills and gives them the opportunity to learn self-discipline and take responsibility for their own learning. In my classroom this past year, when I asked students to turn in homework, several of my fourth graders said, “I left it on my bed,” “I couldn’t find it,” or “My mom didn’t put it in my backpack.” I question whether homework really serves to teach students responsibility. At an elementary age, students need a constant reminder that they have homework assignments to complete. This reminder defeats the purpose of using homework as a tool to teach responsibility to a student.
In The Homework Myth, Kohn says we ask our students to go home and work a second shift. After working at school all day, they still have to go home and continue working for two to five extra hours in order to complete homework assignments. When do my students have time for all this homework? How do they spend their “free” time when they don’t have homework? Children need family bonding time, time to play with their siblings, cousins, neighbors, and friends, and time to just sit and play their favorite games or watch a little TV before going to bed. Many schools have joined forces and implemented “no-homework policies” in elementary schools. Administrators are beginning to realize that students need time to spend with their families and need to enjoy downtime that includes non-school related activities. In the Washington Post article, “What Happened When One School Banned Homework—and Asked Kids to Read and Play Instead,” Valerie Strauss shares the story of the principal of Orchard School in Vermont, Mark Trifilio, who reported great success after implementing a no-homework policy after six short months. Academically, the students at his campus did better once they didn’t have homework and instead had “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”
When summer comes to an end and I get ready to greet my new set of students, they will be happy to know that this year they will have a teacher who will join the no-homework bandwagon.