Rethinking Homework

possessive instinct

Parents, imagine no homework to supervise and therefore no forgotten assignments. Teachers, consider having no homework to assign, grade, record and monitor.

Alfie Kohn in his book, The Homework Myth, advocates abolishing homework based on a survey of educational research that shows there is no connection between homework and academic success.

For the past twenty years, under pressure to raise academic achievement, many school districts and schools have been increasing the amount of homework in hopes of raising standardized test scores.

Some homework advocates say that homework is about more than better grades or test scores. Time management, priority and goal setting, work ethic, study skills and learning reinforcement are also given as reasons for assigning homework. The research shows, again, that there is no correlation between homework and these skills.

Kohn asserts that educationally we have been duped.

Having been an elementary teacher who didn’t assign homework, I found it curious what my students would choose to do at home. Afraid that their children would sit in front of the television, parents at first were skeptical of my no-homework approach.

Over the years, my students’ parents reported that their children chose to read, do math problems, write in their diaries, create plays, have pen pals and more when given a choice about how to spend their time and energy. Parents reported that their children cheerfully helped prepare dinner and clean up afterwards. That was a refreshing and positive outcome for not assigning homework.

What our children, our families and our teachers need is a choice of how to effectively spend their time in order to meet the needs of each person, family, classroom and school.

Imagine if after the school and workday our families only had to worry about how to best spend their newfound time. Imagine no conflict between parents and kids over when to do their homework, where to do it, how to do it and why it isn’t done. Imagine having time at home to devote to helping our children and family develop practical life skills of cooking, home care and maintenance, conversation, problem solving and critical thinking.

Teachers, imagine if you had no homework to assign, collect, grade and record. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to choose a more effective way to communicate progress in your classroom? Perhaps to write a one-page letter once a month detailing the highlight of your class’ work? Or perhaps have a two-hour parent/student open house twice a year for students to show off their classroom, friends, teachers and school?

Could no homework free teachers up to give each student’s parents a ten-minute phone call a couple of times a year? Would no homework give teachers more time to plan lessons? Learn new skills? Spend time with their families?

There are many things we could do to better serve the needs of our children, our families, our teachers and our schools than assigning homework.

It’s time to rethink the efficiency of homework and the important dynamic relationship of home/school/child. We, parents, teachers and school administrators, need to stop and examine the homework myth.

Montessori tips for parents

5 Responses to “Rethinking Homework”

  1. I agree we as teachers could be more effective. Unfortunately my administrator expects HW and that takes up so much of time trying to correlate what the child is doing in class and abstract work, especially in Math.

    • Sunila,

      I wrote this article over ten years ago and the issue about homework still needs to be addressed.

      As I visit with parents around the country my heart goes out to them. So many families have only a couple of hours a day to be together to have a meal, and get ready for the next day.

      One of their top questions is: How can I get my elementary aged child to like to do homework?

      Our children need time to build a home life.

      At our schools we need to have on-going conversations about serving the needs of children. Does homework serve the needs of this age child? Why do we give homework? What is the best way to help our children become adults? What is important?

      I hope you can encourage some discussion in your school community.

  2. Donna Leonardo

    Maren, what are your thoughts about homework at the high school level?

    • Donna,

      Very interesting question!

      And I could write a book about my thoughts on high school.

      My short answer is that homework at the high school level is misdirected, also.

      One question we need to always be asking is, how can we be a help to life?

      What do our children really need to learn to navigate the challenges in their lives, challenges that we cannot comprehend in a future we can only imagine?

      In 2012 I wrote a series of Kids Talk articles about what children should learn.

      Our current educational system does not meet the needs of the majority of our students and that is evident on one end of the spectrum in our literacy rates, our graduation rates, our incarceration rates. On the other end of the spectrum our failure manifests as our rate of ADHD prescriptions, our rate of teenage depression and suicide, and more.

      A thought provoking documentary is the Race To Nowhere that examines the structure of how we teach our children along with homework’s efficacy, especially at the high school level.

      We know that people learn best when they control four factors:
      The task they are working on
      The team they are working with
      The technique they are using
      The time when they work

      Take my free workshop Finding Motivation The Montessori Way to learn more about task, team, technique and time in motivation and learning.

      In every community in our country we need to have an ongoing conversation about what is best for our children’s growth and development. What we are doing isn’t working well for most of our children.

      It’s time to talk and make changes.

      • Donna Leonardo

        Maren, thanks for responding so quickly on this holiday weekend. I enjoyed reading your Kids Talk articles. I will have to see Race to Nowhere and take your workshop.
        My son is a 16 year old rising high school Junior. He attended our local Montessori school for 12 years including preschool through 8th grade. Given his options for high school, he chose an academically challenging local college prep school. His strengths include essay writing and critical thinking. He is self motivated and has good time management skills. For the past 2 years he has needed to spend several hours a night on homework and special assignments. He does well with these yet performs less favorably on tests. In addition to lengthy assignments, he is also being challenged by the testing process. We have tried to help him solve this dilemma as he will be continued to be faced with testing formats for the remainder of high school and college. I strongly believe that his Montessori foundation will serve him well in adulthood. But in the meantime, he has to navigate a system that is unlike that foundation. It is amazing that the flaws of our current educational system have still not been addressed. Your comments are appreciated and will be shared.


Leave a Reply