When Homework Is Useless
Education experts offer their thoughts on how—if at all—schools should assign, grade, and use take-home assignments.
This is the third installment in our series about school in a perfect world. Read previous entries on calendars and content .
We asked prominent voices in education—from policy makers and teachers to activists and parents—to look beyond laws, politics, and funding and imagine a utopian system of learning. They went back to the drawing board—and the chalkboard—to build an educational Garden of Eden. We’re publishing their answers to one question each day this week. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Today’s assignment: The Homework. Will students have homework?
Rita Pin Ahrens, the director of education policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Homework is absolutely necessary for students to demonstrate that they are able to independently process and apply their learning. But who says homework has to be the same as it has been? Homework might include pre-reading in preparation for what will be covered in class that day, independent research on a student-chosen topic that complements the class curriculum, experiential learning through a volunteer activity or field trip, or visiting a website and accomplishing a task on it. The structure will be left to the teachers to determine, as best fits the learning objective, and should be graded—whether by the teacher or student. Students will be held accountable for their homework and understand that it is an integral part of the learning process.
Nicholson Baker, the author of Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids
No mandatory homework in elementary school. None. No homework in middle school and high school unless a kid wants to do it. Chronic nightly homework makes for guilt, resentment, and lies—and family arguments and bone weariness. Parents become enforcers. It gets ugly.
Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education
When I was a high-school Spanish teacher, I never graded homework. If students came in with homework, I knew one of two things—either they did it, or they had a good friend who did it. I assigned a reasonable amount, never spent more than five minutes of class time reviewing it, and would collect samples as an informal assessment of whether my students understood the prior day’s lesson.
There is really no reason to assign homework in the early grades, although I know it makes parents anxious when their kids come home without it. Middle-school students will not receive more than an hour of homework, and in high schools, no more than two hours a night will be assigned.
Homework in high school helps students reflect on new learning and it gives them feedback as to whether they understand what they were taught. It also develops good habits for college, especially writing and independent-reading skills.
The research on homework shows beneficial effects on learning when appropriate assignments are given and completed, and the benefits increase with grade level. There is little to no learning benefit in the early grades but substantial benefit by grade 12.
Catherine Cushinberry, the executive director of Parents for Public Schools
Homework provides an opportunity for families to be engaged in the learning process, reinforces what has been taught during the school day, and provides students with an opportunity to learn how to be accountable and responsible to others and meet deadlines. Homework will not be graded, but will provide the class an opportunity to work together either as a large or small group to promote peer-to-peer learning while analyzing the assignment. Incentives that are student-specific will be used to encourage preparedness. If a student has mastered a topic, then he or she will be given an assignment that challenges them toward the next level of that work. The structure of homework will depend on the topic. Some assignments might require students to report on real-world observations, try at-home experiments, or allow them to develop ways that will each student best learn the information.
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Michael Horn, the co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute
Students will have work that may be done in school or at home. We will cease seeing things as just “homework.” The goal of work is to help students build mastery of knowledge and skills that can be applied in different contexts. Students will do as much or as little of certain tasks until they have built mastery. For some students, that will take place at home. Others will do most of their work surrounded by their peers and teachers at school. We will move beyond the notion of letter grades, where we accept failure as part of the system, to a competency-based notion in which students either master a competency or keep working until they do.
As Sal Khan writes in his book, The One World Schoolhouse , “Homework [is] necessary because not enough learning happens during the school day. Why is there a shortage of learning during the hours specifically designed for it? Because the broadcast, one-pace-fits-all lecture—the technique that is at the very heart of our standard classroom model—turns out to be a highly inefficient way to teach and learn.” With blended learning on the rise, we can do better now.
Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation
Homework, in the popular parlance, is thought of as a necessary but dreary component of education. (An editor once disparagingly described a book manuscript I submitted as feeling like “homework.”) But if properly envisioned, homework can be exhilarating, an opportunity for students to venture independently to pursue in-depth topics first broached in the classroom.
To excite students, homework will be experiential and hands-on. It will encourage students to be explorers and to move beyond what is familiar to them. It will take them into new neighborhoods to interact with people of racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds different than their own. Amy Stuart Wells and her colleagues at Teachers College, Columbia University, note mounting evidence that “diversity makes us smarter.” They write that when students come in contact with people “different from themselves,” the “novel ideas and challenges such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” The primary implication of the research is the need to diversify schools themselves, but short of that, homework assignments, even in racially isolated schools, will encourage students to venture out and learn from all that the world has to offer.
Michelle Rhee, the founder of StudentsFirst and the former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools
Students will have opportunities to demonstrate their mastery of subjects through homework, but the days of elementary-school students carrying home backpacks full of homework that are heavier than they are will be gone. Students will have in-class and after-class opportunities to complete assignments, and homework will never be given merely for the purpose of being given. Teachers will emphasize the skill sets they would like to grow with assignments, from essay writing to computations. “Flipped” classrooms, where students watch lectures at home the night before and then use class time to engage in discussion and ask teachers in-depth questions, will also be more prevalent.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers
Homework will depend on what’s needed to inform the coming lesson or to reinforce the lesson students just learned. We will never give homework for the sake of giving it.
Excessive homework is excessively stupid—and more and more evidence tells us that assigning hours of homework for very young students is useless at best and counterproductive at worst.
Homework only helps if every child has a chance get something useful from it—so programs to provide resources for kids who might not have homework support at home are critical, whether that’s tutoring, study labs, or just a safe place to sit and think. And while we’re at it, let’s not pretend that everyone has access to high-tech tools at home.
Check back tomorrow for the next installment in this series.
Let’s Get Down to Business!
Let’s Get Down to Business! by Lemon Lime26
Izuku takes on his first day with his new schedule.
Hopefully he doesn’t die.
Words: 6933, Chapters: 1 /1, Language: English
Series: Part 2 of Homework is Pointless
- Fandoms: 僕のヒーローアカデミア | Boku no Hero Academia | My Hero Academia
- Rating: General Audiences
- Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
- Characters: Midoriya Izuku , Sero Hanta , Kaminari Denki , Toogata Mirio , Amajiki Tamaki , Snipe , Aizawa Shouta | Eraserhead , Nedzu , Ectoplasm , Kayama Nemuri | Midnight , Ishiyama Ken | Cementoss , Haya Yuuyu , Shuuzenji Chiyo | Recovery Girl , Iida Tenya , Yaoyorozu Momo
- Relationships: Midoriya Izuku & Toogata Mirio , Amajiki Tamaki & Midoriya Izuku , Hadou Nejire & Midoriya Izuku , Amajiki Tamaki & Hadou Nejire & Midoriya Izuku & Toogata Mirio , Hadou Nejire & Haya Yuuyu , Haya Yuuyu & Midoriya Izuku , Kayama Nemuri | Midnight & Midoriya Izuku , Aizawa Shouta | Eraserhead & Midoriya Izuku , Midoriya Izuku & Snipe , Midoriya Izuku & Nedzu , Kaminari Denki & Midoriya Izuku , Midoriya Izuku & Sero Hanta , Iida Tenya & Midoriya Izuku , Midoriya Izuku & Yaoyorozu Momo
- Additional Tags: Homework , Gross , Cute Midoriya Izuku , Midoriya Izuku Has Panic Attacks , Midoriya Izuku Has Issues , Midoriya Izuku-centric , Smart Midoriya Izuku , Midoriya Izuku Has a Knife , How Do I Tag , I’m Bad At Tagging
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Stanford research shows pitfalls of homework
A Stanford researcher found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance and even alienation from society. More than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive, according to the study.
Education scholar Denise Pope has found that too much homework has negative effects on student well-being and behavioral engagement. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)
A Stanford researcher found that too much homework can negatively affect kids, especially their lives away from school, where family, friends and activities matter.
“Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good,” wrote Denise Pope , a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and a co-author of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education .
The researchers used survey data to examine perceptions about homework, student well-being and behavioral engagement in a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities. Along with the survey data, Pope and her colleagues used open-ended answers to explore the students’ views on homework.
Median household income exceeded $90,000 in these communities, and 93 percent of the students went on to college, either two-year or four-year.
Students in these schools average about 3.1 hours of homework each night.
“The findings address how current homework practices in privileged, high-performing schools sustain students’ advantage in competitive climates yet hinder learning, full engagement and well-being,” Pope wrote.
Pope and her colleagues found that too much homework can diminish its effectiveness and even be counterproductive. They cite prior research indicating that homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night, and that 90 minutes to two and a half hours is optimal for high school.
Their study found that too much homework is associated with:
• Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress, according to the survey data. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.
• Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The researchers asked students whether they experienced health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems.
• Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicate that spending too much time on homework meant that students were “not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills,” according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.
A balancing act
The results offer empirical evidence that many students struggle to find balance between homework, extracurricular activities and social time, the researchers said. Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.
Also, there was no relationship between the time spent on homework and how much the student enjoyed it. The research quoted students as saying they often do homework they see as “pointless” or “mindless” in order to keep their grades up.
“This kind of busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points,” Pope said.
She said the research calls into question the value of assigning large amounts of homework in high-performing schools. Homework should not be simply assigned as a routine practice, she said.
“Rather, any homework assigned should have a purpose and benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development,” wrote Pope.
In places where students attend high-performing schools, too much homework can reduce their time to foster skills in the area of personal responsibility, the researchers concluded. “Young people are spending more time alone,” they wrote, “which means less time for family and fewer opportunities to engage in their communities.”
The researchers say that while their open-ended or “self-reporting” methodology to gauge student concerns about homework may have limitations – some might regard it as an opportunity for “typical adolescent complaining” – it was important to learn firsthand what the students believe.
The paper was co-authored by Mollie Galloway from Lewis and Clark College and Jerusha Conner from Villanova University.
The New York Times
The Opinion Pages
Don’t bother, homework is pointless.
Sara Bennett is co-author of " The Case Against Homework : How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It."
November 12, 2014
Almost all research shows that elementary school homework is pointless. If families understood that, they would be thrilled to lose that nightly routine where the adults cajole and bribe, and the kids cry and throw tantrums.
Educators should realize that homework sets up a pattern of dependence that continues throughout the school years, rather than instilling responsibility and self-discipline as they claim.
I would love to see a one-week experiment where all parents agree not to say a word to their elementary school children about homework: not ask whether they have it, not lay out the supplies, not set aside the time, not read the instructions. I bet that most kids would not think about their homework at all. And, at the end of that week, educators would have to acknowledge that homework actually sets up a pattern of dependence that continues throughout the school years, rather than instilling responsibility and self-discipline as they claim.
What if parents stopped asking about or helping with homework through middle, high school, and even college years, too? Teachers would finally see the true quality of students’ work. And parents would stop having crazy conversations like the one I once had with a middle school English teacher when I remarked on the differences between essays written at home and in school. The teacher believed that, at home, students had time to focus on grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and ideas, and that explained why their essays were so much more developed than their in-class work. I tried to tell him that he was actually seeing the work of parents or tutors, but he refused to see the obvious.
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Nobody knows what the point of homework is
The homework wars are back.
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As the Covid-19 pandemic began and students logged into their remote classrooms, all work, in effect, became homework. But whether or not students could complete it at home varied. For some, schoolwork became public-library work or McDonald’s-parking-lot work.
Luis Torres, the principal of PS 55, a predominantly low-income community elementary school in the south Bronx, told me that his school secured Chromebooks for students early in the pandemic only to learn that some lived in shelters that blocked wifi for security reasons. Others, who lived in housing projects with poor internet reception, did their schoolwork in laundromats.
According to a 2021 Pew survey , 25 percent of lower-income parents said their children, at some point, were unable to complete their schoolwork because they couldn’t access a computer at home; that number for upper-income parents was 2 percent.
The issues with remote learning in March 2020 were new. But they highlighted a divide that had been there all along in another form: homework. And even long after schools have resumed in-person classes, the pandemic’s effects on homework have lingered.
Over the past three years, in response to concerns about equity, schools across the country, including in Sacramento, Los Angeles , San Diego , and Clark County, Nevada , made permanent changes to their homework policies that restricted how much homework could be given and how it could be graded after in-person learning resumed.
Three years into the pandemic, as districts and teachers reckon with Covid-era overhauls of teaching and learning, schools are still reconsidering the purpose and place of homework. Whether relaxing homework expectations helps level the playing field between students or harms them by decreasing rigor is a divisive issue without conclusive evidence on either side, echoing other debates in education like the elimination of standardized test scores from some colleges’ admissions processes.
I first began to wonder if the homework abolition movement made sense after speaking with teachers in some Massachusetts public schools, who argued that rather than help disadvantaged kids, stringent homework restrictions communicated an attitude of low expectations. One, an English teacher, said she felt the school had “just given up” on trying to get the students to do work; another argued that restrictions that prohibit teachers from assigning take-home work that doesn’t begin in class made it difficult to get through the foreign-language curriculum. Teachers in other districts have raised formal concerns about homework abolition’s ability to close gaps among students rather than widening them.
Many education experts share this view. Harris Cooper, a professor emeritus of psychology at Duke who has studied homework efficacy, likened homework abolition to “playing to the lowest common denominator.”
But as I learned after talking to a variety of stakeholders — from homework researchers to policymakers to parents of schoolchildren — whether to abolish homework probably isn’t the right question. More important is what kind of work students are sent home with and where they can complete it. Chances are, if schools think more deeply about giving constructive work, time spent on homework will come down regardless.
There’s no consensus on whether homework works
The rise of the no-homework movement during the Covid-19 pandemic tapped into long-running disagreements over homework’s impact on students. The purpose and effectiveness of homework have been disputed for well over a century. In 1901, for instance, California banned homework for students up to age 15, and limited it for older students, over concerns that it endangered children’s mental and physical health. The newest iteration of the anti-homework argument contends that the current practice punishes students who lack support and rewards those with more resources, reinforcing the “myth of meritocracy.”
But there is still no research consensus on homework’s effectiveness; no one can seem to agree on what the right metrics are. Much of the debate relies on anecdotes, intuition, or speculation.
Researchers disagree even on how much research exists on the value of homework. Kathleen Budge, the co-author of Turning High-Poverty Schools Into High-Performing Schools and a professor at Boise State, told me that homework “has been greatly researched.” Denise Pope, a Stanford lecturer and leader of the education nonprofit Challenge Success, said, “It’s not a highly researched area because of some of the methodological problems.”
Experts who are more sympathetic to take-home assignments generally support the “10-minute rule,” a framework that estimates the ideal amount of homework on any given night by multiplying the student’s grade by 10 minutes. (A ninth grader, for example, would have about 90 minutes of work a night.) Homework proponents argue that while it is difficult to design randomized control studies to test homework’s effectiveness, the vast majority of existing studies show a strong positive correlation between homework and high academic achievement for middle and high school students. Prominent critics of homework argue that these correlational studies are unreliable and point to studies that suggest a neutral or negative effect on student performance. Both agree there is little to no evidence for homework’s effectiveness at an elementary school level, though proponents often argue that it builds constructive habits for the future.
For anyone who remembers homework assignments from both good and bad teachers, this fundamental disagreement might not be surprising. Some homework is pointless and frustrating to complete. Every week during my senior year of high school, I had to analyze a poem for English and decorate it with images found on Google; my most distinct memory from that class is receiving a demoralizing 25-point deduction because I failed to present my analysis on a poster board. Other assignments really do help students learn: After making an adapted version of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book for a ninth grade history project, I was inspired to check out from the library and read a biography of the Chinese ruler.
For homework opponents, the first example is more likely to resonate. “We’re all familiar with the negative effects of homework: stress, exhaustion, family conflict, less time for other activities, diminished interest in learning,” Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, which challenges common justifications for homework, told me in an email. “And these effects may be most pronounced among low-income students.” Kohn believes that schools should make permanent any moratoria implemented during the pandemic, arguing that there are no positives at all to outweigh homework’s downsides. Recent studies , he argues , show the benefits may not even materialize during high school.
In the Marlborough Public Schools, a suburban district 45 minutes west of Boston, school policy committee chair Katherine Hennessy described getting kids to complete their homework during remote education as “a challenge, to say the least.” Teachers found that students who spent all day on their computers didn’t want to spend more time online when the day was over. So, for a few months, the school relaxed the usual practice and teachers slashed the quantity of nightly homework.
Online learning made the preexisting divides between students more apparent, she said. Many students, even during normal circumstances, lacked resources to keep them on track and focused on completing take-home assignments. Though Marlborough Schools is more affluent than PS 55, Hennessy said many students had parents whose work schedules left them unable to provide homework help in the evenings. The experience tracked with a common divide in the country between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
So in October 2021, months after the homework reduction began, the Marlborough committee made a change to the district’s policy. While teachers could still give homework, the assignments had to begin as classwork. And though teachers could acknowledge homework completion in a student’s participation grade, they couldn’t count homework as its own grading category. “Rigorous learning in the classroom does not mean that that classwork must be assigned every night,” the policy stated . “Extensions of class work is not to be used to teach new content or as a form of punishment.”
Canceling homework might not do anything for the achievement gap
The critiques of homework are valid as far as they go, but at a certain point, arguments against homework can defy the commonsense idea that to retain what they’re learning, students need to practice it.
“Doesn’t a kid become a better reader if he reads more? Doesn’t a kid learn his math facts better if he practices them?” said Cathy Vatterott, an education researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. After decades of research, she said it’s still hard to isolate the value of homework, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.
Blanket vilification of homework can also conflate the unique challenges facing disadvantaged students as compared to affluent ones, which could have different solutions. “The kids in the low-income schools are being hurt because they’re being graded, unfairly, on time they just don’t have to do this stuff,” Pope told me. “And they’re still being held accountable for turning in assignments, whether they’re meaningful or not.” On the other side, “Palo Alto kids” — students in Silicon Valley’s stereotypically pressure-cooker public schools — “are just bombarded and overloaded and trying to stay above water.”
Merely getting rid of homework doesn’t solve either problem. The United States already has the second-highest disparity among OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations between time spent on homework by students of high and low socioeconomic status — a difference of more than three hours, said Janine Bempechat, clinical professor at Boston University and author of No More Mindless Homework .
When she interviewed teachers in Boston-area schools that had cut homework before the pandemic, Bempechat told me, “What they saw immediately was parents who could afford it immediately enrolled their children in the Russian School of Mathematics,” a math-enrichment program whose tuition ranges from $140 to about $400 a month. Getting rid of homework “does nothing for equity; it increases the opportunity gap between wealthier and less wealthy families,” she said. “That solution troubles me because it’s no solution at all.”
A group of teachers at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, made the same point after the school district proposed an overhaul of its homework policies, including removing penalties for missing homework deadlines, allowing unlimited retakes, and prohibiting grading of homework.
“Given the emphasis on equity in today’s education systems,” they wrote in a letter to the school board, “we believe that some of the proposed changes will actually have a detrimental impact towards achieving this goal. Families that have means could still provide challenging and engaging academic experiences for their children and will continue to do so, especially if their children are not experiencing expected rigor in the classroom.” At a school where more than a third of students are low-income, the teachers argued, the policies would prompt students “to expect the least of themselves in terms of effort, results, and responsibility.”
Not all homework is created equal
Despite their opposing sides in the homework wars, most of the researchers I spoke to made a lot of the same points. Both Bempechat and Pope were quick to bring up how parents and schools confuse rigor with workload, treating the volume of assignments as a proxy for quality of learning. Bempechat, who is known for defending homework, has written extensively about how plenty of it lacks clear purpose, requires the purchasing of unnecessary supplies, and takes longer than it needs to. Likewise, when Pope instructs graduate-level classes on curriculum, she asks her students to think about the larger purpose they’re trying to achieve with homework: If they can get the job done in the classroom, there’s no point in sending home more work.
At its best, pandemic-era teaching facilitated that last approach. Honolulu-based teacher Christina Torres Cawdery told me that, early in the pandemic, she often had a cohort of kids in her classroom for four hours straight, as her school tried to avoid too much commingling. She couldn’t lecture for four hours, so she gave the students plenty of time to complete independent and project-based work. At the end of most school days, she didn’t feel the need to send them home with more to do.
A similar limited-homework philosophy worked at a public middle school in Chelsea, Massachusetts. A couple of teachers there turned as much class as possible into an opportunity for small-group practice, allowing kids to work on problems that traditionally would be assigned for homework, Jessica Flick, a math coach who leads department meetings at the school, told me. It was inspired by a philosophy pioneered by Simon Fraser University professor Peter Liljedahl, whose influential book Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics reframes homework as “check-your-understanding questions” rather than as compulsory work. Last year, Flick found that the two eighth grade classes whose teachers adopted this strategy performed the best on state tests, and this year, she has encouraged other teachers to implement it.
Teachers know that plenty of homework is tedious and unproductive. Jeannemarie Dawson De Quiroz, who has taught for more than 20 years in low-income Boston and Los Angeles pilot and charter schools, says that in her first years on the job she frequently assigned “drill and kill” tasks and questions that she now feels unfairly stumped students. She said designing good homework wasn’t part of her teaching programs, nor was it meaningfully discussed in professional development. With more experience, she turned as much class time as she could into practice time and limited what she sent home.
“The thing about homework that’s sticky is that not all homework is created equal,” says Jill Harrison Berg, a former teacher and the author of Uprooting Instructional Inequity . “Some homework is a genuine waste of time and requires lots of resources for no good reason. And other homework is really useful.”
Cutting homework has to be part of a larger strategy
The takeaways are clear: Schools can make cuts to homework, but those cuts should be part of a strategy to improve the quality of education for all students. If the point of homework was to provide more practice, districts should think about how students can make it up during class — or offer time during or after school for students to seek help from teachers. If it was to move the curriculum along, it’s worth considering whether strategies like Liljedahl’s can get more done in less time.
Some of the best thinking around effective assignments comes from those most critical of the current practice. Denise Pope proposes that, before assigning homework, teachers should consider whether students understand the purpose of the work and whether they can do it without help. If teachers think it’s something that can’t be done in class, they should be mindful of how much time it should take and the feedback they should provide. It’s questions like these that De Quiroz considered before reducing the volume of work she sent home.
More than a year after the new homework policy began in Marlborough, Hennessy still hears from parents who incorrectly “think homework isn’t happening” despite repeated assurances that kids still can receive work. She thinks part of the reason is that education has changed over the years. “I think what we’re trying to do is establish that homework may be an element of educating students,” she told me. “But it may not be what parents think of as what they grew up with. ... It’s going to need to adapt, per the teaching and the curriculum, and how it’s being delivered in each classroom.”
For the policy to work, faculty, parents, and students will all have to buy into a shared vision of what school ought to look like. The district is working on it — in November, it hosted and uploaded to YouTube a round-table discussion on homework between district administrators — but considering the sustained confusion, the path ahead seems difficult.
When I asked Luis Torres about whether he thought homework serves a useful part in PS 55’s curriculum, he said yes, of course it was — despite the effort and money it takes to keep the school open after hours to help them do it. “The children need the opportunity to practice,” he said. “If you don’t give them opportunities to practice what they learn, they’re going to forget.” But Torres doesn’t care if the work is done at home. The school stays open until around 6 pm on weekdays, even during breaks. Tutors through New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development programs help kids with work after school so they don’t need to take it with them.
As schools weigh the purpose of homework in an unequal world, it’s tempting to dispose of a practice that presents real, practical problems to students across the country. But getting rid of homework is unlikely to do much good on its own. Before cutting it, it’s worth thinking about what good assignments are meant to do in the first place. It’s crucial that students from all socioeconomic backgrounds tackle complex quantitative problems and hone their reading and writing skills. It’s less important that the work comes home with them.
Jacob Sweet is a freelance writer in Somerville, Massachusetts. He is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, among other publications.
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August 16, 2021
Is it time to get rid of homework? Mental health experts weigh in
by Sara M Moniuszko
It's no secret that kids hate homework. And as students grapple with an ongoing pandemic that has had a wide-range of mental health impacts, is it time schools start listening to their pleas over workloads?
Some teachers are turning to social media to take a stand against homework .
Tiktok user @misguided.teacher says he doesn't assign it because the "whole premise of homework is flawed."
For starters, he says he can't grade work on "even playing fields" when students' home environments can be vastly different.
"Even students who go home to a peaceful house, do they really want to spend their time on busy work? Because typically that's what a lot of homework is, it's busy work," he says in the video that has garnered 1.6 million likes. "You only get one year to be 7, you only got one year to be 10, you only get one year to be 16, 18."
Mental health experts agree heavy work loads have the potential do more harm than good for students, especially when taking into account the impacts of the pandemic. But they also say the answer may not be to eliminate homework altogether.
Emmy Kang, mental health counselor at Humantold, says studies have shown heavy workloads can be "detrimental" for students and cause a "big impact on their mental, physical and emotional health."
"More than half of students say that homework is their primary source of stress, and we know what stress can do on our bodies," she says, adding that staying up late to finish assignments also leads to disrupted sleep and exhaustion.
Cynthia Catchings, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at Talkspace, says heavy workloads can also cause serious mental health problems in the long run, like anxiety and depression.
And for all the distress homework causes, it's not as useful as many may think, says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a psychologist and CEO of Omega Recovery treatment center.
"The research shows that there's really limited benefit of homework for elementary age students, that really the school work should be contained in the classroom," he says.
For older students, Kang says homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night.
"Most students, especially at these high-achieving schools, they're doing a minimum of three hours, and it's taking away time from their friends from their families, their extracurricular activities. And these are all very important things for a person's mental and emotional health."
Catchings, who also taught third to 12th graders for 12 years, says she's seen the positive effects of a no homework policy while working with students abroad.
"Not having homework was something that I always admired from the French students (and) the French schools, because that was helping the students to really have the time off and really disconnect from school ," she says.
The answer may not be to eliminate homework completely, but to be more mindful of the type of work students go home with, suggests Kang, who was a high-school teacher for 10 years.
"I don't think (we) should scrap homework, I think we should scrap meaningless, purposeless busy work-type homework. That's something that needs to be scrapped entirely," she says, encouraging teachers to be thoughtful and consider the amount of time it would take for students to complete assignments.
The pandemic made the conversation around homework more crucial
Mindfulness surrounding homework is especially important in the context of the last two years. Many students will be struggling with mental health issues that were brought on or worsened by the pandemic, making heavy workloads even harder to balance.
"COVID was just a disaster in terms of the lack of structure. Everything just deteriorated," Kardaras says, pointing to an increase in cognitive issues and decrease in attention spans among students. "School acts as an anchor for a lot of children, as a stabilizing force, and that disappeared."
But even if students transition back to the structure of in-person classes, Kardaras suspects students may still struggle after two school years of shifted schedules and disrupted sleeping habits.
"We've seen adults struggling to go back to in-person work environments from remote work environments. That effect is amplified with children because children have less resources to be able to cope with those transitions than adults do," he explains.
'Get organized' ahead of back-to-school
In order to make the transition back to in-person school easier, Kang encourages students to "get good sleep, exercise regularly (and) eat a healthy diet."
To help manage workloads, she suggests students "get organized."
"There's so much mental clutter up there when you're disorganized... sitting down and planning out their study schedules can really help manage their time," she says.
Breaking assignments up can also make things easier to tackle.
"I know that heavy workloads can be stressful, but if you sit down and you break down that studying into smaller chunks, they're much more manageable."
If workloads are still too much, Kang encourages students to advocate for themselves.
"They should tell their teachers when a homework assignment just took too much time or if it was too difficult for them to do on their own," she says. "It's good to speak up and ask those questions. Respectfully, of course, because these are your teachers. But still, I think sometimes teachers themselves need this feedback from their students."
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Homework: No Proven Benefits
Why homework is a pointless and outdated habit.
This is an excerpt from Alfie Kohn's recently published book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. For one teacher's response to this excerpt, read In Defense of Homework: Is there Such a Thing as Too Much? .
It may surprise you, as it did me, to learn that no study has ever demonstrated any academic benefit to assigning homework before children are in high school. In fact, even in high school, the association between homework and achievement is weak -- and the data don't show that homework is responsible for higher achievement. (Correlation doesn't imply causation.)
Finally, there isn't a shred of evidence to support the folk wisdom that homework provides nonacademic benefits at any age -- for example, that it builds character, promotes self-discipline, or teaches good work habits. We're all familiar with the downside of homework: the frustration and exhaustion, the family conflict, time lost for other activities, and possible diminution of children's interest in learning. But the stubborn belief that all of this must be worth it, that the gain must outweigh the pain, relies on faith rather than evidence.
So why does homework continue to be assigned and accepted? Possible reasons include a lack of respect for research, a lack of respect for children (implicit in a determination to keep them busy after school), a lack of understanding about the nature of learning (implicit in the emphasis on practicing skills and the assertion that homework "reinforces" school lessons), or the top-down pressures to teach more stuff faster in order to pump up test scores so we can chant "We're number one!"
All of these explanations are plausible, but I think there's also something else responsible for our continuing to feed children this latter-day cod-liver oil. We don't ask challenging questions about homework because we don't ask challenging questions about most things. Too many of us sound like Robert Frost's neighbor, the man who "will not go behind his father's saying." Too many of us, when pressed about some habit or belief we've adopted, are apt to reply, "Well, that's just the way I was raised" -- as if it were impossible to critically examine the values one was taught. Too many of us, including some who work in the field of education, seem to have lost our capacity to be outraged by the outrageous; when handed foolish and destructive mandates, we respond by asking for guidance on how best to carry them out.
Passivity is a habit acquired early. From our first days in school we are carefully instructed in what has been called the "hidden curriculum": how to do what one is told and stay out of trouble. There are rewards, both tangible and symbolic, for those who behave properly and penalties for those who don't. As students, we're trained to sit still, listen to what the teacher says, run our highlighters across whatever words in the book we'll be required to commit to memory. Pretty soon, we become less likely to ask (or even wonder) whether what we're being taught really makes sense. We just want to know whether it's going to be on the test.
When we find ourselves unhappy with some practice or policy, we're encouraged to focus on incidental aspects of what's going on, to ask questions about the details of implementation -- how something will get done, or by whom, or on what schedule -- but not whether it should be done at all. The more that we attend to secondary concerns, the more the primary issues -- the overarching structures and underlying premises -- are strengthened. We're led to avoid the radical questions -- and I use that adjective in its original sense: Radical comes from the Latin word for "root." It's partly because we spend our time worrying about the tendrils that the weed continues to grow. Noam Chomsky put it this way: "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum -- even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate."
Parents have already been conditioned to accept most of what is done to their children at school, for example, and so their critical energies are confined to the periphery. Sometimes I entertain myself by speculating about how ingrained this pattern really is. If a school administrator were to announce that, starting next week, students will be made to stand outside in the rain and memorize the phone book, I suspect we parents would promptly speak up . . . to ask whether the Yellow Pages will be included. Or perhaps we'd want to know how much of their grade this activity will count for. One of the more outspoken moms might even demand to know whether her child will be permitted to wear a raincoat.
Our education system, meanwhile, is busily avoiding important topics in its own right. For every question that's asked in this field, there are other, more vital questions that are never raised. Educators weigh different techniques of "behavior management" but rarely examine the imperative to focus on behavior -- that is, observable actions -- rather than on reasons and needs and the children who have them. Teachers think about what classroom rules they ought to introduce but are unlikely to ask why they're doing so unilaterally, why students aren't participating in such decisions. It's probably not a coincidence that most schools of education require prospective teachers to take a course called Methods, but there is no course called Goals.
And so we return to the question of homework. Parents anxiously grill teachers about their policies on this topic, but they mostly ask about the details of the assignments their children will be made to do. If homework is a given, it's certainly understandable that one would want to make sure it's being done "correctly." But this begs the question of whether, and why, it should be a given. The willingness not to ask provides another explanation for how a practice can persist even if it hurts more than helps.
For their part, teachers regularly witness how many children are made miserable by homework and how many resist doing it. Some respond with sympathy and respect. Others reach for bribes and threats to compel students to turn in the assignments; indeed, they may insist these inducements are necessary: "If the kids weren't being graded, they'd never do it!" Even if true, this is less an argument for grades and other coercive tactics than an invitation to reconsider the value of those assignments. Or so one might think. However, teachers had to do homework when they were students, and they've likely been expected to give it at every school where they've worked. The idea that homework must be assigned is the premise, not the conclusion -- and it's a premise that's rarely examined by educators.
Unlike parents and teachers, scholars are a step removed from the classroom and therefore have the luxury of pursuing potentially uncomfortable areas of investigation. But few do. Instead, they are more likely to ask, "How much time should students spend on homework?" or "Which strategies will succeed in improving homework completion rates?," which is simply assumed to be desirable.
Policy groups, too, are more likely to act as cheerleaders than as thoughtful critics. The major document on the subject issued jointly by the National PTA and the National Education Association, for example, concedes that children often complain about homework, but never considers the possibility that their complaints may be justified. Parents are exhorted to "show your children that you think homework is important" -- regardless of whether it is, or even whether one really believes this is true -- and to praise them for compliance.
Health professionals, meanwhile, have begun raising concerns about the weight of children's backpacks and then recommending . . . exercises to strengthen their backs! This was also the tack taken by People magazine: An article about families struggling to cope with excessive homework was accompanied by a sidebar that offered some "ways to minimize the strain on young backs" -- for example, "pick a [back]pack with padded shoulder straps."
The People article reminds us that the popular press does occasionally -- cyclically -- take note of how much homework children have to do, and how varied and virulent are its effects. But such inquiries are rarely penetrating and their conclusions almost never rock the boat. Time magazine published a cover essay in 2003 entitled "The Homework Ate My Family." It opened with affecting and even alarming stories of homework's harms. Several pages later, however, it closed with a finger-wagging declaration that "both parents and students must be willing to embrace the 'work' component of homework -- to recognize the quiet satisfaction that comes from practice and drill." Likewise, an essay on the Family Education Network's Web site: "Yes, homework is sometimes dull, or too easy, or too difficult. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be taken seriously." (One wonders what would have to be true before we'd be justified in not taking something seriously.)
Nor, apparently, are these questions seen as appropriate by most medical and mental health professionals. When a child resists doing homework -- or complying with other demands -- their job is to get the child back on track. Very rarely is there any inquiry into the value of the homework or the reasonableness of the demands.
Sometimes parents are invited to talk to teachers about homework -- providing that their concerns are "appropriate." The same is true of formal opportunities for offering feedback. A list of sample survey questions offered to principals by the central office in one Colorado school district is typical. Parents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the following statements: "My child understands how to do his/her homework"; "Teachers at this school give me useful suggestions about how to help my child with schoolwork"; "Homework assignments allow me to see what my student is being taught and how he/she is learning"; and "The amount of homework my child receives is (choose one): too much/just right/too little."
The most striking feature of such a list is what isn't on it. Such a questionnaire seems to have been designed to illustrate Chomsky's point about encouraging lively discussion within a narrow spectrum of acceptable opinion, the better to reinforce the key presuppositions of the system. Parents' feedback is earnestly sought -- on these questions only. So, too, for the popular articles that criticize homework, or the parents who speak out: The focus is generally limited to how much is being assigned. I'm sympathetic to this concern, but I'm more struck by how it misses much of what matters. We sometimes forget that not everything that's destructive when done to excess is innocuous when done in moderation. Sometimes the problem is with what's being done, or at least the way it's being done, rather than just with how much of it is being done.
The more we are invited to think in Goldilocks terms (too much, too little, or just right?), the less likely we become to step back and ask the questions that count: What reason is there to think that any quantity of the kind of homework our kids are getting is really worth doing? What evidence exists to show that daily homework, regardless of its nature, is necessary for children to become better thinkers? Why did the students have no chance to participate in deciding which of their assignments ought to be taken home?
And: What if there was no homework at all?
Education | Your kid’s right: Homework is pointless….
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Education | trump wins south carolina, easily beating haley in her home state and closing in on gop nomination, education | your kid’s right: homework is pointless. here’s what you should be doing instead.
We live, for the most part, fairly similar lives to our next-door neighbors. Both households have two working parents, two kids and an appreciation for the way California weather affords them unscripted, outdoor play year-round.
We are all busier than we want to be, but our neighbors have an extra, unnecessary hurdle that makes life more difficult.
Next door, the kids have homework. This involves 30 minutes of child-wrangling and patience-testing five days a week, pressure-cooking the little downtime they have together as a family.
Meanwhile, our family takes that time to enjoy our kids. No efficiency, no productivity, no agenda; just parents and children hanging out.
There’s been a lot of research and debate on the academic value of homework for school-aged children. The results, although somewhat mixed, generally conclude that homework provides no advantage for kids in elementary grades. As children get older, the potential benefits of homework grow, but less than you probably think.
Missing from the homework conversation is how no-homework policies benefit the whole family — parents and caregivers included.
School schedules and cultures were created for a different time, when moms were expected to be available to children during non-school hours. But today, the majority of families have either dual-working or single parents. Reconfiguring the education system to adapt to this current reality is a big project. We need to accommodate for the fact that nobody’s home to watch kids after school and during holiday breaks, or to spend four hours building a “Bridge to Terabithia” diorama on a Thursday afternoon.
The remedy to this would likely involve an overhaul of our paid leave and vacation policies, as well as modifications to our daily and yearly school schedules. This is not a quick fix.
Ending homework for elementary school-aged kids is, on the other hand, relatively easy. We just have to stop doing it.
We need to do less
Feeling overwhelmed is a defining trait of today’s parents and caregivers. We have too much to do, our kids have too much to do, and leisure and happiness are the prices we pay for it.
One recent survey of 2,000 parents commissioned by Crayola Experience found that more than half of parents feel they are too busy to enjoy the fun of parenting. A similar number told Pew Research Center they struggle to balance the responsibilities of home with the responsibilities of a family. We feel guilty, and we feel tired. We lack the energy to make it through the week, let alone figure out how to get ourselves out of this mess.
When every minute is accounted for, sometimes two or three times over, a reprieve from something as seemingly minor as homework can make a big difference.
“The time families have together is really short; it is much shorter than what people would like. And when you are together everyone is fried,” said Brigid Schulte, author of “ Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time ” and director of the Better Life Lab . “If you are stressed and cranky, and your kid has been in aftercare too long, and then you get home and have to force them to do their homework, it removes the sense that home is a supportive, loving place where you can connect.”
Schulte encourages parents and caregivers to resist homework. This might include fighting for no-homework policies at their children’s schools, and pushing back against unrealistic homework assignments. Reach out to a teacher and tell them why a particular assignment is burdensome or causing unnecessary stress and, if this is the case, why your child won’t be able to meet the teacher’s expectations, she suggested.
“The most important thing is to look for small wins right now,” she said, referring to the battle against busyness. Gaining roughly 30 minutes a night, or two-plus hours a week, has the potential to make a dramatic difference in family well-being, giving us an opportunity to remember why exactly we had children in the first place.
Teach your children, and yourself, to do less
It can feel scary to slow down. Rising income inequality has turned parenting into a competitive sport. It’s a winner-takes-all world and we want our kids to be the winners — unhappy, stressed-out winners.
There is so much out there telling your children they need to do more and be more, and that whatever they think is enough is most definitely not enough. This means that parents and caregivers provide what is likely kids’ only shot at learning about leisure and togetherness. The overwhelming message from decades of research has found these are the main ingredients to happiness and well-being.
Getting rid of homework is a relatively simple way to combat this high-stakes problem. It gives parents and caregivers the opportunity to teach their children these essential — albeit systematically ignored and undervalued — skills.
“Kids should have a chance to just be kids and do things they enjoy, particularly after spending six hours a day in school,” said Alfie Kohn, author of “ The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing .” “After all, we adults need time just to chill out; it’s absurd to insist that children must be engaged in constructive activities right up until their heads hit the pillow.”
This isn’t to say that the downtime has to be mindless. Kohn suggests that parents and caregivers can, with their kids, cook, play board games, read or watch TV and then discuss what they read or watched. (Ideally, it’s something parents would enjoy as well.) All of these activities require logic or analytical skills, and can help uncover kids’ passions, as well as areas in which they might be struggling and need additional help.
These activities can also help kids build the kind of skills we associate with homework, said Josh Cline, a public school teacher in Oakland, California. Perseverance and stamina, for example, are required to sit through a story and then discuss it, to complete a batch of brownies or play a game of checkers or chess. “It’s better to grow those skills doing things kids find interesting than forcing them to slog through worksheets,” he said. That said, if worksheets are your kid’s thing, Cline said to give them a shot — as long as it is clear they have a choice.
But ultimately, the best replacement for homework is, simply, a parent or caregiver’s attention.
“Spend time with them and see them as people. At school, they operate as a herd, and as hard as I try as a teacher, I can’t give them all the attention they deserve,” Cline said. “At home they should be seen as the unique, individual, interesting and brilliant people they are.”
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