It seems the research is always changing in regards to homework. It shifts from necessary, to unnecessary, to relevant, to irrelevant. Therefore, a lot of teachers are caught trying to figure it out on their own. In my first year of teaching, I was at a secondary school located in the foothills of Appalachia. It was a farming community, rural, with a lot of families living along the poverty line. Students were excused from school at the beginning of hunting season or to show off their farm animals in local pageants. It was early on that I was confronted about my homework policy. A parent had taken issue with me in the fact that I was assigning homework to his son in the first place, not about the amount or the difficulty. This parent essentially laid it out that as soon as the bus drops his son off from school, he is put to work until late at night. His son was an important part of running the farm and my homework assignments were interfering.
It was a tough conversation to have. I promise. As the year progressed, I found out that a lot of my students also worked evening shifts at local fast food restaurants or gas stations. As a good percentage of my students weren’t turning in their work, it became clear I had to reevaluate my homework policy. For me, it didn’t sit well that their grades were suffering from the zeros I was putting in the grade book for not turning in homework.
I ended up altering my policy and extended deadlines for work to be turned in. However, let’s take a minute to examine some things that you may want to keep in mind when assigning homework, that is, if you subscribe to the idea that homework has a place in today’s classroom. I know some teachers that don’t.
Check for understanding
That’s the basic premise behind homework assignments. Don’t assign new content to be learned by the student. I’m not saying your students can’t be independent learners. This is a homework assignment so just try to keep material that you already covered fresh in their minds.
Keep it short
Assign something they can accomplish in twenty or thirty minutes. They just spent all day in school. We, as teachers, often merge our work with our personal time. Our work day doesn’t stop with the bell. But for our students it does. Consider that they have extra-curricular activities, other classes’ homework, a part time job, or other obligations to devote their personal time to.
Projects are in a different category. Assigning a project in which the deadline is days or even over a week in some cases, changes the rules. With a deadline that is announced to the class, it really is up to the student to manage their time efficiently. I would hesitate to assign additional homework assignments during that period.
Students will cheat
If your homework assignments are simple worksheets with Q&A, a graphic organizer, etc. then your students are going to cheat. They’ll find a time to copy off their friends be it at lunch, homeroom, before the bell rings, or even during the class before yours. I’m not necessarily putting down worksheets. But try to assign something that is authentic to the students. Writing assignments, something that the students have to answer in which expresses an opinion, or something where answers vary from student to student would help battle the copying that goes on.
Unless there is a school wide policy, however you implement homework in your classes is up to you. Every once in awhile I’ll pull a student aside and get their opinion. Is it too much? Too difficult? Beneficial? And in a selfish way, I also think to myself the grading time it will take with these assignments. The less we have to stay up all night grading, the better.