OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom® Blog: Homework: Changing the Paradigm of a Loved and Hated Practice

Homework has been a practice used by educators since the beginning of time. There has been a growing debate on whether is it an effective practice or just a struggle for power and control. As a teacher, I was told by my students that their parents requested me to be their teacher because I was known through the parent vine as the teacher who gave “homework” only to surprise my students that I didn’t. Once I met with parents I would explicitly tell them that my expectation was for their children not to work more than 30 minutes on their homework during the week and I would not give homework on weekends. I encouraged them to have their child close up the books and send me a note if they found they were spending more time than that. This would give me such good information as to who was having trouble with the concept they were practicing. I also always let children get started in class on their, what I called “At-Home Extended Learning”, so that if there were any questions, they could touch base with me before leaving for the day. I always wanted to make sure if I was going to ask kids to work at home on school work they were capable of being successful and always made sure that it was meaningful and purposeful and not just busy work.

As a parent of two children, I began to see the purpose of homework very differently. For my one child who had a learning disability, homework was a continuation of struggle and frustration that was part of his every day experience in the classroom. I did enjoy reading together as a parent but word searches, crack the codes dittos and other busy work homework was so unnecessary and not what he needed.  Though it was important for him to learn to have a work ethic and get work done on time, I sometimes questioned the purpose of some of the assignments that appeared to me just busy work. Thankfully, his frustrations in school didn’t hold him back from getting a B.S. degree this spring. Though I do wonder just how much the homework he did K-12 did to prepare him to be college and now career ready. For my other child, homework started to be an “I don’t know how to do this” type of thing. I remember very early on saying to her, “Well, that’s something your teacher needs to know, it’s not my job to know how your teacher taught it and expects you to practice it. You need to be assertive and ask when you don’t understand what to do with your homework.” This I discovered later on was the best way to respond to my child. After second grade I had very little to do with my children’s homework. They were independent of me and not dependent on me. As a teacher I would tell my parents the same when they came to my open house. I would invite them sit and read with their children and discuss the books we were reading. I also encouraged them to serve as an editor of their child’s writing and offer suggestions for improving it. The main role of a parent is to provide a place for their children to do their work and serve as a support, but not to “do” the work. All of us as teachers can relate to a project that was worked on at home that doesn’t quite match the developmental level of the child who was supposed to have created it. Also as a parent, I remember getting supplies for a project my child was working on and by the time we got the glitter, tri-fold board cardboard, and other art supplies, I was struck at the price tag for all the items and wondered how the children who lived in subsidized housing in our school district would fare doing this project, and how would they be graded? Would this homework be graded on socio-economics?

Through these personal experiences as a parent and a classroom teacher I have shifted my paradigm whether we like it or not, the American family is busier than ever. Children in this era have so many opportunities to be enriched after school and the American family is busy running from sporting events, music and drama events, and other activities after school. Teachers need to think before assigning homework to their students. Questions they need to ask: Is this “good and purposeful” homework or just busy work? Families today don’t need more things on their plate to keep them busy, they are busy enough.

Often during my Responsive Classroom® trainings I will get a question about what do you do if children don’t do their homework? I usually ask two questions:

  • Did you teach how to do the homework?
  • Is it good homework?

So often I find what Bruce Wellman, staff developer at Miravia, says to be true, “Often times we find in America, doing homework is about power and control (I will make you) or about teaching children the work ethic rather than about learning.”

This blog was actually inspired by a 2011 blog post by former Responsive Classroom Certified Teacher Mike Anderson entitled “Homework: An Unwelcome Guest” Read this Blog . In his blog Mike offers a few suggestions to have better success with homework:

  • Keep it brief
  • Make it relevant
  • Give some choice
  • Assign work that can be done independently
  • Keep it relaxed

In the November 2000 Center for Responsive Schools newsletter, co-founder Chip Wood also tackles the same question I often have to field during my RC trainings. Chip’s article is called, “HOMEWORK! Strategies to Overcome the Struggles and Help All Students” Read More of this Article . Chip offers the following tips:

  • Take the time to teach homework
  • It’s never too late to begin
  • Be flexible and individualize as needed
    • Be respectful of the child’s ability and developmental level
    • Relate the work of the classroom and, where possible, to the interest of individual students
    • Make it reasonable in amount and degree of difficulty
  • Involve Parents

In the November 2003 Center for Responsive Schools newsletter, co-founder Ruth Charney, April Bates and Toni D’Agostino respond to many questions about homework in their article, “Homework Blues? Helping children be successful with homework”. Read More of this Article

Other people outside of Responsive Classroom also offer ideas to assist in changing the paradigm. One person that I found helpful in helping children be successful in doing homework was Robert Marzano in his book Classroom Instruction that works. See book His findings also agree or support the Responsive Classroom practices. He outlines a few things:

  • The amount of homework assigned to students should be different from elementary to middle school to high school (Developmentally appropriate)
  • Parent involvement in homework should be kept at a minimum
  • The purpose of homework should be identified and articulated
    • Children should learn that the purpose of homework is for three reasons:
      • To Practice
      • To Prepare
      • To Elaborate on classroom learning
    • Vary the approaches to providing feedback


Another great book on homework that I usually warn teachers will knock their socks off and challenge their beliefs about homework is Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.

He challenges readers to think about homework and asks some thought provoking questions. He leads readers first to think about the truths about homework:

  • Are children missing out on their childhood?
  • Does homework truly improve learning?
  • Does homework provide nonacademic benefits?

He then looks closely at what studies show and disproves others. He shares some questions that aren’t being asked about homework and concludes by asking what I am also asking readers to do, to rethink homework and change the paradigm.

The final book I want to share is by an author that OCM BOCES in partnering with Oswego CiTi BOCES and the CNY Teacher Center to bring to our region on December 16th. Cathy Vattercott, the author of the book, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Dieverse Needs. See more about the book  She will be helping people in our region to think about best practices in the role of homework:

  • Designing quality homework tasks
  • Differentiating homework tasks
  • Deemphasizing grading homework
  • Improving homework completion

For more information regarding this FREE workshop on homework: Click Here

Many researchers do agree on one thing, that homework really should not be graded, because the question is, who are we truly grading? Mom or Dad? Another student? Socio-economics? We really don’t know. I remember Eric Jensen at a workshop I attended on “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” challenged the audience to think how giving a child a zero on homework really isn’t very motivating for a child to do better especially if the homework is being based on 100%. It would take this child to receive multiple 90%’s on future homework assignments to bail themselves out of just one zero. He also advocates that homework really should not be graded.

Homework will continue to be a struggle from how we used homework in the past and what research says is effective going forward. Being open-minded to the best practices will change the paradigm of the practice to be more about student learning rather than a struggle for power and control and work ethic.

Shaw_PatrickPatrick Shaw
OCM BOCES – Staff Development Specialist
Certified Responsive Classroom® Trainer by the Center for Responsive Schools (Developers of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning)

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