The Great American Homework Battle

* Just a quick Hacking your Education update: one of the tips Dale Stephens suggests in Hacking your Education is reaching out to an expert. I recently reached out to Denise Clarke Pope, a Stanford professor, author of a Overloaded and Underprepared and Doing School: How we are creating a generation of stressed out, materialistic and miseducated children, and one of the founders of Challenge Success, an organization that partners with schools and families to provide kids with the academic, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed now and in the future.


And…….. She actually got back to me! I just wanted to chat about her experience and research on revolutionizing education in order be more focused on the “whole child.” She said she’d be happy to meet me for coffee. Unfortunately, she wasn’t back in her office at Stanford until after I left on my journey to Maine. BUT, in our various email correspondences, she introduced me to a colleague of hers from Challenge Success who is also moving to Portland, Maine. So now the plan is to get together with him once we’re both settled.


Okay, so the Great American Homework Debate.

math fractions

I’ve been coming across a lot of articles/entire books lately on homework and whether or not it’s A) important B) effective and C) good for students & families.

The beliefs on this topic are pretty polarizing and people tend to get pretty heated about it. Some educators believe that homework should be assigned nightly. Others believe that homework should only be assigned when it’s meaningful and necessary. And still others believe that there should be no homework assigned at all.

Most of the evidence indicates that homework, at least for elementary school students, is ineffective. Research shows that it does not improve their grades, their intelligence or their performance in school. As students transition into middle school and high school, small amounts of homework are valuable only if they are manageable and well thought out assignments.

But even with the well documented evidence, many arguments for, and questions about, homework remain. For example:

  • Homework keeps kids out of trouble after school
  • If all the other kids are doing homework, my child will get left behind
  • Homework is a good opportunity for parents to spend time with and help their children
  • If work isn’t completed in class, after school is a good alternative
  • Etc, etc, etc.

There are counter points to all of the above arguments. I have to say that many of the anti-homework arguments I’ve come across are incredibly compelling. I am sold on the “no homework” thing and I’ve happily provided some resources in the Resources section that have guided me to this perspective, including The Case Against Homework. This book is written by two women who present a solid argument for less homework based on research, interviews and their own experience as parents.  That being said, I also know that a lot of teachers are either required by their schools or districts to give certain amounts of homework or urged to assign homework by parents who think that without it, their children will fall behind. Again, this is a touchy subject!

Jo Boaler tackles the great homework debate in Mathematical Mindset by providing some very practical examples of how to incorporate math skills practice or reflection into kids everyday after school routine. To round out my commentary on Mathematical Mindsets, I’d like to share a few of her ideas on making homework more effective and less likely to make you (parent) or your children want to scream HELP! and ask for your evenings back.

Here are three examples:

1. “Finding math in real life” assignments. This can fit into any mathematical concept and can often be quite interesting and even fun for students. Let’s say you’re studying Area. Students might be asked to measure their backyard or kitchen, find the area and then explore how many different ways there are of creating that area using different sets of numbers. Sort like this:


This example also allows students to discuss and share their findings the next day in class.

2. Math reflection sheet. Students are given a few questions each night (or a few times a week) and asked to reflect on their successes or challenges in math. The questions can vary but may look something like this:

  • What strategies did you use to solve your equations? (pictures, graphs, cubes, number equations, math talks, etc)
  •        What was one challenge that you faced and how did you overcome it?

3. Have students create one or two problems similar to a problem that they solved in class, except a little more difficult. They can either solve these problems themselves or swap problems with another student the next day as a class starter activity.

These examples of meaningful homework are specific to math, but #2, the reflection sheet, can be cross curricular. Reflection questions get students thinking about their thinking and learning, which in turn helps them with critical thinking and verbal explanation skills.

For all of the teachers and parents out there, what are your thoughts on homework? Feel free to share any memorable, meaningful homework assignments that you’ve given or that your child has received.

Up next: My tentative career plan for when I arrive in Portland, Maine, and the steps I’m taking to set myself up for success.

-Mrs. Sanford

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