Mark Barnes

TEAC

South Euclid, OH

Interests: 21st Century Learning,...

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Five Reasons I don't Assign Homework

The homework debate is one that has permeated education for many decades, and it shows no signs of slowing. Homework proponents perplex me, because the research is so overwhelmingly against homework's effectiveness.

After much consideration and my own exhaustive research, I stopped assigning homework a few years ago. Homework simply doesn't fit into a Results Only Learning Environment.

Although I could speak endlessly on the negatives of homework, I'll get right to the top five reasons I don't assign homework, in reverse order.

5 -- Virtually all homework involves rote memory practice, which is always a waste of time. In the age of the Smartphone, who needs to remember by rote?

4 -- Homework has nothing to do with teaching responsibility (HW advocates love this claim). Not only is there not one reliable study to prove that homework builds responsible children, based purely on what we know about responsibility, the assertion is illogical. Responsibility implies autonomy, and homework offers none of this. Students are told what to do, when to do it, and when it must be returned. Where does responsibility come into play?

3 -- Homework impinges upon a student's time with family and on other, more valuable, activities -- like play. As Alfie Kohn states in The Homework Myth, why should children be asked to work a second shift? It's unconscionable to send children to work for nearly eight hours a day, then have them go home and work for 2-5 more hours; we don't live in 19th century London.

2 -- I can teach the material in the time I'm with my students in the classroom. The endless cry of "I can't teach all of the standards without assigning homework" is a tired excuse used to hide ineffective methods. Creating engaging activities in place of lecture and worksheets, along with less testing allows teachers to cover more material in class and eliminates the need for homework.

1 -- Students hate homework. I want to help  my students develop a thirst for learning. I want them to read for enjoyment and exploration. I want them to extend their learning when they choose, because they are interested in what we do in class. If I force them to do activities that they don't choose, they will hate them. If I penalize them for not completing something they see as valueless, they not only don't learn, they get a bad grade and hate learning even more.

My colleagues often attempt to persuade me that homework is an integral part of teaching and learning. I'm simply  not buying. So, what's your take on the debate? 

Mark's new book, Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom is available in the ASCD bookstore here.



Follow me on Twitter, where we can continue the conversation.

13 Comments

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Kyle_Rose

30 Jul 2014, 07:14 AM

Being a teacher, I never use the traditional method of teaching. Instead I focus on the modern way of teaching students by making them to think and act outside the box. the conventional home work habit has to be changed as I am sure no single student will do it themselves.

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Dina_Rubakha

12 Jul 2013, 10:17 AM

Mark, I hated homework my entire youth; I probably still hate it today, but I never minded reading assignments. This may be a bias since I am a langauge educator, but how does one not assign reading for the subsequenct class session if you wish to discuss, analyze, and manipulate the content. It is hard when none of the students know it. I completely agree that I prefer to read for passion and interest and not all school texts fit this framework, but do we let the kids pick the books? I am okay with this, or do we change the reading curriculum entirely? All short stories in class? Have them bring selected articles and make copies? Allow them to weekly change what we are reading based on choices and have them teach classmates with the teacher facilitating? Do we crop all classic literature? Thoughts anyone?

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Mark_Barnes

12 Jul 2013, 03:37 PM

Hey Dina, Thanks for your insightful questions. I am a huge fan of independent reading. I encouraged my students to read at home nightly. The key is I never told them what to read. We did a lot of informal book chats about what they were reading, which they loved. I'm not a fan of short stories, not that there aren't some great ones, but I have found that students would prefer to read books or articles online. Some classics are excellent, but lots of kids hate Great Gatsby and won't read it no matter what. I still say provide as much in-class reading time as possible. If you get kids involved in a story in class, they will be more likely to take it home and read more of it. Just try to remain clear of the old "you have to read X pages by tomorrow for a quiz." This will discourage reading for many. Thanks again for chiming in on this stimulating debate.

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Hank_Ro

05 Dec 2012, 06:56 PM

What as boatload of c**p.  "Students dont like it" is not a good reason for anything.  Have you never heard the adage of "practice makes one perfect!"  Homework is provided so that students can practice what they learnt in school and get better at it.  Imagine if the ball coach showed you how to throw a curve ball in school, and you never went home and practiced it!  I bet 100 bucks, you would not be able to throw that curve ball at gametime. Not assigining homework is a just the lazy teacher's way of avoiding grading.

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Mark_Barnes

05 Dec 2012, 07:11 PM

Hank, I bet if I practiced that curve ball for an hour every day in baseball practice, I'd have it breaking two feet in a month. I might want to practice it at home, but I shouldn't be made to do so, in lieu of other fun activities and family time. There is not a shred of solid research to support HW practice leading to achievement. There is, however, a mountain of research against it. Actually, assigning homework in order to have something to grade is one of the worst practices in education -- one perpetuated by teachers who don't understand how to inspire learning in their classroom. By the way, if you know my work, you might also know that I'm not a fan of grades either. Thanks for commenting.

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Lynn_Venish

01 Oct 2012, 08:44 AM

Hi Mark, I agree with your opinion about homework as I think there are so many more valuable ways for students to spend their time after school, like pursuing an interest or a sport or just spending time with family. However, many parents want homework for their children and many schools insist on a homework policy. I guess then, the questions are: what kinds of homework tasks would be most beneficial and meaningful to our students? How much homework do we set and how often? At what level of challenge?

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Mark_Barnes

01 Oct 2012, 07:18 PM

Hi Lynn, You bring up some excellent points. Regarding parents who want homework, I've dealt with this numerous times, and I welcome the opportunity to educate them on the deleterious effects of homework. At conferences, I have plenty of research available about the negative impact of homework and of grades. I explain to parents that the best thing they can do, if they want their children improving themselves at home, is to have them read. Encourage independent, free-choice reading -- the best teacher any student can have. If schools are bent on homework, I would recommend a school-wide policy of assigning only tasks that require thinking, rather than rote memory, and the homework should never be graded. If homework has to be assigned, it should something that sends students on fun discovery missions -- activities that can spark in-class discussions the next day. Again, only if we are setting policy that favors homework (it's still best to simply eliminate it), it should be no more than three days weekly and all HW combined should never take more than 30 to 40 minutes. Thanks for commenting on this subject that I'm always eager to discuss.

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Casey_Mayfield

31 Aug 2012, 07:04 AM

Hi, Mark.

The idea has been debated among a couple of my colleagues.  Can you answer a few of the questions that keep coming up that we don't know how to answer?  

1.  For HS math, what goes into the grade book if no homework is given?  

2.  For HS math, how do parents respond to the idea?

I'm not a math teacher, I teach HS ELA and also psychology.  But, my math colleagues wanted someone to find the answers to these questions, so I volunteered to contact you.  :) 

We appreciate any other details you can share.  

Sincerely, Casey (@mayfieldc)

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Mark_Barnes

31 Aug 2012, 05:29 PM

Hey Casey, Thanks so much for your response and your questions. Oh, and for representing your other teachers. My answer about the grade book is one that opens an entire different can of worms. I would say don't put a grade on anything. (See my post, Five Reasons I don't Give Grades.) Grading homework is a crutch for teachers who need something to fill a grade book. It's better to get the work done in class. If you must assign something, make it creative and evaluate it in class without any scores. I don't teach math, so it's hard to say how parents will respond. I have always "coached" my parents from the beginning of the year that homework is unnecessary. I share the research with them, and I tell them that their children will be much better served if they use free time to read independently. Reading is the best teacher, period!. Does that mean we're not necessary? No. But the research is overwhelming. Remember, homework is popular, because it's been around for so long. The best way to transition away from it is to stop giving it and to explain to students and parents that there are better ways to learn. Hope this helps.

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Mike_Anderson

04 Sep 2012, 08:44 AM

I couldn't agree more. Not only is homework grading a crutch for some, but it also often belies an underlying belief: Kids need to be bribed to do work. Too often, kids are told that work (homework in particular) is being graded to help make them care about the work. If we think kids need to be bribed to care about their work, maybe we should create work that's engaging enough that kids will want to do it. As a parent of a middle school student, I was thrilled when no homework came home last week. I'd be equally thrilled if it didn't come home for the rest of the year. Thanks for the lively discussion!

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Kelli_Nelson

06 Nov 2012, 12:36 PM

If HS teachers still aren't convinced, have them think back to their college days. They most likely were never graded on homework...it was simply an expectation that if you had to practice the skills, you did.

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Mike_Anderson

23 Feb 2012, 03:20 PM

Here's another reason. Homework takes time away from more important work that we can be doing as teachers. I know too many teachers who spend over an hour a night assessing homework. That's time that could be spent planning more creative and engaging lessons or making more positive connections with families (or any number of other things). Freeing ourselves from the bburden of homework could also give us more time to rest, relax, and rejuvinate so we're ready to face the next day with positive energy!

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Mark_Barnes

23 Feb 2012, 04:58 PM

Mike, I couldn't agree more, and I appreciate you adding this insight. I have often told colleagues who are bogged down with grading that the first thing they should do is stop assigning homework and other useless activities. More time to rejuvenate and contemplate engaging lessons, in-class activities and ongoing projects will eliminate the stress of scoring HW. Thanks again for your contribution.

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Erika_GB

22 Feb 2012, 08:42 PM

How do you go about international exams training without HW?

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Mark_Barnes

23 Feb 2012, 08:41 AM

We have state-mandated standardized tests each year. I never feel the need to teach to the test. In fact, I rarely mention it. This is the problem with testing, in general. Teaching students how to "handle" a test is fundamentally wrong. We should guide students to information and teach them how to learn it, how to delve into it, how to connect it to other valuable information. If we do this, students will pass all tests, because they'll be good learners.

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Dina_Rubakha

12 Jul 2013, 10:12 AM

Mark, I agree with your perspective on guiding students into being good learners. I think there is a huge misconception, especially over the last number of years, that if we teach them the test, they will succeed in passing it. The horror of it is uncanny because good leraners can pass the test, succeed in school, go to college if they choose and find a job. Why force a rote sequence of taking one exam and not understanding the value of any of it. I feel this limits students thinking, shuts down their interest and genuinely harms education.

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Peter_Germroth

22 Feb 2012, 03:39 PM

1. Mark says: virtually all homework is rote memory practice and claims that we do not need rote memorization. oh, really? First off, homework consists often of practicing skills, like writing, analyzing language, praticing mathematical skills, reading information to reinforce content discussed or to add another viewpoint. Second, I beg to differ about not needing rote memory. You want your surgeon to consult Siri or the latest dictionary when having you in the ER or on the operating table? You want he police officer  hauling out the manual on the correct use of different weapons, the driver stop in the road to ascertain the rules of right-of-way?? Of course we need rote memorization. In order to connect the dots you got to know the dots.  2. His second point is that homework has nothing to do with teaching responsibility. Perhaps, in most cases it has nothing to do with that. But who said that it should? 3. His third argument hat homework impinges on that valuable family and play time is -well - ridiculous. So instead of practicing skills and better getting prepared for life in a complex society etc we should rather have them play another round of Nintedo or watch TV. What an insanity. 4. Mark claims that he can teach the matterial in his classroom. No, sir, you cannot teach and have them learn it and master it in class unless your class lasts most of the day every day. Schoolperiods are short and most classes have more than say 10 students with different abilities and skill levels. Between introducing new material and skills, reinforcing them and ascertaining the level of mastery and recall of prior skills there is not enough time. Also, students should have time to reflect and practice on their own. Educational research shows that materail that is encountered in different ways and settings and practiced will be learned, recalled and mastered better. Homework is an important component of that. Finally then Mark's fifth arument, which he says is the most important: Students hate homework. Oh, really. Well, let's say "too bad". They also hate chores, work, mostly math, grammar and a lot of other pesky things we ask them to do. Hey, many of us adults hate getting up and going to work. So let's all stop that and just do what we like. How ridiculous is that!  Basically, this is a list of nothing. 

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Mark_Barnes

22 Feb 2012, 04:18 PM

Peter, you sound like many of my colleagues, who have been taught to lecture, give worksheets, assign homework, give tests, watch half the class fail, then move on. These are the crutches that entry-level teachers are given and rely on throughout their careers, because doing it any other way is simply too difficult. I wasn't just spouting off, in my post. I taught the way you and other traditionalists do for 15 years, before transforming my class into something better, based on years of experience, trial and error and exhaustive research into what does and doesn't work. I teach 8th graders, not surgeons, and I care about them as more than receptacles for me to use to deposit information. I also value their opinions and, yes, I want them to love learning. Also, I'm guessing if you ask your surgeon if she knows how to take out your appendix, because she read it in a book, she'll quickly tell you she learned it by doing it. With regard to your last comment, I would be ashamed of myself as an educator, if my response to this post was to say, "too bad" to my students. I care far too much about them to be so dismissive.

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Mark_Barnes

23 Feb 2012, 11:55 AM

Peter, I'm guessing a surgeon would tell you she learned how to remove an appendix while doing it -- not from memorizing a picture of it being done in a book. Although my children do spend time playing games, which brings joy to their lives, we spend time together reading, talking, sharing stories about our day, shopping, dining out, visiting family and other important activities -- all far more important than the fill-in-the-blank worksheets they bring home nightly. Because of the results-only learning style I use, I absolutely can get mastery learning from my students without assigning homework. This is not to say my students don't work outside of class. They choose to work on the year-long projects we complete -- engaging, hands-on, interactive projects that create a desire in students to work when they choose. Finally, I think the "too bad" for kids mentality that traditional teachers have is the problem in education today. It only makes the crutches they use for ineffective teaching seem okay.

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Bernard_Kerrins

28 Feb 2012, 04:52 AM

Peter, If you are going to be so negative about every one of the points raised, at least proof read your work for correct spelling and punctuation. It really destroys the credibility of what you are putting forward. You seem to be clinging to the traditional 17th century model of teaching that many teachers cannot let go of that does not prepare the children adequately for the 21st century.

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