The Tug of War Over Homework

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Happy holiday season!

I know that opening this newsletter may already feel like homework, but I thought this would be a wonderful time during the winter break to unwind and reflect on this issue. Dylan William once said, “Most homework teachers set is crap.” Yet, teachers use homework to establish a level of rigor and expectation that students need to demonstrate in order to be successful.

This newsletter, I invite you into the court of public dialogue to share your thinking about why homework matters and what rules/guideposts we can co-create together to make the design, communication, and review of the assignments more meaningful.

This newsletter was triggered by an article I came across in the Wall Street Journal last week with a brazen headline: Down With Homework and featured a school district in Connecticut I have been consulting with on re-imagining learning in their middle schools. The debate in the article centered around two claims:

Homework is co-opting family time due to length and stress-level.
Homework is helpful in solidifying knowledge when done in a developmentally appropriate manner.

These claims line up with my teaching experience as well as the parent of a 9th grader and 12th grader in high school. The question is: does the research help clarify the issue?

Let’s start with my reading list as I ventured into this territory. By the way, what resources would you add for others to read? Please grow our thinking and send along to me.

  • Professor Susan Hallam‘s report (2006) on research articulating advantages and disadvantages of homework: Read the report
  • Linda Darling Hammond and Olivia Ifill-Lynch (2006) “If They’d Only Do Their Own Work” on how innovative urban schools tackled the homework challenge: See the resource
  • Cathy Vatterott‘s Five Hallmarks of Good Homework (2010) — purposeful, efficient, personalized, doable, and inviting: See the resource
  • Autumn Hill’s blog post (2017) in EdSurge “Is Homework Compatible with Personalized Learning” describes how she grew the idea of personalizing homework in her Chemistry classroom: Read the blog post
  • Helen Silvester‘s article in the Guardian (2017) “Is Homework With the Hassle?” on neuroscience of homework: Read the article
  • Kristen Weir‘s article in APA (2017) “Is Homework a Necessary Evil?” comparing quantity vs. quality of assignments: Read the article

So the short answer is … homework has value given some key parameters. Which leads me to an hour-long thought-provoking conversation with my friend and colleague Mike Anderson debating the merits of whether contemporary learning should dial back the amount of — or the type of — homework assignments.

He was gracious enough to permit us to cross-post a blog Uncle Curmudgeon: Stop Giving Homework. After reflecting on the post, I drafted In Defense of Meaningful Homework where I imagined several examples of how homework continues to have value. This reminded me of a 10th grader in Virginia who wrote a blog post entitled Imagining Homework that Helps to clarify what assignments matter to him. The last post is a reflection tool How to Guide Personalized Homework with a series of prompts for teachers who want to grow this as part of their practice.

Hopefully this continues to add more facets to the conversation and invite you to join in:

  • What have you seen that works?
  • To what extent does developing policy strengthen or divide school communities?
  • Are there other parameters that you have found to be important?
  • Is there a distinction between practice for fluency vs. other types of homework?
  • What do students say about homework that is meaningful to them?

Looking forward to hearing from you and will continue this conversation in the New Year.

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