Stop Homework a resource created by Sara Bennett, co-author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.

Archive for Teachers Speak Out

A Math Teacher Speaks Out–Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week

Today’s guest blogger, Jeff Valure, a math teacher with 12 years’ experience, the last 10 at a public middle school north of New York City, is the father of two boys, one of whom just started nursery school. He’s upset to find out that his local kindergarten assigns homework four nights a week and is “dreading” next year. Jeff has started a petition for a homework-free week to coincide with TV Turn-Off Week at homeworkfree.org.

A Math Teacher Speaks Out – Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week
by Jeff Valure

The past few years I’ve been experimenting with my little guinea pigs – er – students. Three years ago I decided that so much time was spent on homework, checking it, reading answers, going over problems, that I would be able to get much more done in class if I did away with it. After all, I get a precious 46 minutes a day with these kids. Do I want to spend that time on bookkeeping or do I want to interact with them in a more educationally profound way? How often do you get to work with the guidance, aid, and encouragement of an “expert” in the field? Why waste that time?

Of course my students are used to homework, they barely grumble when they get an assignment over the weekend. The idea of not having homework is as scary as it is exciting. There are lots of uncertainties. Will they be able to keep up with the coursework? Will their grades be impacted? How will it affect their performance on standardized tests?

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Texas Math Teacher Makes Homework Optional and Only 5 of 45 Parents Request It

The other day, I was thrilled to receive an email from Jason, a 4th grade math and science teacher in Houston, Texas, who told me that, after doing a lot of research and thinking, he had decided to make homework optional in his class. This was quite a turnaround for the Jason who posted several comments on this blog last spring. (He also posts as ACP Texan.) In one of his early Comments in March, he wrote:

I teach 4th grade math and science. Much of what I teach is basic skills. As any athlete or musician will tell you, developing basic skills is about practice, practice, practice. If I assign my class to complete a sheet of two-digit by two-digit multiplication problems for homework, I do not care what their motivation for completing it is…. [T]the students will be better at the skill after having completed the work.

By May, he was really grappling with new ideas and he wrote in one of his Comments:

I want to assure you I do not have an ego attached to any of these ideas. I’m completely willing to throw away everything I’ve always thought and try to do better. I’m still new to this teaching thing so I was kind of operating on the, “just do what has always been done and make it through the day” approach. Now that I’m finishing up this year I think I’m ready to make some changes in the way I do things.

Jason told me that this summer he did more reading, including The Homework Myth, Understanding By Design, The Trouble With Boys, A Framework For Understanding Povertyand Getting To Got It. “As a result I asked my principal for permission to make homework optional for my students this year. To her credit, she had read Rethinking Homework and was very open to new ideas. Of my 45 students, only 5 parents responded asking that the homework continue to be sent home. Here is the letter that went home with my students at the beginning of this school year”:

Dear Parents,

I have asked permission from my administration, and have been granted the freedom to institute a homework policy for my classes that is more aligned with current research. I have done this for several reasons:

1. It has come to my attention that homework often encroaches on “family time.”
2. I understand that parents, after a full day of work, may not want to spend the limited time they have with their children acting as task masters to see that the homework gets done.
3. The frustration, anxiety, and fighting that often results because of homework outweighs any benefit homework might have.
4. Research indicates that group homework (same homework for all students) may have little to no academic value at the elementary level.

Here is how the policy will work:

· The district math and science homework will not be sent home except by parent request.
· Whether a student completes or does not complete the district homework will have no impact on their grade.
· There will be no rewards or negative consequences for completing or not completing the district math and science homework.
· All students will receive an “S” under the conduct heading “completes homework.”
· All district math and science homework will be available for download on my website at all times.
· On occasion students will be asked to finish, at home, assignments that were not completed in class.

I’ll Make My Reading Logs Optional Says Virginia Teacher

The post that has generated the most Comments ever is I Hate Reading Logs by FedUp Mom. If you scroll through, you’ll notice that teachers have chimed in, some rethinking their own homework practice, others defending it. I was particularly struck by the openness of a teacher from Virginia, who found the post while looking for a reading log, and ended up rethinking logs altogether.

I also thought the teacher made a very good point about the importance of keeping all discussions between teacher and parent as cordial and as respectful as possible.

I’ll Make My Reading Logs Optional
by a Virginia Teacher

I accidentally came upon this website when searching for reading logs to give to my students this year for homework. This blog has really made me rethink the validity of the entire idea and really homework in general. Reading the comments from so many frustrated parents has been insightful, because I honestly never thought about how homework can invade a child’s home/after-school life. I applaud the parents who advocate for their kids and the tremendous weight homework can put on their shoulders. As a teacher, I want parents to feel like partners in the classroom and having conversations like this one can only help kids get the best educational experiences possible. The last thing I want to do is to stress my students out, so I’ll probably make the reading logs optional.

One thing I noticed by this site is a distinct divide between teachers and parents and while I do think discussion is important, it seems to get hostile. There are huge assumptions being made on both sides. I think teachers and parents BOTH need to have a generosity of the spirit. I am not, and have never been interested in doing harm to any student in my class – that’s not why I teach. In the same way, I don’t think concerned parents are trying to “terrorize” teachers. There has to be middle ground on which teachers and parents can both feel validated.

I think this is important to keep in mind: Teachers have kids for 7 hours a day for only 9 months. Parents have kids for a lifetime. Parents are a child’s first teachers and parents know their kids the best. I believe good, effective teachers honor this. It is very sad to me that so many families have experienced such negative experiences with public schools, especially because kids and their opinion of school and learning are caught in the crossfire.

I will definitely have a different mindset about homework going into this new school year.

A Teacher Speaks Out–Reading Without Meaning

Take a look at this blog by a Reading teacher who has to watch her own high schooler slog through the very kind of assignments we all know are worthless.

Guest Blogger–A College Teacher Says, “We Hold Their Hands Too Much”

Today’s guest blogger, K, has been teaching science at a small independent college for over a decade. She spends her leisure time learning from her three young boys. You can read more of her random thoughts at her blog: raisingthewreckingcrew.

We Hold Their Hands Too Much
by K, a College Teacher

Having your teen carry a cell phone is a good idea for many reasons. But, I would argue, it is also a bad idea for those same reasons. If your teenager gets a flat tire, they should be able to fix it without calling daddy. If they find themselves alone at home and hungry, they should be able to feed themselves without calling a parent. This topic is covered very nicely by Lenore Skenazy over at freerangekids.

You may think that I exaggerate, but many college students can scarcely survive a day without having their parents run interference for them. For example, I teach a study abroad course in the Caribbean. The charter flights operate on Caribbean time: Planes have been late, rescheduled, cancelled, and we were once told that our flight didn’t even exist. If you travel a lot, this probably sounds familiar. When it happens to you, you go into problem-solving mode, right? You stay calm and kind, but insistent. You figure it out. What has been fascinating is some of my students’ reactions. I have seen them cry, throw up their hands and say “we’ll never get to the beach”, and call mommy and daddy.

They also call mom and dad for fairly routine situations. When I had a van
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Interview with Needham, MA, High School Principal, Who Has Taken Numerous Steps to Reduce Stress

Today’s interviewee is Paul Richards, who is in his fifth year as principal of Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts. During his tenure, he has studied and surveyed student stress and tried a variety of measures aimed at reducing it. The father of a kindergartner and first grader, Richards is leaving Needham high at the end of the 2008-2009 school year to become the high school principal at the American School in London. (Take a look at the school’s web site where you can read the Needham Stress Reduction Committee’s materials. They have compiled a very comprehensive resource list.)

Interview with Paul Richards, Principal of Needham High
by Sara Bennett

” Schools need to look at their own practices.They need to educate teachers, parents and students on the culture of stress.”

–Paul Richards, principal, Needham High, Needham, Massachusetts

Is stress really a problem for high school students?
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Interview with New York City Fourth-Grade Teacher who Doesn’t Want to Assign Homework but Doesn’t Want to Break the Rules Either

Today’s interview is with Anthony, who has been teaching for five years at a New York City public school where he is a fourth-grade teacher. He holds a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Childhood Education from New York University. This year, he was accepted into Teachers Network Leadership Institute, a “professional community of teachers and educators working together to improve student achievement.” The Institute advocates for changes in policy and gives teachers an active voice in policy-making decisions. His research project for the Institute is homework in elementary school.

Later this month, he is sitting down with the administration at his school to look to develop a meaningful policy. So far, they have all agreed that the research does not support a policy that focuses on ‘time in each subject’ per night. “We want to lessen the load and create more teacher independence in decision-making regarding homework.”

Interview with Anthony
by Sara Bennett

“As a teacher, there’s a tension between what I want to do and what I’m supposed to do. I have to take small steps before I can take big ones. I have to go through the channels, go about it the right way.”

–Anthony, New York City fourth grade teacher

Why did you decide to research homework?
I teach in a very diverse school with a wide range of ethnicities and family economic statuses. Most of my students qualify for free lunch. Homework in elementary grades was a no-brainer of a topic for me. I hear so much about homework: stories from my parents of kids up too late, guidelines for how much to give each night from “above”, my “higher achieving” students asking me “why” they have to do homework, the lack of quality of the assignments, the time to check it taking away from my time in preparing better lessons, and mostly to me, how I’m not seeing its positive effects.

What are your school’s guidelines on homework?
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Interview with Christine Hendricks, Principal of Wyoming Elementary School with a No-Homework Practice

Over the last few months, I’ve conducted interviews with educators and activists around the country who’ve been on my radar as people who are doing their best to change policy and practice in their communities. I’m going to run the interviews this week.

To kick off this series, I’m thrilled to introduce Christine Hendricks, the principal of a K-4 school in Glenrock, Wyoming, which implemented a no-homework practice in the Fall of 2007. Hendricks, who started out teaching 24 years ago and has been a principal for the past 12, is the single mother of a college-age daughter, a 7th-grade son, and a fifth-grade daughter. This coming Fall, she is moving to a new school in Fort Collins, Colorado, where the staff is “eager to learn more about her no-homework practices.”

Interview with Christine Hendricks
by Sara Bennett

“So many of our students are coming to school in survival mode, and I think, as a school, we need to help let kids be kids.”

–Christine Hendricks, principal, Grant Elementary, Glenrock, Wyoming

What motivated you to eliminate homework at your school?
We had been struggling with the concept of homework for awhile. There was a lot of conflict between teachers and students and students and parents over homework, we had parents asking for homework clubs, and I’d experienced the problem first-hand with my son, who’d been fighting me for years on doing his homework.

In the Fall of 2007, Kim Bevill of Brain Basics in Colorado came and did a workshop and she talked about how the research shows that homework doesn’t work. We went to a break and about 10 of my teachers came and said to me that we need to get rid of homework. And we just decided to try it.

Did you have the support of all of the teachers?
There are 25 teachers in my school, and most of them bought into it from
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A College Professor Speaks Out

A few weeks ago, a college professor posted a comment that deserves highlighting:

I am a college professor. While some may argue that some of my assignments are overly challenging… all of my assignments are designed to force students to consider complex issues independently. They are meant (usually) to take little time, but be addressed seriously.

It stuns me how much training I have to commit to showing our incoming freshmen how I intend their “homework” to be used.

For example:
– Students have typically been “trained” to rewrite all of my questions prior to typing their answers. What a gratuitous waste of time – I should know what I asked.

– Students typically ask “how long it has to be”, where, to me, if you address the questions as asked, the length is unimportant (as short as possible to answer the questions). More meat, less filler.

-Students have been taught to “read” the textbook. No one should literally read a text – it is a reference, use it to gain information, not to follow word-for-word. Use it to glean key features, organize material, identify differences between similar ideas, and so on.

-Homework is not an opportunity to force students to teach themselves something that you don’t find interesting enough to cover.

Now that my children are working their way up this system, it is that much more infuriating.

A K-8 Principal Speaks Out

A principal of a K-8 school in New Brunswick, Canada, recently posted the following comment:

I am a principal on the east coast of Canada. A large k-8 school of 800 kids. We are revisiting our homework policy/procedures to ensure that we have an equitable system in our school. We are aiming to have no homework, based on much research.

Read Alfie Kohn: The Homework Myth.

Rocks.

Homework is just one more structure to keep the marginalized down.

Schools can do a better job teaching. And parents could assist with spending their energy in to just “being” with their children: talking, dreaming, playing, etc.

My two cents.

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