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”:
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.