Re-Thinking Homework: Book Review

Article by Michael Ross

In this post, CUES consultant Michael Ross reviews the upcoming guidebook Re-Thinking Homework. We are also offering a new professional development session by the same name on October 20, 2016 – but registration ends on Friday, October 14th. All participants get a copy of this new guidebook. Sign up today!

Re-Thinking Homework: Book Review

Homework could possibly be the most contentious issue in an urban school. Students hate doing homework. A significant portion of the student body turns little or nothing in and what is turned in is often copied. The students who tend to do homework are often the ones who don’t need the practice. Teachers hate grading it. Teachers get frustrated when what feels like a majority of students turn nothing in. Administrators hate seeing students fail because they have so many zeros in the gradebook from homework. Zeros on homework turn into F’s on report cards. F’s on report cards turn into F’s on transcripts. Deficient credits decrease the likelihood of graduating. Homework is the source of so many frustrations. So I feel pressed to ask the question: Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

In the book Re-Thinking Homework, Paul Smith and Jason Haap highlight applicable research and have designed reflective pieces to guide teachers on an introspective journey on their homework beliefs. One of my favorite parts of the book can be found in chapter 3 when the authors ask the reader to consider alternate approaches. They give two powerful suggestions that can lead to a more productive and less frustrating homework policy. They first suggest that we stop grading homework daily. In the book Classroom Assessment and Grading that Works, Robert Marzano highlights the importance of timely feedback on homework. If teachers cannot give specific and timely feedback on a homework assignment, the learning or practice we hope our students achieve is greatly diminished. By not grading homework daily teachers can choose which assignments are most important and then give detailed feedback on student performance.

Another powerful idea the authors suggest is to consider a homework system that gives students options when they are stuck. Instead of giving no credit for being incorrect, a teacher could implement a system that gives full credit if students are able to articulate where they are stuck. Research also shows that homework should be material students can successfully complete on their own. John Hattie noted a higher effect size when homework involved practice or rehearsal of subject matter a student already understands. A homework system that gives no credit for incorrect answers and has difficult subject matter that a student may not be able to successfully complete independently only reinforces students’ beliefs that they cannot learn the material. This leads to homework not being completed, being copied, or writing anything down for half credit because they “tried.” This can often be the beginning of the cycle described in the opening paragraph.

If you are interested in learning more about different homework policies, systems, and research, give the book Re-Thinking Homework a read. It is short enough to be read in a couple hours and will be able to guide you as you re-think your homework policy.

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