Fix-It: Seven Ways to Fix Homework

On a Monday night, my son stopped reading to his sister when he realized that he needed to do a packet. He looked at the list of numbers, and said, "I have to write the numbers from one to one hundred. There are five rows with three numbers filled in and two rows with one. So, if I take away seventeen, I need to write eighty-three numbers."

This demonstrates the problem I see with most homework. It is often low-level learning with tons of repetition. So, in thinking about "fixing" homework, I would like to think about switching to optional home learning (rather than homework) instead.

  1. Provide after-school tutoring for students who are behind on skills. The biggest argument I see for homework is that students who are behind need additional time to practice skills. However, simply requiring students to do more practice is meaningless without instant feedback. 
  2. Turn homework into an extracurricular activity. Make homework optional. Some parents want their children to have homework. Allow them to opt-in if they choose. Many teachers advocate for meaningful homework. If it's truly meaningful, why not make it optional and see what happens? I have students who blog, create movie reviews, interview people for documentaries and do surveys with data analysis because they find it interesting. 
  3. Share your passion for learning outside of school. I tell my students that I love writing, that I blog regularly and that I read often on my own. 
  4. Create optional events that encourage learning outside of school hours. It could be a math game night, a science fair, a community service project, a visit to the art museum or a large group tour of a university. 
  5. Provide resources to help students who want to learn on their own. After having students create blogs in class, I now have students who have created their own independent blogs out of class. After letting students choose novels and articles for silent reading, I have students that now take the reading home for fun. 
  6. Honor home learning. In other words, allow students to build bridges between what they are learning on their own and what they are doing in class. This is sort-of the opposite of traditional homework, in that students bring the world into the classroom instead of classwork into their world. So, when students are learning functional text, let them create instructions for things that they are doing at home. Let them write persuasive texts on topics that they are learning about independently outside of school. 
  7. Empower parents with the skills to push for authentic learning at home. Teach them mental math games that they can play with their children during the lulls in a car ride or in a long line. Explain the value in counting money, reading aloud, drawing pictures or making stuff. 


John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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