May 23, 2011

The homework challenge

I introduced the homework challenge in an earlier post. The challenge will cure most of your “I-have-to-assign-homework” ailments. The challenge is based on my earlier assertion (borrowed from Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth) that there is little if any connection between homework and achievement, and if you'll take an honest run at this little test, you'll see that this is true.

Getting started

Setting up the challenge is easy, if you are willing to stop assigning homework for one unit of study. Anyone can change their methods for two to four weeks. Be sure to select a unit that you have assessments already created. I use numerous web-based diagnostic tools, some of which I’ve had for years, so taking the challenge was easy for me. Of course, you can use a hard copy test or quiz too.

Now, teach your unit as you have in prior years. Use the same activities, worksheets, direct instruction, visual aids, and any other strategies you’ve used in the past. The key to the challenge, as you’ve likely guessed, is you have to assign no homework. Absolutely none. If going over homework in class the following day is part of the unit, simply replace that time with more in-class practice activities, enrichment or small-group discussion (the best choice in a ROLE). At the end of the unit, give students the same assessment you’ve used in the past.

Evaluating the challenge

An honest evaluation of the challenge can be done one of two ways. If you are taking this challenge well into the school year, you’ll have data on your current students. You will know how they have done on assessments, and you’ll know which students have consistently done homework and which have not. My guess is that students who consistently do homework will have done well on prior assessments, and these are likely your better students in terms of grades. I don’t have to quote research to tell you that students who complete their assignments typically get good grades, and those who do not do assignments usually get poor grades. (This is the problem with grades, a subject discussed at length here at ROLE Reversal)

With this in mind, when reviewing the results from the challenge unit test, there is no control group. In other words, I’m not suggesting that eliminating homework has a bigger effect on low-achieving students than it does on high-achieving students, when it comes to test results. In fact, what you’ll see in the results of the challenge is little change, in most cases. Most of your students will get the same kinds of test scores as they have throughout the year. Any change, I’m guessing, will be positive. Typically, the challenge yields slight increases for low achievers, because they are more confident, as they have not been beaten up by poor grades throughout the unit, due to not turning in nightly homework.

Although the challenge does not yield empirical data, it is definitely telling. Believe the results and stop assigning homework forever.