As of late, I have seen an influx of posts running around social media, shares and re-tweets, all congratulating teachers of young students who are saying that they will not be assigning homework this year. One such teacher, Brandy Young, a second grade teacher in Texas, wrote a letter home stating that because there is no evidence proving homework improves student performance, she will not be assigning homework other than what did not get completed in class. This letter has gone viral, and given us all something to think about.
To be clear before I go further, this is a not a negative response to Mrs. Brandy Young. I was intrigued by her suggestion for what parents may do with their students instead of homework: read together, eat dinner together, play outside together. These have all been shown as promoters of learning in education, because they offer the student a support system at home--and every educator knows that the true teacher of a child is their parent.
With this in mind, Brandy Young is right. Students don't always show an increase in performance after doing homework, because so many of them don't do it, and those who do often whip from subject to subject with the goal of completion, not studying or learning. But... (yes, here it comes), but, I've been teaching high school for the past ten years, and I can assure you, the benefit to those students who were assigned homework in their childhood and formative years is apparent the moment they step foot through the doors of our institution, no matter how much data shows inconsistent findings.
What we learn from homework: Responsibility. Good habits. Problem solving. Time management. Natural consequences. Inquiry. Communication.
If we don't learn the content from homework, we are learning skills. Skills such as those listed above, and others, since many students do not go home to a family who can eat dinner together and play outside every night. Many high school students go from school to practice and then home, others go from school to a job that provides income for their entire family. Others still go from school to home, where they are in charge of getting dinner on the table and helping their siblings with homework and other things before they even begin to think of their own pile of work. So why add homework? Why not just give them a break? Because it's practice; practice of skills, of learning, of material necessary to reach that future our educational system has been designed to prepare them for. It's practice so when they leave school, they try on their own, maybe even ask someone else for help, before coming back to school and applying these skills.
And it's practice for being an adult, when responsibility knows no time clock, and when to-do lists get longer every day, no matter how often we check a box off.
Below is a letter I wrote. I'd like to give it to parents, not to negate the one already written, but to provide them with the other side of the story.
This year in English 10, I will be assigning homework regularly. Although it may not appear to impact your students' learning, there is always benefit in practice. Many students understand this, as do you, because they spend countless hours outside of school practicing for extra-curricular activities like sports, music, drama, racing, dance, cheer, photography, video filming and editing, running, creative writing, auto-mechanics and engineering, etc. The list of activities they practice for each day is endless, but the reason is simple: they want to improve, maybe even be considered the best. When I assign homework, I am hoping this practice brings the same outcome.
Please understand I know that your student has responsibilities outside of school, as your family has a life outside of school-related work. The homework I assign is not meant to be stressful, overwhelming, or downright mean. It's meant to be thought provoking, practical, and helpful for the following days ahead, which will lead to state and national tests, and high school graduation requirements which must be met before a student is able to matriculate. Feel free to speak with your student about their assignments, go through the directions and/or reading pages with them, and engage in this thoughtful learning process. We learn better together, and this kind of conversation can only increase your students' success.