February 21

Homework: The Great Debate

Boy with Big Book


The story linked above tells of one student’s efforts to put an end to homework. In six years of teaching, homework has been my single largest source of frustration. As an intervention specialist, I have negotiated with regular education teachers for quantity—fewer math problems, one paragraph instead of three—but I could not negotiate quality. This experience diminished my respect for my colleagues. There is not room in this post to list the abuses of homework that I encountered. Among the worst was the use of homework as a class-wide punishment for behavior.

At present, I teach in a middle school in Cairo, Egypt. My students are in pull out special education classes. In the beginning of the first year, my policy was no homework. Before long, I received a request from parents to assign more homework. I complied, but in the meantime I justified my no-homework philosophy in this way – I spend a tremendous amount of time creating valuable lesson plans and giving extensive feedback in class.

Once I began to assign homework, my distaste for it deepened. I received work which was obviously completed by parents and paid tutors. Besides, how does one assign homework with differentiated instruction? – Do you have to make 20 different assignments with as many answer keys and rubrics? I had trouble making decisions on how to grade homework—Do you count points against students who are practicing skills? Won’t that just discourage them from practicing? Uncompleted homework set up conflicts between me and my students. I had to deal with plagiarism. Gradually I assigned less and less homework.

Occasionally, I gave students assignments for advance reading and answering questions. My thinking was that if students were prepared, we could have richer class discussion. And, in the meantime, I read the research reported by Marzano, et al. (2001) which states that practice and preparation are two of the valid purposes of homework. Marzano’s book, Classroom Instruction That Works, makes the case that homework is necessary, especially in the upper grades, and that it is quality, in the correct quantity, that counts.

Recently I have created homework that is giving me positive results. I call it Reading Reflections, and I use a graphic organizer (example below). The directions are as follows: “Read for pleasure for 30 minutes each evening, five days per week. Write a quote from the passage in the left column and your thoughts in the right column. Due every Thursday.”

Now I know, without a doubt, that the student is doing his or her own work. The value of this work is supported by the research in reading. My website has a blank copy of the chart so that parents and students can download the form and an example.

I grade the Reading Reflection with a check minus, check, or a check plus. The meaning conveyed to the students is completed but with too many errors, completed and accepted, or completed with quality. In my grade book the score is zero to five points. The only way to receive no points is to do nothing. I write extensive comments on the charts for feedback, both positive and negative, and discuss the books with each student. Reading Reflection is an effective evaluation tool for me and a source of joy in communication with students.

Graphic Organizer for Reading Reflection

Reading Reflection Chart

Name Debbie Kay

Title of Book or Article Fahrenheit 451

Author Ray Bradbury

Directions:  Read for pleasure for 30 minutes each evening, 5 days per week. Write a quote from the passage in the left column and your thoughts in the right column. Due Every Thursday.


Quote and Page Number

Your Reflections


“’Happy! Of all the nonsense.’ He stopped laughing.” Pg 10

The girl made Montag think about happiness. Was he
happy in his job? His life? It seems he took happiness for granted and had never thought of it before.

I have changed my mind about my no homework policy. I now believe that quality homework, in the proper quantity, is valuable. Besides, who can argue with positive percentile gains?

For more helpful content on the subject of homework, check out this web page from Stephen Carr.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags: ,

Posted February 21, 2009 by Deborah Kerwood in category Assessment, Lesson Plans

About the Author

Currently I am an intervention specialist for grades 9-12 in a small, rural school district. I created a learning center during my first five years. Then I taught for two years in Cairo, Egypt. Now, I am back in my first classroom, and the learning center continues to grow. In addition to the students who have individual education plans, I serve students who are at risk of failing or dropping out. I have focused my professional development studies on educational technology and phonics instruction.

3 thoughts on “Homework: The Great Debate

  1. Teddi

    I found this article very interesting. I am a special education teacher for 7th & 8th grade students that are pulled out into my room. I have lots of problems getting homework back and I found your suggestions encouraging. I am going to try the reflections too.

    Also, I found this article because you visited my special education Squidoo lens. If you click on my name you can check it out again. I am adding the link to this blog to my links for teachers.


  2. Deborah Kerwood (Post author)

    Thank you Andrea, I am glad to hear that it is helpful! And thank you so much for passing it on.

    Deborah K

Comments are closed.