.Last school year was a really big year in my classroom. We started flexible seating (you can read more about that adventure HERE), we implemented a Bring Your Own Device program, and we did away with homework. Like I said– BIG year!
While each of those three changes contributed to a very different feel in my classroom than years prior, I was particularly nervous about doing away with homework. I know that homework has its place, and I know there are concepts and skills (especially in 4th grade!) that require repetition to really grasp. Yet, I still felt like the reasons to do away with homework were more important than the benefits of homework itself.
Throughout the school year, I had many colleagues pop in and ask how our no-homework policy was going. “It's going well!” I would respond, but I wouldn't give many details. Now, after a full school year without it, I definitely have some reflections on how it went, what changes I would make, and if I would do it again!
After a Full Year of No Homework
You can see that we didn't COMPLETELY do away with homework, but we did do away with 99% of it. We still STRONGLY encouraged students to be reading each night, and they were required to have a novel in progress at all times. We also continued our weekly letter writing, where students had to respond to us in letter form by the end of the week. You can read more about that idea HERE. I'll never have a classroom where I don't do it!
We also had a disclaimer that if students did not complete their classwork in a reasonable period of time or were excessively off task during an assignment, they would need to bring it home to complete it.
How I Broke The News To My Students
Of course, when we first told students about this change, there was hooting and hollering and cheers galore! I let them have their moment and then gently pulled them back together. I reassured them that it was totally possible that they wouldn't have homework, but that it would mean they had to give me their all every. single. minute of every. single. day. Their eyes got big, they sat up taller, and an air of confidence washed over them. “We've got this, Mrs. M.!” I remember one kiddo saying. In the beginning, it was as if they would do anything to keep this privilege. We floated on clouds of no-homework bliss for a solid week…
And then here's what really happened when I did away with homework…
I expected more from my students than ever before.
When I was planning my lessons this year, I packed in more than I ever had before. While that might send like a negative effect of this little experiment, it was actually one of the best parts for me.
The Monster That Is Math
In math, in particular, this was a game changer for me. I knew that my students needed to deeply and fully understand these concepts and be able to compute with automaticity. I also knew they wouldn't be going home and doing 20 extra problems each night like they had in the past. This meant that 1) I had to make sure they understood the concept like the back of their hand and 2) They could apply that understanding to a wide variety of problems…. Of course, these are two non-negotiables that any math classroom should have, but I was going to be doing it with less practice and repetition than before.
Therefore, when I was planning, I ended up with FAR more inquiry-based lessons and practice (so that they would really get the meat of the concept), and far less direct teacher instruction. I jammed as much as I could into my whole group time (10-15 minutes a day) and then jammed even more into their workshop time. Kids were collaborating, practicing, and learning more than ever… Simply because I had this sense of urgency that I was missing before.
But What About Spelling
A few people have asked about spelling and how this worked without homework and studying at home. We use a word study philosophy, similar to Words Their Way, which means that students are studying patterns in words rather than the words themselves. I incorporated this into my reading rotations and would occasionally devote some of our writing to it, and I would highly recommend it!
Another option to fit in what would have previously been homework is to rethink your morning routine. I usually use my Think It Through critical thinking packet as morning work, and when I did away with homework this year and had to give them some more “intense” morning work, I started using the packet during Morning Meeting instead. I used our morning work time this year to review and reteach grammar concepts some days and math skills other days. It was the perfect balance!
This brought out the best in some kids
When I say it brought out the best in them, I mean it changed their study habits permanently. They created habits that I hope will continue on with them for years and years to come. They knew that in order to continue having no homework, they truly had to give me their all during the day. It wasn't easy. They had to not only complete their assignments, but complete them well. We had very, very little down time, and I expected more from this group of kids than ever before. Some rose to the challenge and THRIVED under the challenge…
…and some kids didn't care.
I did have a handful of students who were not at all motivated by a lack of homework. These were the kids who repeatedly ended up taking work home because they weren't completing it in class. Usually due to them being distracted and not on-task. Some kids learned quickly that this isn't what they wanted, and a few kids never did quite learn.
Some parents loved it. Others hated it.
On Back to School Night, when we handed out this homework policy, the general consensus was all the praise hands in the world! Parents thanked us for giving them FREEDOM in the evenings to take their kids to gymnastics without worrying about homework and some parents thanked us for eliminating the nightly homework battle they had fought for the past few years.
We also had a small number of parents who wanted their kids to have homework. They worried that they would become accustomed to not having homework and have a difficult time next year when their teacher required it again. They worried they wouldn't get enough skill practice. These were valid concerns, and we reassured parents that, if they requested it, we would send home supplemental practice. Not one of the parents who initially expressed concern over the policy ever ended up asking for homework.
…but some KIDS asked for homework!
I'll never forget the first time one of my kids ASKED for homework! It was about a month into the school year, and we were working on Error Analysis in small groups. One of my students looked up and said, “I LOVE this. Can you PLEASE give us some more to do at home!?” How could I deny them that opportunity!? 🙂 The rest of the kids in the small group chimed in that they wanted to bring some home too. During my lunch break, I printed a few more tasks out for those kids, and guess what? Every single student in that group brought it home and returned it the next day– BY CHOICE!
This happened multiple times throughout the year, primarily with my math projects and error analysis tasks. I never, ever denied them when they asked to bring something home for homework.
Some kids NEED homework.
Usually, these aren't the kids who were requesting the extra homework, but I had another handful of students who needed homework. They needed skill practice, they needed reading fluency practice, and they needed fact practice. I talked to each of those students individually and contacted those parents privately. They (both students and parents) understood why I needed to send supplemental work home. Once a quarter, I put together packets based on those kids' needs. I gave them free reign to complete it at any time throughout the quarter, and every single packet came back completed by the end of the quarter.
I would do it all over again.
At the end of the year, I had parents come up to me and thank me for this policy, telling me how they had enjoyed a better relationship with their student this year without the nightly homework battle. They had taken more walks, participated in more after school activities, and were generally so thankful for the reprieve.
As a teacher, I saw happy kids coming in every day and relaxed kids leaving every afternoon. There were no battles over missing homework, and kids worked hard to keep the privilege. I had no noticeable (anecdotally or with data) drop in achievement or growth over the course of the year. I felt like a better teacher because I worked even harder during the school day to make sure they were getting exactly what they needed while they were with me.
…Oh, and I had a lot less grading to do, too! 🙂 🙂
I would do it again a heartbeat!
We strongly believe in the power of play and the importance of letting children be children. Further, research does not indicate significant benefits of homework at the elementary level. We believe that when students give us all of their day, they deserve to have all of their night. Therefore, we have eliminated the majority of our standing homework assignments. Eat dinner as a family and ask them how their day was, enjoy your child’s extracurricular activities without worrying about homework, and know that your child is working hard at school each day and has earned their evening playtime!
To foster community and self-reflection, your student will have a weekly letter from their teacher (more about that below!) to respond to, and we highly encourage you to read a book of choice with your child each evening. Please Note: If a student exhibits off-task behaviors during the school day and fails to complete an assignment, the assignment will be sent home for completion.