Let me start by saying that I haven’t graded homework in years. I’ve taught in schools with high poverty for most of my career and that has shaped my outlook on homework. Eric Jensen’s book, *Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It* looks at this issue. If you haven’t read it, you really should because it’s amazing. So many of our students today may not have anyone at home to help them with their homework. This puts students in poverty at a disadvantage against more affluent students when it comes to homework. Also, the common core standards and the backlash against them have created math homework issues. Many parents feel insecure about helping their children with their homework. Should math teachers still be assigning homework?

The research on homework is a confusing mess of reasons for and against assigning homework. Over the last couple of years, I’ve played educational whiplash on the issue of homework. One year, I assigned no homework. Most of my students loved this, although a few still asked for homework. My parents hated it and I found that my students were not as successful on tests than students the previous year. Another year, I assigned optional homework. A small percentage of students completed their homework. My parents were very confused because their children told them that there wasn’t homework and when they asked me, I told them that there was optional homework. The students who did the homework did well on the tests. Students that didn’t do homework didn’t do well on tests.

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### So, I assign homework. Why?

For the last couple of years, I’ve assigned homework every night. I don’t grade it, but I just check to see if it’s done. I give formative assessments throughout the units to see how my students are doing. However, homework completion gives me the best way to predict how my students will do on tests. The students who do the homework every night, get As and Bs. Students who do some of the homework, get Bs and Cs. The students that don’t ever do homework, get Cs and Ds. Students with attendance issues who don’t do homework, get Ds and Fs.

While working through my recovery from educational whiplash, I’ve found some ways to make homework easier for parents and students.

## How to make homework easier for students and parents:

### 1. Consistency

I used to assign homework when it made sense in the unit. However, I found that when it was hit or miss, my students often forgot. Also, my parents never knew if their child was telling the truth. Routines help make things automatic and by assigning homework every day, my students have a higher chance of remembering. I always give my students options in how they complete their homework. They have online options or paper worksheets that they can get if they don’t have internet access at home. Some take paper worksheets because they like that type of homework better. There are some teachers I work with who create worksheets in the same format each day. This helps the students because it’s the same worksheet, but with different problems. Keeping the homework as consistent as possible, allows students to not have to remember whether they have homework or not. They just know that they do and their parents know, too!

### 2. Purposeful

Purposeful homework can come in a variety of forms and there are conflicting messages on how to make homework purposeful. I use homework to talk to my students about their work habits. In addition, I use it to promote metacognition in my students by helping them recognize when they need additional help. After we go over the homework, I ask them to decide if going over the homework answered their questions. If it didn’t answer their questions, then I show them ways to improve their understanding. I’m open at lunch for students to come in and we have after school tutoring two days a week. I also have them take a reflection, that I wrote about here, after the assessment**.** The reflection asks them to reflect on the homework they did throughout the unit when they are staring at the grade they received. This helps them to see the importance of doing their homework.

### 3. Attainable

Students need to be able to do their homework on their own. The homework should not have brand new content that they haven’t practiced. This allows parents to take a facilitator role towards homework. Parents should make sure that their child does his or her homework, but they shouldn’t feel that they are teaching how to do the problems. Homework is a great time to practice previously learned skills with one or two problems that are new content. The expectation could be that students complete all of the old problems and just need to try to do the new problems. This would keep students and parents from being frustrated over problems the students might not be able to do. Another way to make homework attainable is to assign a time limit. The National PTA recommends that students should have a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. So 6th graders should have 60 minutes of homework total, so around 20 minutes of math homework. I talk to my students and tell them that they have my permission to stop after 20 minutes. They should stop if they are frustrated but can keep going if they are enjoying the homework.

### 4. Small Consequences

I would never want to fail a student because they haven’t done their homework. However, there are students that just can’t see the importance of homework even after we talk about it all the time. I teach middle school students and they often need an incentive to do anything. Some of my students need a consequence to see that they do actually need to complete their homework. In my school district, we have a citizenship grade that is separate from their math grade. The citizenship grade reflects their responsibility and behavior in class. I work with amazing math teachers who keep in constant contact with parents on behavior, so in the math department, the citizenship grade has become just for their homework and other responsibility skills, such as being prepared for class. I’ve also seen homework be a percentage of the math grade, such as 5% or 10%. This works well because very rarely is that 5% going to fail you, but it helps kids see that it does matter.

## What about the kids that don’t have to do homework and still get As?

I was one of those kids who didn’t need to do the homework to get good grades. It worked for me until I got to college. I didn’t do very well in my first couple of years because I did not have any study skills or work habits. A lot of kids are in that same category. Sadly, many of them drop out of college because they don’t have the skills to do well. It also hurts a lot more to fail classes when you are paying for them. It’s incredibly challenging to persevere and learn work habits when it is costing you to fail classes. In my district, we don’t have many students that don’t have to do the homework because we have leveled math classes.

### Leveled classes

At my school, we have three levels of math classes for each grade. Our lowest level is at grade level. The other two levels are scaffolded so that some grade-level standards are combined together. Due to this, there is a level where students are one year accelerated by 8th grade and another level where students are two years accelerated by 8th grade. The leveled classes allow us to find students who are capable for higher levels of math. This cuts down on behavior problems because students are challenged. It also makes homework very important. We have very few students who don’t do homework and can still pass with As and Bs.

## Homework is important for math

Homework really is important for math. That’s not to say that it isn’t important for other subject areas, but this post is focused on math. Students must cultivate work habits and study skills to do well in college. They also need to cultivate work habits to do well in careers. Homework is one way to work towards this goal. Are there other ways? Of course, there are. However, homework allows us to cultivate work habits and study skills within our content areas so that the connections make sense to students. A lot of times, homework is seen as bad because it is missing one of the four above. Take a second and think about why you don’t agree with homework. Is it because your homework was lacking one or more of the four? I bet it was.

The biggest thing I’ve found with making homework work is to give ownership for homework to the students. I always have students apologize to me when they don’t do the homework. That gives me a great opportunity to put the ownership back on them. I tell them that it doesn’t hurt me and I’m ok with them not doing their homework, but that there are consequences for them. Their citizenship grade goes down and they can complete the homework at any point during the week and I’ll raise their citizenship grade back up. I still get apologies towards the end of the year, but I also see my students taking ownership of their homework. Assign homework that is consistent, purposeful, attainable, and has small consequences, and see what happens! I bet you will see higher scores on your unit tests and standardized tests.