Homework? During Break?

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Jan
  • 08
  • 2006

This past week was our first week back from Christmas Break and I noticed that some teachers assigned pretty serious work during the time off. I wonder if that simply sets students up for failure. We all know that the majority of our students (99.9% of them) won’t do the assigned work until the last night before returning. Some of them will forget completely. I’d say a large number would fall into that last category and simply not do the work at all. This is the same reason that I try really hard not to assign work over the weekend. In the spirit of trying to maintain connections between my two worlds of teaching and Web design, I’ll point out that Cameron Moll points out the same idea. Look at “4: Avoid Monday Deadlines.” It’s just too easy to not do the work when there’s no daily reminder and when there’s a natural desire to take some time off during a weekend.


And is there a pedagogical reason we are giving the work or is it assigned because it is expected and it feels like the right thing to do? If the work isn’t completed, will the student really be at a loss? If the work is completed, will the student actually be better prepared for the rest of the course? I know that I assign work from time to time simply because I feel like I haven’t given homework in a while and I should. But I fight that urge every time it creeps up and I cringe every time I realize I’ve already done it (UPDATE: An online homework survey will provide some good data for an upcoming book on homework; it doesn’t take long to fill out).

I’m curious if we (teachers) assign work too often. What we’ve found at our school is that students are failing because they don’t do homework. Perhaps if there was less homework, more students would achieve academically. Should that be the reason that students don’t get the credits for a class, because they haven’t done work outside of class? Shouldn’t the credits go to a student if he or she has the skills the course requires? If we’re finding that homework is a huge reason for failure, if we’re finding that the current paradigm of homework isn’t working for a majority of our students, don’t we have an obligation to address that and seriously examine our homework policy?

On occassion over the years, parents have asked me why there hasn’t been any homework for the last 2 or 3 weeks. Going through the credential program at SJSU, I recall hearing from some teachers about a school homework policy that dictates the number of nights homework is required, with some schools going as far as requiring homework every night. To some, assigning homework means that you are a good teacher. Should teachers be considered less adept at what they do simply because they don’t assign homework as often as required? What if the lesson for the day doesn’t necessitate homework? What if there simply is no reason to assign work for the night?

During Break?

Certainly, special circumstances may require some students to complete work during vacations. Maybe they are in an AP course and need to complete the work to prepare for the exam, have missing work to make up, are failing, are doing extra credit, need to polish their skills – there are several reasons why work should occasionally be expected during days off. But for most students, for the majority of the kids we teach, maybe vacations or breaks should be exactly that: time off from school, time to relax and pursue other interests.

I Didn’t Do It

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t do a single bit of school work until the day before we went back. That work I did, about four-hours’ worth, got me all set up from now until the end of semester and even a bit of the beginning of semester two. How did you do? Did you get everything done that you wanted to? Did you grade all those papers? Were they ready to be returned on Tuesday morning upon the resuming of school? I only know one teacher who reached that lofty goal. And I know a lot of teachers.

So if we, as professionals, can’t seem to consistently get the work done that we want/need to achieve, how can we possibly expect our students to do so? But really, all of this gets at a much larger issue.

Do As I Say…

Do we, as teachers, regularly expect more out of our students than we are able to give? Because of the fact that I didn’t do a shred of work during the Christmas Break, I returned feeling like I actually had time off from work and I have been more excited about things, ready to take on the rest of the year. I wish my students felt the way I do and maybe having a 2-week break without work would help make that happen.

When was the last time you completed something you assigned to your students? Every time I assign an essay, I keep telling myself that I should try to complete it at the same time my students are working on it. This is something that I’ve done before (about 2 years ago, I wrote the beginning of most of the essays I assigned to my students that year), but I certainly don’t do it every year.

So if we expect our students to complete large amounts of work during a break (a 30-page packet, read an entire novel, complete a research paper), shouldn’t we have the same expectations for ourselves?


1. an AP student says:

[11/20/2012 - 3:00 pm]

To be honest I believe homework is necessary in some classes. In a math class it is used for sharpened what you had learned in class. It is VERY nice practice for the test. In an ap class it is super helpful.

For example, I am in AP chemistry. And we are given a huge packet 95 questions with 3 or 4 parts to it. It is great practice for the exam but it also sucks to be doing it when you want to be sleeping or relaxing at a park. There are many students in my class who are probably going to wait till the last minute to complete it. Which shows how prepared they are for college.

So in the end homework does suck. But it is very helpful in the end!

2. Middle Schooler says:

[12/24/2012 - 2:36 am]

Firstly,I thought we were taking about having homework during break and this is MY reason why.Todd you need to see the point of why homework sucks for us students. We do not need it over the vacation because that is our time for family and friends. Also all these comments seem to referring to how homework is fun. Which I think is completely absurd because who would like homework doing you’re holiday. I sincerely think you should reconsider the comment you just wrote readers. As for the people who keep writing how homework sucks than I believe you should probably think of some hard core evidence otherwise it just doesn’t make sense. I do not think homework will help us during the weekend an AP Student for one reason because we are still learning it the next day aren’t we. Also Todd please mind your words we are not ignorant we are just stating our opinion.YOU are being very arrogant by saying that.

3. Todd says:

[12/27/2012 - 2:37 pm]

Middle Schooler, you mention me specifically in that comment, so let me respond.

What comment is it that you think I “just wrote readers” that I should reconsider? You mention that about halfway through your thoughts and I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Maybe there’s a comment from someone else here, but I originally wrote this post way back in 2006.

Speaking of, you clearly did not read this post. You read a bunch of the comments and that’s what you’re responding to. If you had read it, you would see that I do see your “point of why homework sucks for [you] students.” Your 3rd sentence is a point I make clear in what I wrote originally. And something I still believe very strongly today.

As far as me sounding arrogant, the comment you’re referring to is one in which I say that the argument that you don’t need homework simply because they don’t want to work is an argument that sounds ignorant. There needs to be, to use your words, “hard core evidence otherwise it just doesn’t make sense.”

You make essentially the same points I do, but you’re calling me out as if I hadn’t thought of this before. I’m fine continuing a discussion about this, but you have to do your research to find out about the conversation you’re entering. Time consuming on an entry that has as many comments as this one, but still something you should be diligent about before making accusations. We actually agree, but instead of focusing on that, you just called me a few names, make me feel like we’re enemies here, and don’t take the time to find out what I was originally saying. That’s a shame.

So here’s an instance where not doing your homework can get you in trouble. See? There’s a time and a place for homework! Just maybe not assigned by teachers during breaks.

4. AP & IB Student says:

[1/2/2013 - 7:25 pm]

As the name suggests, I am an AP student as well as a part of the International Baccalaureate program. I read your (Todd’s) post and felt compelled to respond because you had mentioned AP students may need work over breaks to prepare for the exam. While I may understand that thought, I have to disagree. I am on break right now, and have been given an immense load of homework. After completing these tasks however, I don’t feel that I have acquired any more knowledge that I didn’t already gain from my time in school. I especially don’t feel that any of the work is going to help me for the exams. It is simply busy work and to be quite honest, from a students perspective, it feels like a punishment for deciding to challenge our intellectual abilities.
We get quite large amounts of work when we’re not on break and I attain more out of that work than I do out of the work given over breaks. Why? I believe it is because we are given thorough explanations and are able to interact with our teachers, teachers that have a better understanding of each student’s way of knowing than a computer or a textbook.
Break work also allows many uncertainties to creep into a students’ mind, and most of this information won’t make as much sense through a series of e-mails with the instructor. In addition, a lot of this work is hardly relevant to progressing in our studies anyways, rather it is work that leaves us in a stalemate with our knowledge. The teachers assign us this work to keep our minds focused, something that I do understand as an important concern. However, with all of the work given to us before and after breaks (the content of which is immensely challenging but also rewarding in terms of knowledge), I don’t feel as though the work is necessary. I learn more in the classroom than I do outside of it. With all of the work given during actual school hours, the need for an break becomes an immediate necessity; and being unable to have that break when most every other student does makes the tasks rather daunting and stressful. It’s also a bit infuriating to think about. If homework is going to be given, I don’t think it should be such a heavy load; one or two assignments [that doesn’t have six assignments within it (i.e. part A, part B, part C, etc.)] would be more reasonable.
For the record, I find all of my teachers to be completely brilliant and do believe that I am learning a lot. I just don’t think that there is any gain in break work, it isn’t worth all of the time it takes from me. I would just like to spend time with my family like every other student.
This is merely one student’s opinion and I hope I did not come off as being rude, that was not my intent!!! I just really wanted teachers to understand it from a student’s perspective, or at least take it into consideration. Also, it’s still an annoying thing to think about (the idea of homework over break) because I still have more assignments to finish, and am still unable to have a carefree time with my family. Writing this also gave me an excuse to not do my homework… :P
I know I only wrote to about one sentence of your post, so I understand the irrelevance of it. It just really needed to be said on behalf of students in my shoes!

5. Someone says:

[3/27/2013 - 9:50 am]

I am currently on Spring break and haven’t had a single second of free time the whole time because I have been doing homework. I think that break should actually be a break from school, not don’t show up but still work week.

6. A.A says:

[4/6/2013 - 10:25 pm]

I know this is a bit out dated, but I’m also really torn on the topic. I believe homework assignments truly do inspire some students to work hard. I know the feleing where I would honest to god finish homework assignments with such a prideful feeling.

However, I haven’t had a day like that since high school has begun. I get a couple of days that come close, but never really hit the ball with me.

But then I’d hear news of countries that don’t assign much homework at all, and their students have been doing better than those of us in America. I have no way of telling whether this is true or not.

I wish there was a gray area to this, if there was some how a mathematical equation figured out by some school goddess from above that showed us what amount of homework was the perfect amount. I guess that part kind if depends how much of the teacher can sympathize with a student and the part the can be unsympathetic.

7. Amy says:

[7/8/2013 - 10:33 pm]

Homework over the break is really annoying because it is
usually when students meet up with friends and family. Students also do not want to be stressed over heaps of work because that is the opposite of
a vacation’s purpose.

8. Alexander Irizarry-Camarillo says:

[11/11/2013 - 5:34 pm]

I have been teaching for over twenty-years with LAUSD, and have had to become more flexible in the way that I too assign homework. I teach grade-four with more boys than girls. I decided that since I respect all my student’s
time and their assignments; I would have to be more creative in how and when to assign homework. I especially wanted to work with my boy’s, especially since historically they have problem’s completing homework and turning it in the next day.
The following are the changes that worked for me and my learners:

-I reduced the homework load in half. In fact the assignment would be reviewed the next day in class, so every student had to have it completed or they would complete it as we went through the lesson.
-If I didn’t teach it during the school day, and that day was busy with unwanted disruptions and change; I simply didn’t assign anything. I had announced that during Back-to-School Night during the beginning of the school year.
-It is unspoken, but reading must be done nightly. The reading logs help me monitor their progress.
-I modify for my students who have problem’s with writing. So rather than completing seven questions, I assign the two most interesting ones.
-I don’t make a “Big Deal” out of checking in the homework the next day. Usually, if they missed it they come up to me and ask for an more time.
-Finally, I make sure that every child understands the assignment, and can repeat it back to me. It has worked.

By making these changes I have had a more pleasant homework experience with my students and especially the parents. The tears and fighting at home have stopped, and on those certain days when I need them to hand something back to me the very next day, they do. I feel we each have to step out of our comfort mode and change prior beliefs to make this type of change work. Good luck!

9. Not going to happen says:

[4/11/2014 - 6:34 am]

Sara Bennett, the founder of Stop Homework and coauthor of The Case Against Homework (Crown, 2006), raised hell and ultimately changed the homework policy at her daughter’s school. GreatSchools talked to the lawyer turned reformer about preposterous projects and how children can learn to think for themselves.

GreatSchools: Why did you start an anti-homework campaign?

Sara Bennett: It started when my son brought homework home in the first grade. His first assignment was a reading log. He didn’t know how to read or write, so my husband and I filled in his log for him. At the first parent-teacher conference, the teacher said our son had to do the homework. I didn’t agree since he didn’t yet read.

I was an advocate in my work life, so it comes naturally to me to speak up. Whenever they’d talk about homework at my children’s school, I’d raise my hand and say, “Could you tell me why you’re doing this?”

Then in 2000 there was a big splash about a school in Piscataway, N.J., that stopped homework. And there was a book that came out around the same time, The End of Homework. This all gave me the factual basis that [homework] doesn’t make sense. It takes too much time, and it’s just busywork.

After that other parents came to me and said, “Can you help?” Also, my daughter, who is three years younger than my son, had more homework since she was caught up in No Child Left Behind. The standard became doing two hours a night. At that point, my husband and I were pretty radical about it and felt she didn’t need to do all this homework.

GreatSchools: Did that affect your daughter’s grades?

SB: Yes, she got pretty bad grades. But it was way, way, way too much homework. We had her do the background reading and not the assignments. But we did have her do the big projects so she wouldn’t be singled out.

GreatSchools: What about parents helping with homework?

SB: The first time I knew parents did projects for their kids was when my son was in third grade. They were supposed to make a little doll out of a clothespin that was representative of immigration. My son made the doll by himself.

I was riding my bike through the neighborhood and a parent said, “Hey, how’s your doll coming along?” When I asked, “What doll?” she answered, “Julian’s doll.” I told her that Julian [was] done with his doll. Then she told me that all the parents [were] making their children’s dolls.

It was unbelievable. When the dolls were displayed, my son’s was hidden in the back because it was the only one that looked like it didn’t belong in a museum. I went to the teacher and said, “Julian’s the only one who made his doll. I did third grade 30 years ago — I don’t need to now.” The teacher didn’t get it, but Julian did.

Both my children are artists. I think it’s because we never had our hands in their work [that] they continued to develop and are proud of their work.

GreatSchools: Dr. Harris Cooper’s synthesis of studies on homework indicates that homework does improve academic achievement.

SB: Did he say what it improves? My understanding of homework and achievement is that you will get a better course grade. Of course, you’ll get a better grade if doing homework counts for 10 or 20% of [it]. More than likely, you’ll also do better on the teacher-created tests by studying for them the night before. But that has nothing to do with actual learning. Most kids learn things for tests and then promptly forget them. That’s not real achievement. Real achievement is learning long-term life skills, the ability to be a creative thinker and work with others. Those should be the goals of education.

GreatSchools: One of your claims is that homework turns kids off learning.

SB: There are so many kids I know who don’t seem to be as intellectually curious as their parents were. My daughter went to a school at the beginning of sixth grade where, because there was a lot of homework, she never had time to read. I had her change schools. Her friends who stayed in that school are doing terribly at this point. They don’t like to read at all. They haven’t had time to develop their own interests. This is partially anecdotal, but it’s partially what educators are tearing their hair out over. Students today don’t know how to think; they don’t think outside the box.

GreatSchools: What should you do if your child has too much homework, or that it doesn’t help?

SB: My whole thing is that parents advocate for their kids. And there are different ways to advocate. If you’re going to complain, write an email but don’t send it for 24 hours. Be polite, and I always say less is more. Simply state what the problem is.

Often, teachers don’t think about homework. I had a conference with my child’s health teacher. The kids had to write a book report, and it had to be 12-point font and three pages, no more and no less. My daughter wrote her report, and it was two pages and excellent, but it wasn’t three pages, so she started to pad it. I said, “You are teaching the kids how to pad but not how to write.” [The teacher] didn’t get it.

GreatSchools: Is homework ever effective?

SB: If you are really engaged with something you’ve done at school and want to do more of it at home, that’s effective homework. If you’ve read one book by an author and you want to read four more books by another, that’s effective. To go home and answer questions about science or history, no. Are certain things necessary, maybe a little review if you’re taking a language class? You probably can do that during the school day.

Nobody is saying you should go home, sit down on your couch, and do nothing. But I feel like adults have more downtime than kids. If you go to the orthodontist, every kid is doing their homework, and adults are reading their book or magazine.

GreatSchools: Some say that the anti-homework contingent is led by middle- to upper-middle-class parents who have the luxury of saying no to homework. Whereas, low-income parents who want their children to get ahead expect them to work hard.

SB: If the schoolwork is busy work, it’s busy work whether you’re an upper-middle-class or a poor child. If in a poor school they are sending home books because [families] don’t have books in their homes, that’s great. To send home a worksheet that’s mind numbing — how does that help?

GreatSchools: But what if you want your child to go to the best college?

SB: What does that mean, the “best college?” What makes people successful is to do something they really love. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity. People are so worried about their kids not achieving, but if people stopped to think, they’d realize: The economy is unsettled; the job market is unsettled. I’m not sure what professions are going to be considered stable. The skills you need are to be a good problem solver, a creative thinker. Is homework teaching our kids these skills?

10. Joshua says:

[4/11/2014 - 6:39 am]

I think in spring break we have over 300 question test in six grade I am in charleston charter math science so please comment back

11. Cyclone says:

[4/14/2014 - 7:20 am]

It’s not homework that’s the problem, it’s the old school approach on it. In Math, a lot of times I feel like I’m wasting my time doing an assignment. I wish teachers would take advantage of internet sources, such as IXL and check whether or not they did it each day as part of their grade rather than forcing them to practice skills that they’re never going to use and they can grow more. Of course students would have to go to the library in order to get it done, but I’m sure they would rather learn something in a way that both automatically checks them and gives them an explanation for it. This would help a lot with test prep too.

12. Cris says:

[11/9/2014 - 4:42 pm]

Very great points that you have there, Todd.

13. tulip says:

[12/9/2014 - 8:02 am]

why do the call it a break if the don’t give you a break if they give homework?

14. tulip says:

[12/9/2014 - 8:08 am]

I agree with you noah homework does suck !!!!!

15. scholar says:

[1/1/2015 - 4:43 pm]

These points being bringed up that home work is a necessary evil that will prepare us for college and that it will help us academically are good points, but imagine this scenario you are a vibrant young lad at the age of 17 you are graduating and you look back at your high school years, you were forced out of your warm bed at 5:00 in the morning, had a terrible breakfast because your loud mom was rushing you and nagging constantly about how slow you are, and being talked down by your socially impotent bus driver and her naggy friend the bus aid and hear them talk about how they should be respected the whole damn ride . Then was rushed in to school, every class was a struggle to keep your self awake, and your colleagues were kind of dicks. Your math teacher is a homework freak, and the art teacher is the only person you would ever want to be friends with as well as the ela teacher and the resource room teacher. You come back with an aching head and back then when your relieved that that day is over you realize you have homework, now you have to review six hours of that hell. That is how we feel every single day buddy. so let that be a reminder if you give us a homework on holidays breaks or god forbid summer.

16. Clay says:

[1/24/2015 - 6:52 pm]

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17. gsbnx.xnnxnx says:

[3/8/2015 - 11:29 am]

Why do teachers give us sping break homework

18. Joe2 says:

[3/25/2015 - 9:35 pm]

As a high school student, I always feel as though homework is nothing but an extremely large burden that I can’t shake off. There is absolutely no time outside of homework and the other difficult activities I put my time into to relax or socialize with friends. It feels like you have to either choose to do the homework and have a schedule with zero free time, but get good grades, or not do the homework and obviously be way less stressed but have a horrible grade. Our grade for how well we do in school really should not be based on how well we handle stress, which when literally all you have time for is homework (and sometimes not even enough time for that!) is what it is based on.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that all of our childhood should be stuck at a table doing homework, and it actually seems like this is what our teachers expect.

19. Kaden says:

[4/5/2015 - 8:33 am]

I hate homework!!

20. Raven says:

[4/27/2015 - 1:06 pm]

Okay, so, I’m a 6th grader myself. I can’t complain about getting homework for each subject, but when teachers get into the mindset of ”I didn’t do something in class, better do it for homework.” and already having homework, it’s their problem for not getting to it. Homework, to me, is honestly just a waste of time. I can understand maybe 6 or 7 questions to make sure you remember a previous topic or maybe some more for practice; but assigning 30 questions on something we already know is just plain wrong. Also, homework over the break also is dumb. Not everyone needs 5+ pages of homework to do over the summer, or maybe afew for spring break. For some people, a break is exactly what is meant to be; a break from school.

21. spicer33 says:

[10/25/2015 - 8:28 pm]

Agreed, I wonder if they find humor between their faculty in giving out tons of homework just to make the students work off their butts killing time when they already know how to do the thing that they’re supposed to havr learned. Also, it’s not fair that some teachers aren’t really doing a great job teachig and making sense to the kids, and expecting a high score from the assignments and tests they give out…