Adieu, Homework: Let’s Explore Alternatives to Traditional Homework

This article explores some of the history of homework and also a few homework alternatives.

Adieu, Homework

If you end your class with homework and you hear groans, it may be time to stop and ask why. Of course, this is nothing new and it knows no boundaries, geographically at least, from what I hear from colleagues. Homework and a collective groan following its announcement have been around for many years now, since formal schooling began.

If you are surprised to hear this because your students always respond enthusiastically to assignments, I’d like to buy you coffee and grill you! I am sure everyone would like to know how you do it.

I was reading about the pros and cons of homework, and I want to talk about that, and address these questions: Why do we give homework? Why should it be scrapped (or not scrapped) from schools? And what are its alternatives?

The Purpose of Homework

Homework, as far as I know, has no known creator but it is believed to have been around since formal schooling began. Its purpose was and continues to be knowledge acquisition and practice. Depending on the type of assignment, we use this as a way for students to learn through repetitive activities and practice, or to expand their understanding with further research and hands-on learning that projects and experiments enable. They can also be used to get students to prepare for a new lesson.

Students seem to regard it as a form of punishment and ‘I hate homework’ is a common reaction. If you have ever taught a class, you know how creative students can get with their excuses for not doing their homework. Umm…the dog ate my homework, anyone?

Should We Scrap Homework?

Some educators and parents feel homework is stressful. They feel too much time spent on academics takes away the time kids need to play and engage in leisure activities. So where does that leave us? We can’t deny that homework has its merits, and that it may go beyond knowledge acquisition. It encourages students to practice discipline, learn responsibility, work independently (well, almost), manage their time, and engage in the process of learning outside the school environment in their own space.

So, homework has its benefits, students seem to have an inherent dislike toward homework, a set of parents think it is a pain, and not all educators agree that it actually leads to academic success. Again, I find myself standing at the crossroads with a thought bubble hovering over my head, asking, “To give homework or not to give homework?”

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Alternatives to Traditional Homework

Perhaps the answer is not to give homework the boot but to instead give it a makeover. Maybe this is just about new ways to do it, and a lot of us are already doing it. A couple of my own rules sound like this:

  • Never ever use homework as punishment
  • Ask students how they want to do the assignment – some of them have great suggestions
  • Avoid the usual drills and instead suggest alternatives like watching a video, making a collage, taking a quiz on a mobile app and comparing scores in class etc
  • Keep it to 15-20 minutes.

I am trying to change the way they view homework, make them a part of the homework process by coming up with ideas, and find new ways for them to practice and prepare without turning it into an overwhelming task.

I’d love to know an alternative to traditional homework that you use in the classrooms, and the kind of response you get from students.

About Ethan Miller 1 Article
Ethan is a dedicated private ESL teacher. Apart from his passion for teaching, Ethan loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Ethan loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can check out his blog Essay Writing Tips and Help on Wordpress.

3 Comments on Adieu, Homework: Let’s Explore Alternatives to Traditional Homework

  1. Really enjoyed your purposed alternatives to traditional homework…what do you think about incorporating educational games?

  2. I also do not assign specific homework. In the beginning of the year I start off by explaining to my students and their parents that I try not to assign homework because I know that they have a lot of homework in their other (non-elective) courses. I also emphasize that I do not give busy work. Assignments are all designed to help them understand concepts we are covering in class and are designed in such a way that students can easily recognize their benefit.
    I continue to reinforce daily that what my students need to do to be successful in Anatomy & Physiology is to participate actively in class, to reflect often on what we are learning, and to study for 15 minutes each day. We spend time discussing how self-reflection gives them insight into what exactly they will want to focus on during their study sessions and helps them identify areas in which they need to seek further tutoring.
    I teach Anatomy & Physiology, so there is a lot of memorization of terms involved in the subject. I discuss often with my students the idea that I don’t want them to spend hours cramming because it is an ineffective way to learn. (We also talk a lot about how the brain learns, and work to use many differing study strategies in an effort to identify what works best for each student) Rather than spending hours the day before the test, my students need to make sure they plan brief study sessions daily. I have found that students who make a conscious effort to follow this plan do very well.

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