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Are we talking about practice?

5 min read


It’s been over 10 years since Allen Iverson went on his famous rant about missing practice. Yet, I’m sure a majority of you immediately thought of this clip as soon as you read the title of this post.

I basically had this same reaction about every time a teacher would get on me for not doing my homework when I was a student. I hated homework and avoided it at all cost. I just didn’t see the point. I didn’t see the point then, and I don’t see it now. As a young teacher, I assigned and graded homework because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. Then as I moved on and grew as an educator, I assigned homework, but didn’t grade it. I’d provide answers for students to check their work, and I’d happily sit down with them and help them as needed. Finally, my last three years in the classroom I assigned zero homework assignments.

It was the best three years of my teaching career. My students were happier and less stressed. They worked harder for me in those 42 minutes a day that I had them because they knew I wasn’t going to require any more of their time than that. Also, the work that students chose to do outside of class was far more valuable than any homework assignment I had ever assigned.

When I tell people this I almost always get the same responses:

1. What about the kids who need practice?

Yes, there are students who would benefit from extra practice at home. I had a list of ways they could practice outside of the classroom each week. I’d have problems out of the book they could do, maybe a worksheet with some problems, a link to a website or sometimes a project. Each week, I was prepared to help my students think about how they wanted to improve their math skills.

If a student chose to practice something outside of class, I was always more than willing to help that student look at his or her work. The point is, I gave my students choice and made them responsible for their learning.

2. What about the kids who need to practice but chose not too?

This question almost always follows the first one. What happens when a kid needs to practice but doesn’t? The same thing that happens to a kid who wants to play a sport but doesn’t practice. Eventually, it catches up to him or her. As educators, we like to talk a lot about natural consequences. We say that when a student doesn’t do his or her work and receives an after-school detention that is a natural consequence. However, I’ve had a lot of days when I’ve not finished my work and I’ve never been forced to stay after to finish it. I didn’t study a lick for my AP calculus exam in high school because I didn’t care. I failed it miserably. So I had to retake calculus in college. That was a natural consequence, and it was the last test I remember failing.

3. What did you use for grades?

My gradebook was paper-thin, which gave me more time to communicate with parents and design amazing lessons, and it relieved me of a lot of stress. I had summative assessments designed around learning targets, and my students took those or offered to prove their learning another way. In the end, I had around six to eight grades per nine weeks. My students knew exactly what was going into my grade book, and they didn’t offer to prove they learned something unless they were certain. If they messed up a summative assessment, they could do it over again if they wanted to. I never forced it because I wanted them to want to do better.

Did I still have students fail my class?

Yes I did, but having to repeat my math remediation class again the next year was the natural consequence of their choices.

Homework has really been on my brain lately thanks to the creation of Teachers and Parents Against Homework Group on Facebook, John Spencer’s Week Without Homework Challenge, and this post from Patrick Larkin. I also recently wrote a blog about my kids’ life without homework.

So tell me where you stand on this issue. What’s your ideal homework situation as an educator, parent or student? If you have eliminated homework from your class, how have you done it?

Brett Clark (@Mr_Brett_Clark) is an e-learning coach in southern Indiana. His interests include the flipped classroom, creating a student-centered classroom, technology integration and professional development. He is a conference presenter and recently presented at the Flipped Conference in Chicago. Learn more about Clark at his website.