Monday, January 23, 2017

Overwhelmed by Homework

As a dad you have so many hopes and dreams for your child. You want the best for them and give them as many opportunities as possible to explore and discover their talents and passions. As they grow you support their interests and education. You help them with their reading and math. You work with them on school projects. You beam with pride as you see them succeed. You watch as they move into the older grades in elementary school. You help with homework, especially with math as it gets a little trickier. As they move into middle school the homework increases and you watch as they try and balance homework, friendships, extra curricular activities, and family commitments. You help them with learning how to manage their time. 

I find it hard to believe that our daughter has reached high school. She is a great student and we are so proud of her. We encouraged her to get involved and make the most of her experiences. She started off her freshman year with taking some rigorous classes (Honors Geometry, Honors English II, AP Human Geography, Spanish 2, Honors Biology). She made the JV Dance Team and was asked to choreograph the crosstown game half time dance. We are so proud of her because she is a good student, dancer, daughter, and friend. Proud of her because she works hard and is a diligent student. Proud of her because she has a tremendous amount of grit. 

As the year has progressed we noticed a change. She is often tired and stressed. We chalked that up to the change with being in high school. However, we noticed that she was constantly doing homework and it always seems as if she gets more every night. She would get home from practice, eat a quick dinner, and then off to her room to do 3+ hours of homework every night. We watched as she worked harder and harder to stay above water. And then we saw her drawing. A drawing that gives you a sense of how she feels. How she is being weighed down by the amount of homework she is assigned day after day. 

We saw this picture and our hearts broke. Our hearts broke because this was not the experience we wanted her to have in high school. Sure we knew she would have to work hard to do well in class, but not at the cost of other experiences and opportunities. As parents we are upset as we watch teachers pile on the work without thinking about the impact on students. 

As an educator I see the assignments come home and I get so confused as to how these assignments are helping her grasp key concepts. Instead, the assignments are often worksheets, making flash cards, completing packets, or memorizing vocabulary. I don't understand how these assignments are helping students. 

When I was an elementary school teacher I rarely assigned homework beyond some math practice and reading. I have never been a fan of worksheets or busy work. I would tell the parents of my students that homework should never be a battle at home. If their child was stuck or confused on something to let me know so I could help them in class. 

I watch my daughter experience something totally different as a student and I ask myself how is this possible. How can teachers continue to assign work and not provide students with meaningful feedback on that work? Why are they not thinking of ways to engage students in their learning? What are they hoping to gain by giving students so much work to do at home? Why are they continuing with practices that don't impact student learning? How do they where their students are in regards to the essential questions or learning targets? How do they even know who is doing the homework? 

We need to do a better job as educators. We need to think about what we are requiring of our students  in regards to homework and how that will be meaningful for our students. We need to provide students with actionable feedback about their learning and provide support for them. We need to challenge them, but not by giving them more to do. We need to stop overwhelming them. 


  1. This is so sad...and, unfortunately, it seems to be the experience of too many students. Some teachers seem to confuse quality with quantity. Many also believe that they must give homework daily (forgetting the class load of students) - when I train new teachers I have to constantly let them know that it's okay NOT to give homework. I also find that many teachers have no idea how much time their assignments take. Is there any way you can talk to the teachers about this? Would they be open to feedback?

  2. My daughter starts high school next year--I worry for her based on her personality and her tendency to get overwhelmed. Important topic, thanks Tim.

  3. Tim- your post resonates, not from experiences with my own children (oldest is 8), but in just having conversations with my students. I was shocked at how many worked so they can drive and/or have insurance, how many were care givers for relatives, etc etc. My eyes were opened, and my perspective changed. I'm now actively working on making changes so homework is only what isn't finished in class.

  4. Oh Tim, my heart breaks for your daughter & your family. You know I'm totally in agreement. Something needs to change.

  5. Tim,
    I have a daughter who is a freshman in HS his year, so your words rang true to me. It is sad and frustrating to see someone's love of school dimmed by massive amounts of homework each night. And what about the kids who don't have a place or the time to do homework? The more we talk about it the more we can address this disservice to students. Thanks for raising awareness with this post!

  6. Tim, I have so much empathy. We saw the same with our children. It pains us as parents and confuses as educators how this is happening. For what reason? So called rigor? So many questions, but few answers. Your daughter is a testimony to your parenting. You taught her perseverance and follow-through. Thank you for braving the waters of this very controversial topic.

    Marilyn . . .

  7. Tim, this heartfelt post rings true for our students, especially high school students. It is why I hated school and it is so disheartening that we haven't figured out a different way yet! Thank you for this post...your daughter is quite an artist!

  8. I agree 100%. Maybe in this day and age of accountability, teachers feel the need to have excessive grades in their grade book to justify that they are doing their job? I don't know. I am an elementary teacher and I am like you -- only reading HW at night and that's because I want my students to develop a reading habit for life. (And they know that's why I assign the reading HW.). We need to think differently about HW if we want to prepare our students for life in this century, not the last one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I hope lots of teachers read it and reflect on their practices.

  9. The sentence that resonated with me the most is "How can teachers continue to assign work and not provide students with meaningful feedback on that work?" It's disheartening to give students a ton of work and them feel like they're doing it just to do it and not to further their learning. Rigor does not equal more work. Thanks for sharing - I hope your daughter feels some relief soon. Kudos to her for her accomplishments!

  10. I just don't get teachers who don't reflect on their practices to see if it truly benefits students and who believe - firmly - that HW teaches responsibility.

  11. I think a very good question to ask is, do teachers know how much time their homework is taking to complete? I have had some eye-opening conversations with students/families about this in the past and changed the way I assign homework as a result of it. Since I do not have kids of my own, I NEED this sort of perspective to ensure I am supporting the whole child!

    1. I agree with you, Aubrey. My daughter is in grade 8 and feels that she can only "complete" her assignments. She wants to dig deeper, but she feels she would have to work hours on end to do that. She was assigned 3 poems - 100 words each, due one week after another. Wouldn't it be better to assign one poem, do peer and teacher feedback, have give them time to edit/revise before assigning another poem?

  12. Good topic. A good way to get some feedback is through a quick Google form -- how long did it take, what were your struggles, and how did you grow. As a teacher, it's important to learn from your learners as well. Thank you for sharing.