Teacher Urges Replacing Homework With Home Learning

By Erik W. Robelen — February 07, 2014 1 min read
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As debates to continue to swirl about the amount of time students spend on homework and its value (or lack thereof), a 6th grade teacher from Arizona explains in a new essay why he doesn’t require it anymore.

The teacher, John T. Spencer, describes the moment of realization: “Suddenly it made sense. I wanted students to engage in meaningful, authentic work outside of school,” he writes in the February issue of Phi Delta Kappan magazine. “But instead, I was forcing students to do homework that encroached on their free time. Instead of allowing students to bring their world into school, I required them to bring school into their world.”

Later, he gives a flavor for his objections to homework: “Want to kill the love of reading? Hand a child a reading log and force him or her to monitor it each night. Make it a chore to finish.”

As full disclosure here, I confess that I now have a child in kindergarten, and homework is already creeping into our lives. (Yes, our lives. Invariably, in one way or another, his homework generally does involve me or my wife.) So far, I’ve generally been spared the “worksheet” version of homework, but that could be coming soon.

We’ve blogged here from time to time on homework-related issues. For instance, in December we wrote about a high-performing New York City high school that has declared some “homework-free nights” each week. Also in December, we highlighted a recent piece by Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews suggesting that many teachers pile on homework for the wrong reasons.

One recent Education Week story, in fact, highlighted the detrimental effects of too much homework on teenagers’ sleep patterns.

Spencer, who teaches English-language learners, said in his essay that he sends a letter home each year emphasizing that learning “can and will happen naturally at home or elsewhere in a child’s world.” And while he doesn’t require homework anymore, he will oblige those parents who can’t seem to let go of the notion. But, he says, “I treat homework as an extracurricular activity.”

So, what say you, readers? Are you happy with how homework is handled in the schools where you work, or where your children attend school? Is it time to dispense with it altogether and allow children and families more time to pursue their own pathways to learning at home? Post a comment and let us know.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.