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Why I Don’t Assign Homework in High School

When I think back to my own high school experience, I think of late nights. Getting home from a 3-hour dance class or play practice only to find me up well past midnight to finish all of my homework afterward.

And most of the time – I was just doing it to get through it. Whatever I had to get done just to GET IT DONE – not really learn from it.

When I grew up and decided to become a teacher, I really didn’t think twice about assigning homework. Having homework in high school was just what I was used to, so I never thought to consider NOT assigning homework to my own students. But wow, I have grown SO much in my thoughts on this since my first year teaching, so much so, that I am now actually incredibly passionate about NOT assigning homework at all.

Here is why I don’t think you should assign homework in high school:

First, let’s consider – what is the purpose? I know most would say it is to reinforce what is being learned in class to make sure they are growing in their understanding at home. But if I am being completely honest and transparent, this is NOT why I was personally assigning homework to my students. I was assigning homework for my benefit, not my students’. I was doing it because I didn’t feel like I had enough class time to cover everything, thus I needed them to do homework so that we could cover all that we needed to cover.

If you are being completely honest, would you say that you have been guilty of the same? Maybe I am alone in this, but I want to write these words to those of you, who, like me, can’t imagine not assigning homework.

A few questions to consider on this…

  • What is the goal of assigning homework?
  • Why do you REALLY do it?
  • Are you guilty of using homework as a scapegoat or are you truly taking the time and energy to assign meaningful homework to your students?
  • Is there ANOTHER WAY you could reach the same goal WITHOUT assigning homework?

My other main issue with assigning homework is this: I didn’t have the time to grade it. It was only adding to their burden AND mine. I had so much on my plate to grade already, why add more to it? Sure, I could spot check for completion and go over (and whenever I do assign homework, this is what I do), but then I really don’t know if students actually did it or just copied to get it done (as I said…I remember high school 😅 )

So I got to this place where (1) grading homework was overwhelming to me and grading something for completion (which is basically for effort) felt inauthentic because I couldn’t even confirm their effort since I didn’t witness them actually do it, and (2) it felt like I was really doing it just to make my class time easier so I didn’t have to feel as rushed.

Neither of these things were benefitting my students.

So I decided to commit to no longer assigning homework. Or if I did, it was on the rarest of occasions and NOT a regular thing by ANY means. Here is how I did it:

The strategy:

  1. I was able to start the year off by telling my students that my classes didn’t have homework. They were THRILLED. This built rapport with them right from day 1.
  2. I explained that I respected their time outside of my classroom, and I knew they had lives. So because I respected their time by not assigning homework, I needed them to respect my time in class. I needed every minute of their attention.
  3. I told them we would ONLY have homework if they did not respect my time and use it well in class. But that I would do everything in my power to create enough space and time during the class period to do everything we needed to do.

So that’s what I did. I totally re-evaluated my lesson plans. I changed my pacing so that I could slow down and offer more time for practice problems and research projects in class. I created time by decreasing lecture time and removing labs or activities I was doing that were just not crazy effective. No more labs for the sake of doing labs!! Meaningful labs and instructional resources ONLY.

And guess what? SO many more benefits came from this change than I ever could have imagined.

The surprising benefits that came from not assigning homework in my high school science classes:

  1. My no-homework strategy built rapport with students from day 1. And relationships with students are EVERYTHING when it comes to effective classroom management (in my opinion).
  2. This motivation to work hard for me because I respected their time outside of class really worked, and became central to my classroom culture. It truly eliminated a ton of management issues. I’d just simply remind them that I respected their time so they needed to respect mine. If they didn’t, the consequence was potentially having to use their free time to do work for me.
  3. I found students started doing way better in my class. WHY? Because they actually had time to study because they weren’t just always doing homework.
  4. I actually became a better teacher, because it forced intentionality with the class time I had that wasn’t there before.
  5. It saved me SO MUCH TIME grading-wise and helped to majorly decrease the time I spent grading. Then when I DID grade something, I knew it was an authentic assessment because EVERYTHING STUDENTS DID FOR ME WAS IN MY PRESENCE!
  6. It allowed me to really help students on a one-on-one basis better in class because I was monitoring everything they did.

Now I will say, is it possible to NEVER assign homework? It could be, but it isn’t easy. Sometimes it just happens. But I think what was most transformational for my teaching practice was when I stopped ever planning or making a habit of assigning homework. We ONLY had homework IF things got really crazy or students didn’t use their class time well. It was the EXCEPTION, not the norm. And I think that made all of the difference!

What has been your experience as a teacher assigning homework in high school? I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to connect with me here or reach out on Instagram DMs.

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