Why I Stopped Assigning Homework (And 6 Surprising Results) [Episode 96]


Click below to hear why I stopped assigning homework:

Remember the days when you were in school and thought, When I’m a teacher, I’m NEVER going to do this! But then you become a teacher and do exactly what you said you weren’t going to do. Don’t worry, I’m guilty of this too. As soon as I became a teacher, I followed suit with the cycle of assigning homework in my class. However, I had a mindset shift to where now I’m a huge advocate for not assigning homework.

I know for some, this sounds crazy! Most of you probably have a list of questions that include how do you do this, what are the benefits, and how will I know if my students are understanding the concept? And while those are all valid questions, I’ve got answers for you! In today’s episode, I’m sharing why I chose not to assign homework, my strategy in doing so, and the 6 results I learned that may surprise you.

Since not assigning homework is hard for us to grasp, I ask one simple question that asks you to reflect on the meaning of the homework you assign. Once I was truly honest with myself, the decision to not assign homework became easy. With a few tweaks to my lesson plans, pacing, and instructional time, the need for homework became nonexistent. Plus, this new change had a positive impact on my students’ motivation, focus, and academic success in my class.

I acknowledge that making this type of change in your classroom can be scary and, honestly, not for everyone. However, my goal is to provide you with a new perspective and approach to how you view and implement grading in your class. When I stopped making homework a habit in my class, it was transformative for both me and my students, and I know it will be for you and yours, too! 

Topics Discussed:

  • My #1 tip for changing up your grading philosophy and practices
  • Reflecting on the purpose or meaning of the homework you assign
  • 3 strategies to implement when not assigning homework in your class
  • The 6 benefits for you and your students when you break the cycle of not assigning homework
  • How this idea is correlated to assigning projects as well
  • My challenge for you regarding homework for your classes

Resources Mentioned:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:00
You’re listening to episode number 96 of the secondary science simplified podcast. When I think back to my own high school experience, I think of late nights, I think you’re getting home from a three hour dance class or a play practice, only define myself up well past midnight trying to finish all my homework afterward. And most of the time, I was just doing it to get through it. Whatever I had done was just to get it done and not to really learn from it. I mean, God bless, honestly, my AP European History teacher, I didn’t even end up taking that AP exam, because he and I both knew that I was just doing what I had to do to get by I was not a history girl. I don’t even know why I was in that class. I had already not passed the AP US History exam the year before. And I think I just did it because I was one of those kids that I was like, I do AP everything and like, someone should have been like Sr, just stick with the math and science. So alright, needless to say, do not have fond memories of that. And then when I grew up and decide to become a teacher, like I really just didn’t think twice about assigning homework. I was like, having homework in high school is just what you’re supposed to do. That’s just part of it. We’re preparing them for college. That’s what I always thought. And so I never really thought about not assigning homework to my own students. But over time, my heart really, really changed on this. And I have grown so much, and how I think about this, to the point that now I’m actually incredibly passionate and like a huge advocate about not assigning homework at all, to my high school students. And so that’s what this podcast episode is about. This episode in our series on grading practices, is my number one grading recommendation. Like if you’re not going to start with any of the things I’ve mentioned thus far, I would hope that you would start with this, and that’s to not assign homework, and I’m going to explain why in today’s podcast episode. So let’s do this. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time you spend in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend, let’s get to today’s episode.

Rebecca 2:40
Okay, so obviously, this is kind of a touchy subject. But I really want to get to the heart behind this, but really understand the why. And then I want to share with you guys kind of my strategy and how I approach this. And then I’m also going to share with you six very surprising results that came from this experiment. When I decided a couple of years ago, when I was still teaching full time to not do homework anymore. It honestly went so much better than I ever could have thought. So first, let’s talk about the why though. And I want you to consider what is the purpose of the homework that you’re giving to your students. I know that most of us would say it’s to reinforce what is being learned in class and to make sure that they’re growing and they’re, they’re learning more, they’re understanding more at home, like you don’t have enough class time for them to really get it reinforced. So you want them to do that at home. But if I’m being completely honest and transparent, this is not why I was personally assigning homework for my students, I was assigning homework for my benefit, not for my students. I was assigning it because I didn’t feel like I had enough class time to cover everything. And so I was like, we got to do homework so that you guys can cover some of the stuff that I don’t have time to cover with you. And if I’m being completely honest, I want you to to, like would you say that you’ve been guilty of the same. And maybe I’m alone in this, but I want to say these words out loud, to those of you listening who are like me. And at one point like I couldn’t imagine not assigning homework. And so I want you to consider what is the goal of assigning homework in your class? 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? And then, if you’re like, No, I am like I’m assigning good reinforcing practice for them. I would then ask, is there another way you could reach the same goal without assigning homework? Because here’s the thing. My other main issue with assigning homework besides my not very great motives for doing it was I didn’t have time to grade it. So it was only adding to their burden and to mind. I had so much on my plate degrade already, which I’ve eliminated over time, as you heard in last week’s episode number 95. But like in the beginning, I just had so much I was like why am I going to add more to it? And sure I could like by check their homework for completion and then we go over it. Because that is what I did. Like anytime I had homework, that’s what I would do, we just spot check it a check it during their bell ringer, and then we’d go over it right away. But then I don’t really know if students are actually doing it, or if they’re just copying it to get it done. You know, these are high school students, we all know how they are. Episode 94 was all about cheating, like, we get how it goes. And so if you’re assigning homework for it to be this reinforcing practice for them, so they can grow in their understanding, are you confident they’re really growing in their understanding? Or are they all just copying it just to get by and to get the grade that you they want to get. And so all of these reflections kind of led me to this place where one grading homework was overwhelming to me. And then to grading something for completion, which is, you know, basically grading for effort, felt inauthentic, because I couldn’t even confirm their effort, since I wasn’t able to witness them actually doing it. And I’ll never forget, like, walking into the hallway. And all these students sitting outside of their lockers at the end of the day, all doing their homework together, but really all copying each other’s homework. And I was like, why am I even assigning this, this is completely pointless. And like I already said, I was really just doing it to try to make my class time easier to take some things off of my plate during our class period. And so I wouldn’t feel as rushed. And none of that was benefiting my students at all. Like even the goal that I wasn’t even shooting for, which is like reinforcing and growing their understanding outside of class, like, I wasn’t even hitting that. And so I was like, You know what, I’m going to commit to not assigning homework anymore. Or if I do assign it, it’s going to be like on the rarest of occasions, it’s not going to be a regular thing, it’s only going to be an exception. And so here’s kind of the strategy I took when I was like, let’s start this great experiment. Let’s see what happens. And so the first thing I did was I decided to start off the year by telling my students that my classes didn’t have homework. Like it was literally in the syllabus, I was like, there’s no homework in this class. And they were thrilled, like day one of the school year, they were like, I love this class, this teacher is awesome. But I followed it up with my strategy, point number two, which was like I explained, hey, the reason that I don’t assign homework is because I respect your time outside of the classroom. I know you guys have lives, I know so many of you have jobs. I know so many of you are in other AP classes in sports, and whenever I get it, but here’s the deal, I’m gonna respect your time outside of class, you will respect my time inside of class. And then I will not have to give you homework. If you give me every minute of your attention in this class period, you will never have a homework in this class period. And I talked about this back in our classroom management series like this was a big procedure of mine that I use to manage whole class behavior was this motivation as a class to not have homework because they knew if they focus, they would not have homework, because I got really strategic about making sure my lesson plans truly were written so that it could all be done in class. And that came with my third point, my strategy, like, we will only have homework, if you don’t respect my time and use your time well in this class, and then we run out of time, you will then have homework. But I’m going to do everything in my power to create enough space in the class period, enough time that we will cover everything we need to cover in this class period. And so that’s what I did. I started the year off this way. I totally reevaluated my lesson plans. I changed my pacing, so that I could slow down and offer more time for practice problems and research projects and things like that in class. Instead of all these like, I was so guilty of always having like an outside research project that they were always working on or something like that, which I will say as a side note, I don’t think is then the world, especially if you have honor students, you can take a lot of this with a grain of salt, I think you can kind of honors and AP classes come with different expectations. But I think this is especially great for those on grade level classes. I mean, and even your honors and AP, like just seeing homework as an exception, not a rule to what’s going to be happening every day. But that’s a tangent, I didn’t mean to go on. And I created time. One of the ways I created time in my class to do more of their homework in class was by decreasing lecture time, and being really ruthless. With the lives and activities I did choose to do with my students. I did a really thorough audit of my labs and resources, which I will link in the show notes. I have a whole free document for you on how to do this and audit your stuff. If you weren’t here back in May, at the start of our summer podcast B. This is like a whole episode. So I will link that for you. But I just wanted to make sure I’m not going to do any busy work anymore. We’re not going to do labs for the sake of doing labs. Everything we do will be meaningful instructional resources that are incredibly intentionally selected. And the kids saw that my students saw that there’s not busy work and Miss joiners class. Like we do stuff for a reason. And it created so much respect for the class and again, it reclaimed a lot of time for me where we were just doing a lot of filler stuff and it was great. So that was my strategy and then Here’s how it turned out, y’all. I truly can’t believe this turnout as well as it did. So these are kind of like some of the results of my little experiment that then led me to do this the next year after that as well. And in for this now to become one of my like, internet platforms. I always think like if there was a beauty pageant for people on the internet, and you know, you had your platform, I feel like beauty pageant contestants always have a platform they’re advocating for this would be my platform, like I’m advocating for this, because I’m so passionate about this. This are prime times, let’s be honest, but I’m not. I’m not trying to make this another primetime podcast, y’all are like, please stop talking about it. Alright, let’s talk about the benefits of my little no homework experiment. So first things first, like I said, my no homework strategy, it built so much rapport with the students from day one. And y’all know, relationships, students are everything, when it comes to effective classroom management, especially on that one on one level, like truly from day one. It made me stand out as a teacher, like they were like, from day one, students were like, wow, she like, genuinely cares about us and like, sees that we have lives outside of school, and wants to respect our time, like that genuinely meant so much to them, you will be the exception to everyone else in your, in your school if you do this, and it’ll make a difference. The second thing that kind of came from that is, again, it motivated them to work hard for me, because they saw that I respected their time. So they respected mine, it totally changed our classroom culture. And that in turn, eliminated a lot of my classroom management issues because they kind of started to self manage a little bit more. I was treating them like adults, and respecting their time. So they started acting more like adults, it was really a beautiful, beautiful thing. Because they knew to the consequence was they’re going to potentially have to use their free time to do work for me, which they didn’t want to do. And another thing too, y’all, this was such a way just to care for my students that have so much going on in their personal lives. And y’all know those students, those students that get home, they ride the bus home, and then they got to care for their siblings. So their mom gets off third shift, or those kids who have to work another job immediately after school, they’re doing the shift from four to midnight, Dairy Queen, or at Starbucks or whatever. And then they’re going home like, those kids are exhausted. And I mean, even the kids that are playing to sports, and they’re in the play, and you know, they’re trying to volunteer like, these kids have a lot going on. I think it is rare nowadays that these kids aren’t overwhelmed in some capacity. And so I just felt like this was a way I really could care for them. And they saw that and they felt that. The third thing I saw is my students just started doing better in my class, which is surprising. Do you think like, oh, you’re you eliminate homework, you eliminate where they’re getting their reinforcement? Shouldn’t they do worse? Not at all. They are doing better in my class, because again, they were giving me so much more of their focus and attention when they’re in my classroom. But then also, a lot of my students said they were actually studying for my class for the first time because they had time to, a lot of times students are like, I never study because I’m always doing homework. So I don’t have time to study on top of that. But my students did have time to study for tests, because I told them like your basically your only homework ever for me is for you to study for my tests, because I’m not going to give you any other homework. And so it actually created space for them to be able to do that. The fourth surprising result from this experiment was, I feel like I became a better teacher, I genuinely do. I think it forced me to be so intentional with class time. And an intentionality that wasn’t there before. Because I kind of knew I always have a scapegoat, like, okay, they will go just, if we don’t get through this, they’ll just have to do it for homework. And like, I just was putting this burden on them. And I was kind of able to pick that back up. And it again, made me a better teacher really challenged me in a great way. Fifth benefit was I save so much time grading wise, it really contributed to me not having to grade as much because like I mentioned in our last episode 95. When I then did grade something, I knew it was an authentic assessment, because everything students I was grading was things that students had done in my presence. So I knew that they weren’t cheating, or at least they were working in a group so I can kind of hear their conversations and make sure they are working together or whatever. And then I would say the six benefit was it really allowed me to help students on a one on one basis in class, because again, I was monitoring everything that you did. So I could walk around and really see like what they were doing. And a lot of times to this looks like as simple as even taking a practice handout that has 10 problems, and just being like, Hey, we’re just going to do the odds in class. And then if you need extra support, you can come to tutoring and I’ll do the evens with you. You know, it just created so much room for flexibility there as well as opposed to being like, here’s 10 problems if you don’t finish in class, it’s for homework and then they’re overwhelmed because they think it’s too many. If they can do five problems they can do 10 That’s a huge I think back in the day it used to be like 2530 problems okay, let’s cut it down to like 10 or 15. Now Mike, let’s come down to five they can do five problems are fine. You know, I just I genuinely think that that you may disagree. So, you may be thinking after I say all this is it possible to never assign homework. It could be, but it isn’t easy. You and I both know, sometimes it happens, you know, sometimes you underestimate how long something will take, or maybe you all end up having a great discussion and things kind of go off that rails. And, you know, you can’t just bump the lesson back till tomorrow because you got to get this in before the test before the end of the quarter or whatever. But I think what was most transformational for my teaching practice was just stopping planning on having homework or making a habit of assigning homework, we’re only gonna have homework, if things get real crazy, or students don’t use their time. Well, it is the exception, it’s not the norm. And it makes all the difference. And I think this really carries over to, to projects outside of class, I was so guilty of kind of really once a quarter, but maybe more once in the semester, I think is once a quarter actually, students having some sort of project outside of class, which I love, I love a non traditional summative assessment, I love them so much. But it was this weight on students always outside of class that they had this project hanging over them. And oftentimes, I was guilty of making the project do after a break, thinking, Oh, I’m giving them six weeks to do this. But then the last week will be over winter break. So then if they haven’t finished up, they can finish up then. But you and I both know, they’re not going to do that they wait to the last minute and then they’re having to do it over the winter break. And now as a parent, I’m like my oldest about to start kindergarten. So I know I’m like a baby parent. I don’t know anything. But I’m like early emotional thinking about how little time I’m going to have with him when he started school full time. I am living for his fall break. I’m living for Thanksgiving break, I’m living for winter break. I can’t wait for every second I get to have with him. And obviously he’s in kindergarten. So he’s not gonna have any homework. But I’m just thinking about I mean, my precious kindergartener is going to be a high school boy, one day, Lord willing, and I’m still gonna want to spend my winter breaks with him, I don’t want him locked in his room or working on a biology project for some teacher, I want him resting and recharging with our family and enjoying the holiday. And I want that for my students to y’all. I’m getting teary. I swear becoming a mother has made me so soft. But like in the best way, I was so rigid, and black and white, and everything I did. And I was so like certain. And I think the older I get one, the more humbled I am. And to the more I’m less certain about everything, and less confident in everything. But I think in the best way, because it makes me hear other people better and take in other ideas better. And so I hope when I give you these podcast episodes, I’m sure they come off a little aggressive, because I get I get passionate, you’ll know I get passionate talking about these things. Because I get passionate sharing my experiences and how they change my life and my students. But I also want you to know that you know yourself best, you know, your students best, you know what is best, you know, you do not have to do everything like me, and you shouldn’t, because you and I are different people. But I hope when you hear this episode, maybe it just gets you starting to think differently about homework. And maybe you’re like, Oh, I hear that I never thought about that with projects, maybe I won’t be assigning a project. Now. That’s due anywhere near breaks, that students will end up doing it over a break, you want to be home enjoying your time off, so to your students, so to their parents, they want to enjoy it with their kids. And so think about that as we move through the rest of the school year. And so that’s kind of just my action set for you with this episode, is just take a few minutes and sit down and really reflect on what we talked about at the top of the episode, which is the reason for why you’re assigning homework kind of really nailed down what that reason is, if it’s a good reason, maybe think of okay, well, is there another way to achieve this goal without it being homework? And then if you’re willing, what if you just kind of decide for a quarter of this year to do the experiment like I did? At this point? You know, it’s September so most some of you have been in school for two months. Some of you just started last week. So you might be thinking like, Okay, well, like you said, you started this the beginning the year we can’t do that. What are you started it for quarter two, quarter two usually falls from most people starts around mid October, sometime in October, what he said at the start of quarter two guys, we’re gonna do something different this quarter. We’re all gonna do homework and kind of approach it with the same strategy as I did and just see how it goes. I can what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get through as much in quarter two. Okay, well, unless you have an AP course and EOC course. Yeah, you’re supposed to teach the standards but like, who really cares, you don’t get through every single thing perfectly. Again, this is another way I’ve gone soft. And in my older age. I don’t know why I say older age but older than 22 When I started teaching is like when I was 22 teaching an EOC course it would have killed me to skip anything that was on the EOC. But now the older I get, I’m like life’s a learning experience. Like we just all do the best we have. I’d rather think about them as a holistic individual human then worry about their ESC score, their AP Bio score and again, I don’t mean to be flippant, because I know these things matter. I know you know, this can save, like especially AP exams, it saves students money in college and then have to take the course and I get it. I’m not trying to be flippant, but I do just want you to think about it differently maybe than you ever have before, because that’s what I did. And it really changed everything. I mean, truly a one at where I am now on this topic to where I was when I started teaching when I was 22 years old. Alright, so that’s it. I know I mentioned a couple of their podcast episodes that like we’ve talked about little things here and there related to this, and I’ll link those in the show notes at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 96 And this week, I want you to leave a review if you haven’t already. If you’re on that no homework chain. Okay, as my kids would say, choo, choo, get on the train. If you want to try new homework, leave a rating or review and let me know about it. I would love to hear from you.

Rebecca 20:50
All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend.

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