Mixed Feelings: Making Homework Matter

How can you make homework a valuable learning experience?

I will admit, I have mixed feelings about homework.  As a teacher, I understand it can be helpful to reinforce what’s learned during the school day. I know we don’t always have “enough” time with our students to get everything “done”, and there’s the temptation to send some of those things home.

On the other hand, as a parent, I feel that kids spend so much of their day in school being told what to learn and what to do, that I think they need the time to pursue their own interests in the afterschool hours. 

Maybe because of these mixed feelings, I strongly believe that if you are going to send homework home – if it’s something you are required or you really believe in – then you better make it matter! It better improve (all of!) your students’ learning experiences and contribute to what you are doing in class.


So how can you do that? Here are a few quick tips!

ONE: Provide a rationale. 

Explain to students WHY this homework is important. What is it going to help students understand better? What is it going to show you that they know? How will it prepare them for what you are doing next class?


TWO: Keep it attainable. 

While some students may be able to get help and support if they get stuck, others are going to be “going it alone.” Students must be able to complete the task independently, no matter their skill level. 

The alternative here is that if you DO provide a more challenging task, provide them with the opportunity to get support if they can’t figure it out alone.  Offer time after school the night it’s assigned or before school the day it is due.  A student should not come into class feeling like they couldn’t do their homework because they didn’t know how (and had no way to get help).


THREE: Provide feedback. 

This approach truly validates the work students DO complete outside the classroom. So often we stamp the homework and move on. Maybe we do a quick review of the correct answers.  When we treat completed homework this way, though, we are essentially acknowledging that this work WASN’T important. It WASN’T vital.  It’s just a number in the gradebook.

Alternatively, when we spend time discussing the homework the task, the approaches, the responses students came up with we are sending the message that this work is relevant to what we are doing in class, and it’s worth the students’ time to complete it. 

You can take this a step further and provide written feedback yourself, if you don’t have time to discuss the work in class.  Offer something more than just a grade a quick note, a response to an item, something that lets students know you actually did see their work!

Alternatively, students could review homework together and provide feedback.  Obviously this approach would require some sort of “training.” That said, the opportunity to review and critique others’ work is a valuable skill in NGSS classrooms, so it may be worth that time and effort!


Final Thoughts

If we are going to assign homework – essentially imposing our values on their time – we at the very least should make homework matter.

What do you think about homework? How much do you typically assign? How much do you think is fair? What strategies do you have for “making homework matter” in your classroom?


Where can you learn more about designing an NGSS-aligned classroom and curriculum?

The Science Teacher Tribe Course + Community professional development program is designed to walk you through developing instructional sequences that carry students from exploration to learning.  If you’re looking for more support as you implement the NGSS, let us walk you through creating those cohesive units that tie your standards together, assessments that evaluate students on all three dimensions, and carefully crafted instruction that fosters student discovery of the content. End the course with a completely self-designed NGSS-aligned unit while earning a certificate of completion from iExploreScience!

If you’re not ready to enroll in our full professional development program, check out the free mini-course – Intro To The NGSS – to get a handle on the basics.  Discover what the NGSS REALLY looks like in the classroom – from changes to your content and instruction all the way down to your assessments. 

Science Teacher Tribe: Convenient and Comprehensive NGSS Professional Development

If you are anything like me, transitioning to the NGSS can be totally overwhelming.  Teaching is hard as it is – you’re busy keeping up with the “normal” lessons day to day and week to week, plus grading, meetings, IEPs, behavior management, so on and so forth. I get it. Who has the time or energy to figure out all that goes into these new standards and their impact on your curriculum, let alone what it means for your teaching!

Well, I’m happy to say there IS an easier way. You don’t HAVE to muddle through everything, and you definitely don’t have to do it alone!

Imagine feeling confident that the curriculum you designed is actually aligned to the standards, that your units incorporate the three dimensions and engage your students in Science and Engineering Practices that matter. Imagine classes full of students who take ownership of their learning, who thrive on “figuring it out” and “puzzling through it” and come to learn the content through discovery.  Imagine days where you DON’T have to stand in front of the class, battling for their attention, delivering boring lectures and notes, printing worksheet after worksheet, and wasting tons of time on review and reteaching — only to have your students fail to perform anyway. Imagine learning that sticks, and engaging activities (that you may already be doing!) but that lead to true understanding.  It’s not magic, and it doesn’t necessarily come easy, but it IS possible.  

Learn more at the Science Teacher Tribe Course and Community.