is important. Five-page worksheets
or endless lists of definitions or math
problems look boring and tedious. As
a gourmet cook would say, “
Presentation is everything.” Wise teachers
have learned that students at all levels
are more motivated to complete assignments that are visually uncluttered.
Less information on the page, plenty
of room to write answers, and the
use of graphics or clip art make
tasks look inviting and interesting
In an effort to create appealing
tasks, teachers sometimes compromise
learning. A word search may look like
fun, but it has little value in reinforcing
spelling and can be a torturous task.
A better task would be for students to
create their own pattern of content-related words, as in Scrabble. Likewise,
crossword puzzles are fun, but students may benefit little from matching
definitions with words when the focus
is on solving the puzzle. A better task
would be for the students to find connections between the concepts that the
words represent. For example, students
might group words as “feeling words”
or “action words,” as nouns or verbs,
or as words with one or two syllables.
that they don’t understand a task—and
can do so without penalty. EL
Bennett, S., & Kalish, N. (2006). The case
against homework: How homework is hurting
our children and what we can do about it.
New York: Crown.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Ifill-Lynch, O.
(2006). If they’d only do their work!
Educational Leadership, 63( 5), 8–13.
Goldberg, K. (2007, April). The homework
trap. Paper presented at the annual
meeting of the American Educational
Research Association, Chicago.
Kohn, A. (2006). The homework myth: Why
our kids get too much of a bad thing. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock,
J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that
works: Research-based strategies for
increasing student achievement. Alexandria,
Stiggins, R. (2007). Assessment through the
student’s eyes. Educational Leadership,
64( 8), 22–26.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2008). The goals of differentiation. Educational Leadership, 66( 3),
Vatterott, C. (2007). Becoming a middle level
teacher: Student focused teaching of early
adolescents. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Vatterott, C. (2009). Rethinking homework:
Best practices that support diverse needs.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Free to Learn
Meaningful homework should be purposeful, efficient, personalized, doable,
and inviting. Most important, students
must be able to freely communicate
with teachers when they struggle with
homework, knowing they can admit
Cathy Vatterott is an associate professor of education at the University of
Missouri–St. Louis. She is the author of
Rethinking Homework: Best Practices
That Support Diverse Needs (ASCD,
For more on assigning effective
homework, see the online-only
article “Homework Done Right”
by Janet Alleman, Rob Ley,
Barbara Knighton, Ben Botwinski,
and Sarah Middlestead, at www