Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Hacking Homework: How to Inspire Learning

by Amy Brennan

On Thursday, March 2, 2017 #G2Great welcomed Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton to a conversation around homework. While we had several questions to generate our conversation I can’t help but feel that some questions beg for us to linger longer. This blog is just the place to linger longer and dig a little deeper into such an important topic. Be sure to check out their book, Hacking Homework: 10 Strategies That Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom.

What does the research say and why is everyone talking about it?

John Hattie’s research about homework has been the evidence that many people quote when saying that there is “no research to support homework having an impact on learning.” It is in very broad terms that the research is quoted and does not differentiate the types of homework that Hattie is referring to. He breaks this down by the nature of the homework and then the effect size, while correlated to the grade level is really more connected to the type of homework that is typically assigned to students at each level.  


Nature of Homework Typical of School Level Effect Size at each School Level
Homework as an opportunity to practice something that was already taught as the student is entering the stage of mastery High School Level 0.55
Middle School Level 0.30
Homework that involves new materials, projects, or work with which a student may struggle when alone Elementary 0.10
*Fisher, Frey, Hattie Visible Learning for Literacy 2016

In considering this research, reading independently for homework and specifically reading at their independent reading level would have a 0.55 effect size. The effect size is the magnitude of a specific effect and Hattie found that the “hinge point” of higher than 0.40 had a positive impact on learning.  

Rethinking the type of homework that we assign to students was a big idea that came from our guest hosts, Starr and Connie. They make a point that worksheets,spelling lists and hours of math problems are not great academic interventions. Starr and Connie make the case that just because homework always looked this way does not mean that it has to be this way or that it is the best way. Starr and Connie share such timely “hacks” to traditional homework that will inspire your students to learn. During the chat some primary beliefs around homework developed. Ideas related to purpose, relevance, flexibility and the home-school connection were shared during the chat and are worthy of further reflection and conversation. These ideas will lead us to explore ways to “hack homework.”

Purpose and relevance

Is homework relevant? This was a question that generated responses that spoke to the importance of considering the purpose when assigning homework. Just like anything else, learners need to understand the purpose behind something before they are going to engage in and learn from it. Acknowledging that there is a real purpose behind a specific homework assignment gives students reason to complete it and makes the time spent on the homework valuable. Once the purpose has been established we also need to consider the relevance of a particular homework assignment.


Let’s see how this looks with an example:


I believe independent reading is a valuable homework assignment. When assigning independent reading I want to be very clear in the purpose of reading independently as homework. There are a variety of purposes for independent reading and they need to be expressed and demonstrated to students. Ultimately it is to become a better reader but the purpose needs to also be relevant to our students.


Purpose and relevance: The purpose behind reading for homework each night is to become proficient, lifelong readers and above all thinkers. Reading impacts all aspects of our lives personally, socially and professionally. It improves the quality of our lives. We become better citizens when we read and think critically and share our ideas with others to make the world better. This is what we want for our students. We know that children learn to read by reading and they need to read a lot in school and outside of school in order to accelerate their reading proficiency. Homework needs to be meaningful and relevant to the student and their learning. Independent reading of self-selected books means that homework is purposeful and relevant.   



Flexibility in assigning homework is necessary for so many reasons. First, as teachers we work with little humans, and little humans well, they are just as complex as the big ones like us and that requires flexibility. We are flexible by providing learning opportunities that best meet our students’  needs and accentuates their strengths in order to accelerate learning. One size fits all or rigid rules and consequences for homework does not provide the flexibility required for our best learning to happen!


The Home-School Connection

When homework is meaningful, purposeful and relevant it can be a positive experience. When we develop a vision around homework and share it with our families in very clear ways that are purposeful and relevant it will strengthen the connection and overall support improving student learning. Providing flexibility to account for individual and family differences will also help to build the connection between a student’s home and school. Ultimately, the home-school connection will improve when we look at homework truly as a way to improve and inspire student learning.

Homework is a topic that warrants our attention. We are grateful to Starr and Connie for helping us reflect on these important ideas.

Links for Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton

Starr Sackstein  twitter – @MsSackstein

Starr Sackstein Books

Hacking Homework Page with books:

Education Week, Teacher at “Work in Progress”

2016 TEDxTalk

Connie Hamilton, ED.S.

Twitter: @conniehamilton


Hacking Homework: Favorite Quotes, Tips, Advice from the Introduction and Hacks 1-4 by Colleen Noffsinger.

Hacking Homework (Part 2): Favorite Quotes, Tips, Advice from the Introduction and Hacks 5-10

How to Eliminate Both Homework and Grades at the Same Time

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