Students hate it, yet teachers require it. Homework has been a central component of schooling for hundreds of years, and will probably continue to be for hundreds more. The central questions, however, will continue to be, how much is too much? What is the main objective of required homework and is it necessary?
In my 20 years of schooling, I have asked myself these questions from the perspective of student. In my 10 years of teaching I have also asked the same questions from the perspective of educator. I have to say, my answers have been pretty consistent. Being too exhausted or preoccupied to pay attention to my homework and learn from it or even finish it is too much homework. The objective has seemed to be to enrich the skills learned from that day’s classes. Yes, it is necessary…sometimes.
According to the grade-level expectations frameworks found on a local department of education website, there is little to no mention of homework expectations of students in math, reading, science or social studies. When a word search for the word, “homework” was conducted on the grade level expectations, zero results came up. If students are not expected to do homework as listed by the Department of Education’s grade level expectations, then why so much focus and weight be put on students to complete, with accuracy, sometimes hours of homework?
Many teachers argue that homework is necessary, because it serves two very important functions. 1. It enriches the skills learned from current lessons being taught, and 2. It teaches responsibility. In conversations with teachers, I find it almost always necessary to play Devil’s Advocate and retort with, “What happens to the student who does the hour of homework and works really hard to finish it, yet they are doing the entire assignment wrong because they don’t remember how to do it? Then they just spent the hour enriching themselves the wrong thing!”
I have always been brought back to the same two points; they (the student) should have paid attention, and they should ask for help. Sounds pretty counter-productive and not very enriching. A student who gets the answers wrong, gets a poor grade, thus effecting the student’s all around grade. If a student continues to do poorly on homework, or gives up completely, then the student runs the risk of failing that class. It doesn’t sound likely, however, there have been many students that have failed a class because of the weight of homework; sad, unfair, but true.
In reading an article from Time Magazine entitled, “The Myth about Homework” Claudia Wallis mentions a study from Duke University’s Harris Cooper, which concluded, “that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for kids in grade school.”
So the next function of homework is that it teaches responsibility. The argument being that it teaches the student how to bring something home, complete it, and bring it back to school to be handed in. It allows them to take responsibility for their education and learn how to organize their materials. Unfortunately for the students whom suffer from exectutive functioning deficits, ADHD or any other disability effecting their ability to pre-plan, homework is an ultimate nightmare. Often teachers will describe chronic homework missing students as “lazy” or “oppositional.” This clearly is not the case for students who wish to do well, just need a little extra support in order to do so.
I once worked with such a 7th grade student, and when I kept asking and asking and supporting and supporting, he said to me point blank, “I’ve never been able to do homework, I’ve always failed at it, why should I keep trying?” I nearly hit the floor. He was right. If doing the same thing over and over yielded failure, why should he keep trying? So he can justify his already poor self-image that he is a failure at school? Homework did not enrich, nor did it teach him anything except that he couldn’t do it. The homework policy in place at the school did not fit his style of learning or fit his level of functioning, yet the teachers still gave him the same level, the same amount the same frequency each night. (Never mind the fact that this student’s parents weren’t around in the evenings to help him, but that’s a different article all together).
So, in tying this subject off, the essential questions still remain; “how much is too much, what is the main objective of required homework, and is it necessary?” When looking at your child’s homework, or when assigning homework to your own class, from a frustrated educator’s perspective, think backwards. Think, “what will my student/child learn from this, is it appropriate for their style/level, what can the child independently do if they don’t understand, and is it weighted fairly?”
Once such questions have been answered, then design the assignment. If you’re a parent, ask such questions of each assignment and don’t be afraid to contact the educator who assigned it. I can almost guarantee if such thoughtfulness is used in this department, assignments will come rolling in more frequently and students will be enriched.