Homework is often controversial, dividing both parents and teachers. Those in favour, believe that homework teaches responsibility, organization skills, and strengthens learning. Those against, say it places strain on families, and takes away from time that students should have for other things. Students, they argue, spend enough time in school, and homework should be unnecessary.
I think that the value of homework depends on the quality of the assignment. Thoughtfully assigned homework can enhance student learning; poorly planned homework wastes time.
Homework can be useful under following conditions:
- The assignments have strong educational value. They reinforce or expand on lessons taught in school, or prepare for the following day’s lessons. For example, students may be given more examples of a math exercise (reinforce learning), or a problem that has them use a concept taught in class (expand learning), or something to read that will be discussed in class the following day (prepare for learning). All these allow students to learn more and better than if they did nothing beyond what could be accomplished in class. Homework should never be “busywork”, given merely for the sake of giving homework. The endless colouring or illustrating that some elementary students are assigned is an example of homework that would seem to be of questionable value.
- From the youngest ages, students learn that school, including homework, is their responsibility. Parents should not organize students’ homework time, supervise it, and certainly not to do the homework. This does nothing to teach students responsibility, and contributes to parents’ stress and exhaustion. If homework is not properly done, that should be between student and teacher, with students having to deal with any consequences. Parents should not rescue them! If it is felt that homework is unreasonable, students as young as grade 1 usually benefit more from being coached on how to raise concerns with teachers themselves. There may be circumstances when parents feel they must directly intervene, but those should be rare.
- Teachers ensure that students understand the assignments, and are able to complete them without parents’ assistance.
- Students are not overloaded with excessive homework. They need time to relax, play, participate in co-curricular activities, and have enough sleep. In the higher grades, where students usually have multiple teachers, teachers seldom know how much work their students already have before assigning homework. When I taught junior and senior high school, when making an assignment, I would ask students whether the due date I proposed was reasonable. What other work did they have? I was prepared to negotiate the due date so that the students were not put under excessive pressure, or had so much work that it would be impossible for them to do it well. Students responded very positively to this, and appreciated the approach.
I never felt that they abused my trust.
- The assignment is interesting. Rather than have students summarise a story, ask them to write an alternative ending, or retell it from the point of view of another character. Students will invest more effort in engaging assignments.
- Class-time is productively used. Students should not be allowed to waste their time in class and then be expected to compensate with homework.
Moderate amounts of carefully assigned homework can enrich and deepen students’ learning. But excessive, boring and pointless assignments are counterproductive.