It is quite intriguing that after spending a major part of their day in school, children are usually assigned extra tasks to finish at home. What’s even more intriguing is that only a few people tend to ponder upon this fact. Additionally, in the context of three other pieces of information, this fact becomes even more fascinating.
The adverse impacts of homework are widely recognized.
These include children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and the possibility of losing interest in learning. Numerous parents lament the influence of homework on their bond with their children. They might also resent the role of being the enforcer and worry about being criticized for not being sufficiently involved or becoming overly involved with the homework.
The benefits of homework are mostly a myth.
In preparation for a book on this topic, I’ve spent significant time examining the research, and the outcomes are astounding. Firstly, there is no evidence to support the idea that assigning homework to elementary or middle school students provides any academic advantage. In fact, there is no correlation between doing homework (or the amount of it done) and any meaningful achievement measure, even for younger students. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and disappears when more sophisticated statistical methods are used. Furthermore, no study has ever demonstrated that homework develops character or teaches good study habits.
Despite the lack of its value, children are given more homework.
Over the last twenty-five years, the youngest children have been burdened the most, for whom the evidence of positive effects is not just doubtful, but non-existent.
Most teachers don’t decide to extend a lesson beyond school hours on a whim, based on the potential for meaningful learning to occur from such an assignment. Homework isn’t limited to occasions where it seems necessary or important in most schools. The starting point appears to be “We have decided that children must do something every night (or multiple times a week), and we will decide what to make them do later.”
I’ve received countless messages from people all over the country expressing their frustration with homework. Parents who witness their children bringing home a flood of busywork wish they could explain to teachers the disproportionate drawbacks of homework. Teachers who have always been skeptical of the value of homework feel pressured by parents who mistakenly believe that a lack of homework indicates a lack of commitment to academic excellence. These parents appear to believe that if their children have plenty of tasks to complete every night, regardless of their nature, learning must be happening.
Parents and teachers require support from administrators who are willing to question traditional beliefs. They need principals who will challenge the slogans that are passed off as arguments, such as the idea that homework establishes a connection between school and home (when there are other more effective ways to accomplish this), or that homework “reinforces” what students learned in class (which implies the repetition of memorized behaviors, rather than the development of comprehension), or that homework teaches children self-discipline and responsibility (for which there is no evidence).
Above all, principals must help their staff understand that the most critical criterion for evaluating decisions about homework (or other policies) is their potential effect on students’ attitudes about their work. “Homework is mostly driving kids away from learning,” says education professor Harvey Daniels. Let’s be honest: most kids dislike homework, or at best, view it as a hurdle to overcome. Even if homework provided other advantages, they would have to be weighed against its potential impact on students’ love of learning.
What can a conscientious principal do?
- Educate yourself and share your knowledge with teachers, parents, and district administrators. It is crucial to understand that there is no evidence to suggest that students would suffer academically or personally if they had less homework, or none. Any decisions must be grounded in facts rather than tradition.
- Reconsider standardized homework policies. Forcing teachers to assign a certain amount of homework each day or mandating assignments on fixed schedules (such as math homework on Tuesdays and Thursdays) acknowledges that homework is not justifiable by a particular lesson, nor is it a response to individual students’ needs at specific times. These policies compromise sound instruction to achieve consistency and do a disservice not only to students but also to teachers, particularly when imposed from above.
- The third step is to reduce the amount of homework, but it shouldn’t stop there. Many parents are understandably frustrated with the amount of time their children must spend on homework. It is important to ensure that teachers are not exceeding district guidelines and that they are not underestimating the time it takes students to complete the assignments. Then, work on reducing the amount of homework regardless of guidelines and expectations so that families can decide how they will spend their evenings.However, the quantity of homework is not the only issue that needs to be addressed. Some assignments are not worth even five minutes of a student’s time. For example, some first graders are forced to clip words from magazines that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet, while some fifth graders must color in an endless list of factor pairs on graph paper. Additionally, some eighth graders spend their evenings inching their way through dull, overstuffed, committee-written textbooks, one chapter at a time. Teachers should be encouraged to reflect on whether each homework assignment will help students think deeply about important questions. They should consider the philosophy of teaching and learning theory behind each assignment. Is learning viewed as a process that is mostly active or passive? Is it about wrestling with ideas or mindlessly following directions?
- Make a fundamental change in the default expectation of our schools so that students only take schoolwork home when it has a reasonable chance of being beneficial to most of them. This means that students should be free to spend their after-school hours as they choose unless homework is truly necessary. Currently, the default expectation is that students will receive homework regardless of its content or whether it’s beneficial to them. This view cannot be justified and needs to be reversed.
- Don’t assume that homework is always useful for promoting learning. Instead, ask students for their thoughts and suggestions. You can distribute anonymous questionnaires to get their honest opinions. Do they find homework to be useful? If so, why? If not, why not? What kinds of homework do they think are better than others? How does homework affect their desire to learn, and what are its other effects on their lives and families?
- Encourage teachers to assign only self-created work. Students should only be given assignments that teachers have designed themselves, rather than prefabricated worksheets or generic exercises taken from textbooks. Giving the same assignment to all students in a class is unlikely to benefit most of them. Students who already understand the concept will be bored, while those who don’t understand will become frustrated. On days when homework is necessary, teachers should create several assignments suited to different interests and capabilities. However, it’s better to give no homework at all than to give the same homework to everyone.
- Utilize homework as an opportunity to involve students in decision-making. The quality of a classroom can be judged by the extent to which students participate in making decisions about their learning. Good teachers know that children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following instructions. Students should have a say in what they’re going to learn, how and when they’ll learn it, how their learning will be evaluated, how the classroom will be arranged, how conflicts will be resolved, and more. Homework can be used as a platform to involve students in decision-making.
In education, as with homework, involving students in decision-making has been found to be an effective strategy by multiple researchers. Rather than simply assigning work, the best teachers engage their students in the process by asking for input on the assignment’s structure, timeline, and necessity. When parents review homework assignments, it is reasonable to ask how much input their child had in determining these factors.
Furthermore, discussing the usefulness of homework and how to approach disagreements about it can foster both social and intellectual growth. Teachers who regularly consult with their students know that most children are willing to take on challenging assignments when they are treated with respect and feel the work is worthwhile.
However, if students are groaning about or avoiding homework, it is likely due to excessive, thoughtless, or continuous assignments, or because they had no say in the matter. Even high-quality assignments have limited benefits if students feel like they are being “done to” rather than working together with their teachers.
- Encourage teachers to move away from grading assignments and towards a model of sharing and exploration. Teachers may need support and practical suggestions to shift away from a compliance-based approach towards encouraging students to discuss what they’ve learned, what they enjoyed, and what they struggled with. Homework in the best classrooms, as observed by Martin Haberman, is not simply checked, but shared among students. If students believe that homework assignments won’t be collected or recorded, this shouldn’t be seen as a reason to use bribes or threats. Instead, it should be taken as an indication that the homework itself may need to be re-evaluated.
- Try experimenting with new approaches to homework. For teachers who are hesitant to move away from traditional homework assignments, consider trying a week or curriculum unit without assigning any homework. This can help to test the assumption that homework is always beneficial. What are the effects on student achievement, interest in learning, and classroom climate when homework is not assigned? Similarly, schools can try out new policies, such as the proposed change in default homework expectations, on a trial basis before making a permanent commitment.
Getting help with therapy has become more accessible than ever with the rise of online telehealth services. With telehealth, people can receive therapy sessions from the comfort of their own homes, making it more convenient for those who may have busy schedules or live in remote areas. This can be especially beneficial for students who may be struggling with homework-related stress and anxiety. By seeking out therapy, students can work through any underlying issues that may be contributing to their struggles with homework and develop coping mechanisms to manage their stress levels. Additionally, telehealth can provide a safe and confidential space for students to talk openly about their experiences with homework without fear of judgment or criticism.
In conclusion, the issue of homework has long been a controversial topic among educators, students, and parents. While some argue that homework is necessary to reinforce learning and develop good study habits, others believe that it causes undue stress and takes away from valuable family and leisure time. The arguments presented in this essay suggest that homework should be reconsidered and restructured to better align with the goals of education and the needs of students. Teachers should focus on creating assignments that are meaningful and relevant and involve students in the decision-making process. Homework should not be used as a tool for punishment or to enforce compliance, but rather as an opportunity for students to explore and share their understanding of the material. Additionally, the use of online telehealth can provide accessible support for students who are struggling with academic or emotional issues related to homework. By taking a critical look at our assumptions and practices around homework, we can work towards creating a more equitable and effective educational system.