There has been a lot of negative press surrounding the much maligned “homework” recently. In fact, it has been getting a bad rap for decades.
Everyone is touting studies that show little or no correlation between performance and homework, while others say that any evidence that does exist between improved achievement and homework lacks a true causal link. This is particularly the case for elementary-aged students.
According to a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology by Cooper et al, “The conclusions of more than a dozen reviews of the homework literature conducted between 1960 and 1989 varied greatly”. The results ranged from homework having positive effects, no effects, or complex effects and even suggested that most research on homework was too little or poorly completed.
Alfie Kohn, a former principal and homework expert, believes that the bottom line should be no homework at all, except on those rare occasions when it’s truly “necessary”.
Homework has ultimately become an educational monster, rearing its ugly head at home every night just as you are about to relax with your family after a long day.
But when is homework really necessary? And who do we listen to regarding its fate? The educators? The researchers? The parents?
How have we let homework get so out of control?
As a former high school teacher and current tutor and parent, I think homework today has seriously lost its way. Although I don’t think homework will be going anywhere anytime soon, I do believe that factors like student age and ability, homework type and how often it is assigned are very important when it comes to looking at how effective homework really is.
Why homework scores a failing grade:
- It is boring and outdated: Homework, along with the curriculum itself, needs a facelift. Many people feel that the types of homework assigned, such as stereotypical worksheets and textbook questions, are old fashioned and out of date. When homework is kept relevant, interesting and engaging, kids have a much easier time completing it and parents have less of a struggle on their hands. Making assignments that apply to real world examples really helps
- Too young, too soon: In The Battle Over Homework, Cooper found that assigning homework in lower elementary school grades did not improve test scores and that too much of it decreased motivation of students. Then there’s Finland, where students perform at or near the top of all countries on standardized tests and children don’t even begin school until age 7
- Too much, too often: A German study conducted in 2002 found that lengthy homework assignments had a negative and sometimes insignificant effect on achievement gains of students. Homework assignments that are too long and time-consuming decrease a student’s motivation to complete it and have an overall negative effect on their learning experience
- Not enough time: A research paper conducted in the late 80s by Harris Cooper found that when homework was compared with in-class study in American elementary schools, in-class study proved superior. But guess what? Many classes today have very little time for in-class study when they are trying to cram every little morsel of curriculum down a kid’s throat. And with the rise of standardized testing, there is even more pressure for kids to perform. Therefore, much in-class study time is missed out
Despite all this research and all the parental complaints, it doesn’t appear that homework will be put to rest in the immediate future. School boards continue to approve it and teachers continue to assign it. So long as homework is here to stay, we need to make it better. Really make it count.
5 ways to make homework alive in your house:
- Make it FUN: If homework has to be assigned, then at least make it fun. Teachers who set interesting, engaging and relevant assignments that include real world applications of subject knowledge see a much higher incidence of homework completion and overall enthusiasm. If your child’s homework lacks fun factor, try to at least apply some practical examples. Be sure to raise this with your child’s teacher as well. Kids Goals has some great suggestions on keeping things light and fun
- Make it accessible: Homework, like lesson plans, cannot follow the same blue print for every student. In a previous blog post called Student Learning Styles: One size doesn’t fit all, I discuss the importance of discovering and appreciating a child’s unique learning style. This needs to be taken into consideration by both parents and teachers, especially when it comes to tackling homework as each student will prefer different formats and styles. Just as their learning style differs, so does a students ability. Differentiation is key
- Make it quick: Schools have varying homework policies, but if your child does indeed have to do it, try to get it done promptly so as not to interfere with your family’s quality time. Ron Kurtus has some great tips for zipping through homework assignments
- Make it an extracurricular activity: Instead of worrying about homework in the lower elementary grades, involve your children in family activities to boost their brainpower, like playing pretend, doing household chores and reading together before bed. Just setting aside time for conversations can be an incredibly valuable way to connect with your child. If it has to be done, homework can help facilitate family interaction and cut down on screen time. As work days get longer and face to face time diminishes, reconnecting at the kitchen table to complete homework can be a good thing
- Make it routine: Research shows that most kids work best with a routine. Some kids work best when they first get home while others need to decompress and refuel. Find out what works best for your little learner and try to stick with a regular homework schedule
Ultimately, the onus is on both educators and parents.
Teachers need to be setting homework that is succinct, relevant, engaging and fun. Lengthy weekly assignments benefit no one, including the teacher who has to spend hours marking them. As educators, it is our responsibility to assign homework that is age and ability appropriate and which applies the knowledge learned in class to practical examples in our everyday world.
As parents, we need to be vigilant and vocal. If homework is set too often, is tedious, uninteresting and takes hours to complete, don’t hesitate to relay your concerns to your child’s teacher. And if that doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to go further up the food chain. Your child’s principal and vice principal are there to hear your feedback too. Be an advocate for your kids – you are more than qualified and know your child’s limitations.
There is no doubt that piling on homework that is boring, laborious and irrelevant can become counter-productive and further distance our children from their educational goals. As recesses seem to be getting shorter and standardized tests seem to be getting longer, we need to prioritize how our kids can best make use of their time, both in and outside of school.