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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Should we assign homework?

Should we assign homework?

Related Tags: Assessment
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128 Replies 7924 Views
Hi all, I'd like to start a discussion here on the benefits or drawbacks to assigning regular homework to students. I've had a lot of discussion with educators in the past year or so about homework, and met with mixed reviews of homework. Most educators I talk to support it, but much of the reading I've done seems either ambivalent about the practice or even quite negative. I could start off with an opinion piece, but I'd rather that each person who has a position posts it here, and then I'll post my opinion later. David

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AndrewDWarner's picture
AndrewDWarner
Parent of 2 primary school children in Canberra, Australia

As a parent I wrestle with this too. My take is that academic pursuits are excellent. I have a PhD in physics and am constantly on the prowl for more things to learn. However, my view is that we learn the very best parts of what we know by slowly absorbing it from complex and varied environments; not by force feeding desiccated strips of material in the belief that we can dissect the world and rebuild it one subject at a time.

My wife's and my approach is to apply a hierarchy at home. At the very top of the list is unstructured play, preferably with their friends outside but possibly including us. Then comes inside creative play and then homework. TV doesn't even make it on to the list except at weekends.

So, I think lifelong learning is critical but I don't think homework is the best way to encourage that. I also think we are creating habits, e.g. bringing work home and sacrificing other aspects of life while we chase academic excellence or increase our contribution to the economy, that are counter to a healthy and balanced life, especially if taken to extremes.

Cheers,
Andrew.

Ryan Reed's picture
Ryan Reed
7/8th Grade Social Studies Teacher in Maine

[quote]BUT I DO BELIEVE ONE TYPE OF HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT IS IMPORTANT: an assignment that builds or expands what is considered in class - ideally one that is open-ended and/or seeks opinions WITH justification / explanation.[/quote]

Agreed. I find that the "deepest" homework assignments I give can also be the simplest. Often times they are just: "Write me one paragraph about what you learned today" or "What did you find most interesting about _______ and why?" This is what I mean about making sure homework helps build upon students' in class understandings. An assignment like this really doesn't ask much of them (in terms of how labor-intensive it is) but gets a ton of "bang for your buck" in the connections it prompts them to make once they've left your room.

Thiago Fernandes's picture

[quote]Although I think it needs to be kept in perspective, I think homework is a must. Not having homework is like telling a player that has dreams of becoming a pro not to practice on his own outside of school. I believe the getting rid of homework and responsibility is the societies efforts to lower the bar to those that refuse to do the extra. If we don't require anyone to excel, then we won't have to worry about dealing with those that refuse to become better.[/quote]

The problem with that idea is that students aren't players trying to become pro. When it comes to schoolwork, it's quite the opposite, they don't want to have any of it. Practice would only be useful to students who are interested, and if they are interested, they don't need a teacher giving them practice. Student interest is by far the most important component of learning. It simply cannot and will not happen without it. And while people will agree with that, they think interest is still something that can be bypassed or artificially inflated for the sake of the curriculum and what we adults believe kids ought to learn. Bad mistake.

Tim Hutchinson's picture
Tim Hutchinson
6th Grade RSP Teacher, Vista CA

Nearly a third of students at my school meet the federal definition of homeless. I often ask parents if there is a quiet place that their son or daughter can do their homework, usually the answer is no. Needless to say that many of these students are missing assignments and may not be as accomplished as some of their peers. Homework may benefit students, but I don't think it should penalize them.

Jennifer's picture

@ Brett- With my personal children I can easily add to their education, but parents often want my opinion as to which kind of activities would most benefit their kids. They also don't understand what the right level is for their kid. The question I have is: why haven't the parents talked with their child about what interests them? I rarely comply with parents who want more and try to redirect the parent/s to find something the child enjoys and to help the child develop interests. Often the child winds up with extra worksheets from the book store workbook.

David Wees's picture
David Wees
Learning Specialist: Technology for Stratford Hall
Blogger 2014

I think there are a lot of useful learning activities kids can do instead of homework, which in the long run might be more valuable than a worksheet bought from a store. Rather than list them all here, I've posted them on my blog, so you can read about them there.

http://davidwees.com/content/25-things-kids-can-do-instead-of-homework

There is a problem with these ideas of course, as they assume that their parents have time to spend with their kids, and in some cases simply access to nature.

Charles's picture
Charles
Graduate Student

A student's desire to do (or not to do) homework does not dictate whether homework is worthwhile. For me, practicing the piano, or running suicides were not things I wanted to do, but they did improve my abilities. Conversely, interest is not enough in itself. (I wasn't much interested in piano, but I was interested in tennis, but would not have run suicides myself for tennis.) Later on, I audited a plasma physics class (i.e. I was interested) but knew that I would only learn if I did the homeworks. I did the first few homeworks, but stopped after a month as I became more pressed for time. I regret this as I did not learn the material as well where I did not do the homeworks. So, interest can seperate the need for grades, but not the need to practice.

On the issue of homework being busy work, I think there is more subtetly involved here. It really takes a critical view as to whether homework is busy work, or whether the repitition really contributes to someting. (I'll forego discussing non-repetitive busy work). Again, consider tennis: a player must practice a ground stroke thousands of times to become proficient at it. The same could be said for various subjects (math comes to mind).

I think there are a few different ideas to be disentangled on the subject of homework. (1) homeworks as practice, (2) homeworks as an assessment tool, (3) homeworks for grades, and (4) the subject itself, where (4) is a red herring. If something is being taught that shouldn't be, that's not necessarily the homework's fault. Then there's the issue of the home (environment) itself.

It'd be most helpful to define what is implied by homework (e.g. weekly worksheets, problem sets, or just go home and thing about something). It comes in so many different forms that such a broad discussion is not very valuable.

Thiago Fernandes's picture

[quote]A student's desire to do (or not to do) homework does not dictate whether homework is worthwhile. For me, practicing the piano, or running suicides were not things I wanted to do, but they did improve my abilities. Conversely, interest is not enough in itself. (I wasn't much interested in piano, but I was interested in tennis, but would not have run suicides myself for tennis.) Later on, I audited a plasma physics class (i.e. I was interested) but knew that I would only learn if I did the homeworks. I did the first few homeworks, but stopped after a month as I became more pressed for time. I regret this as I did not learn the material as well where I did not do the homeworks. So, interest can seperate the need for grades, but not the need to practice.

On the issue of homework being busy work, I think there is more subtetly involved here. It really takes a critical view as to whether homework is busy work, or whether the repitition really contributes to someting. (I'll forego discussing non-repetitive busy work). Again, consider tennis: a player must practice a ground stroke thousands of times to become proficient at it. The same could be said for various subjects (math comes to mind).

I think there are a few different ideas to be disentangled on the subject of homework. (1) homeworks as practice, (2) homeworks as an assessment tool, (3) homeworks for grades, and (4) the subject itself, where (4) is a red herring. If something is being taught that shouldn't be, that's not necessarily the homework's fault. Then there's the issue of the home (environment) itself.

It'd be most helpful to define what is implied by homework (e.g. weekly worksheets, problem sets, or just go home and thing about something). It comes in so many different forms that such a broad discussion is not very valuable.[/quote]

Practice of physical skills, like the piano and sports are a whole different thing. They have another component, mainly that practice brings muscle memory and imbeds the technique to where you don't have to overtly think about every move. Evidently, you can do the same with school subjects, but it seems to me that would be counter-productive. You want students to think overtly about what they're doing, to analyze it. And speed doesn't make you better at math, not in the school context anyway.

Practice is a sub-product of interest. Extraneous practice often requires external encouragement, but that is often unnecessary when you're talking about academic subjects. The kind of interest that is the main component of learning is a deep, internal interest. Which urges you to learn about a topic on your own and constantly think about it. A lot of people confuse that legitimate type of interest with a subject having just sparked your curiosity slightly as you spotted it in a list. That's not deep, internal interest.

Simply stated, deep interest will make you get all the benefits homework would theoretically bring without it being a scheduled task imposed by someone else. More often than not, teachers are standing in the way of deeply interested students just so they can pull along the uninterested students.

Charles's picture
Charles
Graduate Student

[quote]Practice of physical skills, like the piano and sports are a whole different thing. They have another component, mainly that practice brings muscle memory and imbeds the technique to where you don't have to overtly think about every move. Evidently, you can do the same with school subjects, but it seems to me that would be counter-productive. You want students to think overtly about what they're doing, to analyze it. And speed doesn't make you better at math, not in the school context anyway.

Practice is a sub-product of interest. Extraneous practice often requires external encouragement, but that is often unnecessary when you're talking about academic subjects. The kind of interest that is the main component of learning is a deep, internal interest. Which urges you to learn about a topic on your own and constantly think about it. A lot of people confuse that legitimate type of interest with a subject having just sparked your curiosity slightly as you spotted it in a list. That's not deep, internal interest.

Simply stated, deep interest will make you get all the benefits homework would theoretically bring without it being a scheduled task imposed by someone else. More often than not, teachers are standing in the way of deeply interested students just so they can pull along the uninterested students.[/quote]

Yes, practice of physical skills is different, and is probably not the best analogy for most subjects. Nonetheless, it holds for math for my field. Math is a foundation in the sciences (particularly the physical sciences), and as such, we cannot be analyzing any of the basic math in our research. It must be engrained. Now, math must not be engrained for everyone to the extent it must be in my field, but there is a fundamental level at which students should be familiar with a subject, and repitition is *probably* the way to get there (think of the 3 r's).

Also, another annecdote: for calc 3, the instructor did not require homeworks. That is, he assigned homework, but if we did not want to do them, he did not penalize us, but if we did them, then they were factored into grades. This is a good system when students are self-motivated. I'll be honest, I didn't do most of the homeworks, but received an A. So? Homeworks are worthless right? You don't NEED them. Well, maybe not, but I would not say my retention (i.e. at this moment) is as high in calc 3 as in other classes where homework was manditory. I think this system was fine (I liked it at the time), but I'd only recommend it for students who are both self-motivated and proficient in self-assessment. I don't think you're likely to encounter (many) students younger than high school level.

That brings us to interests. Perhaps my interest was not sufficiently deep, but that does not reflect the worthiness of homework. So, OK, let's forget homeworks. Now, I'll be a bit direct here, but I think your argument is that a deeply (internally) interested student will find the means to educate him/herself. So, does a deeply interested student not do homework because it is just busy work, and find a better way to learn? And why should such a student even be in a class if teachers only stand in his/her way? There's libraries, and most professors are willing to chat (via email if one is not in a university town) with anyone (even non-university students). OK, I've digressed, not to mention these resources are not available (or even appropriate) to all persons in question.

And then there's uninterested students. I didn't care much for literature, at least in high school, but I did the readings, and I learned by doing so. There really isn't any way around that. So was that homework worthless? Ideally teachers should be trying to motivate students (hopefully by making the subject interesting to them), but it's just that: ideal. It's not the reality of the situation.

As John Bennett point out, there should be work done at home (homework or otherwise). I'd be interested to know what work outside of homework students (esp. K-12) do. But the better question is, if there were no homework (assigned), what would they do? Whatever it is, it'll almost certainly amount to less learning. As a professor of mine said: "Assessment drives learning". In other words, if students aren't being tested on it, they're not going to study it.We should not expect our students to be deeply interested in material, and we should not give up on students that are not interested.

I submit that homeworks do not stand in the way of students more often than not, but this is a derivative of a personal experience. I am aware that I was fortunate in my education. But let's not fault homework in and of itself.

Thiago Fernandes's picture

Have you ever wondered how much work it takes to become exceptionally proficient at something? I mean, in man-hours, to the extent where you are an expert? There's a growing belief (specifically started by Malcolm Gladwell in his Outliers book) that to be successful at something you need 10,000 hours of work. Averaged out to 20 hours a week this is a little less than 10 years.

Now, I mention this because I fully believe school and college are incapable of ever making you reach that mark, even through the combined efforts of homework and class-time and study. Even if you feel 10,000 hours is an exaggerated figure, it's not hard to see that without personal motivation and interested you will never come even close to that number.

Simple repetition without interest might even subtract from that number. You can be replicating work that was wrong to begin with. Surely, I can be completely wrong when I say homework is worthless, some people might learn better that way. But it does seem to me like an artificial path to a goal that can only be achieved organically. Simply telling students to practice is not in and of itself useful.

I take issue with the idea that students will simply not do the work unless they are somehow nudged in that direction, be it by homework, tests, grades or etc. Sure, students have a general lethargy in our current school system, but in my opinion that is the fault of schooling in itself. Take kids used to pursue their own interests and the difference will be eye-popping. You simply don't get to 10,000 hours with external motivation as the primary factor.

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