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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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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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ahausauer's picture
ahausauer
fifth grade teacher from Fargo, North Dakota

This is a very interesting question. I think the rut I sometimes run into is that yes, in fifth grade, homework is expected. If I didn't assign homework, parents, administrators, and other teachers would wonder why. It seems that it is almost an expectation now that in most grades, homework is the norm. I was reading another post from someone who was stating that they prefer those engaging activities that teachers send home to have their students work on or work through with a parent. I also agree that these seem to be the most meaningful forms of assessment, although I so believe that other forms of homework are beneficial to see where a student is at. I just recently had a student of mine (5th grade) that HAS NO CLUE her most basic multiplication facts. Had it not been for one of the homework assignments I assigned, I don't think I would have caught the need for her to be learning these as soon as I did. Homework is important, as long as it doesn't just turn into busy work.

Jim Doherty's picture

If your homework is only annoying busy work, then something is wrong with what you are being asked to do. People in many fields intuitively understand that we get better at things by practicing them. Shooting free throws, playing violin, painting, singing, running, etc What valuable skills/talents are there that are not improved by practice? Our job as teachers is to try to balance guided practice time where our students are working together or under our watchful eye with work on their own where the student has to rely on herself to get things done. We need to make sure that our homework assignments are thoughtfully selected and balanced and represent skills we value. Telling a student to do problems 1 - 59 odd certainly implies that we have not thought much about what we are asking them to do.

Karen Budde's picture
Karen Budde
Latin and PE teacher in a public K-12 school in the NEK of Vermont

Doing practice exercises for the sake of busywork is ridiculous. Have the kids focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic. And by arithmetic I mean the easy stuff: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Don't throw anything new at them. Scaffold them. These kids need to be with their families, outside, exercising, cooking, drawing, etc.

Leonard Klein's picture
Leonard Klein
high school chemistry and technology teacher

It seems that there is a dilemma here, how to get students to do enough practice and covering enough content. I teach a dual enrollment class so my content is somewhat defined by the college giving credit for the class. If the students do not do some homework they will have no clue.

I am beginning to try the flipped classroom idea and have audio/video files for my students to use at night and then come in and work problems in class where I can help them. This may avoid some of the practice the misconception problem. I do not know yet I'm just starting.

I do know that my students do not practice enough. To reverse the analogy with sports, if the football team practiced as little as some of my students no one would go to a game. It the fellow who plays football would practice as much for my class as he does for football I would be overjoyed. Even if he would put that much time in on all his classes if he would put the same effort and concentration in.

Mark Pennington's picture
Mark Pennington
ELA teacher and educational author

Much of homework is overkill; however, I draw the line at reading. I developed an independent reading program based upon reading discussions. Students read at home and lead a literary discussion with their parent for three-minutes per day, four days per week to offer flexibility to families. I devolved the accountability for these assignments to the student-parent partnership. In other words, parents grade their children on the quality of the discussion and I count the points. I also use this format for online book clubs in which students are required to post and respond about their daily reading.

Ghostwheel's picture

Here is the problem with your argument. Assume a football player practices 10 hours a week (2 hours per day) plus a 2 hour game (rough estimates). That would be 10 hours of practice for 2 hours of game. Proportionally speaking, for a 1 hour class you should practice 5 hours a week. Multiply that by 6 classes and you have thirty hours a week, plus the 30 hours a week students must be in school, plus one hour commute time (to school and home from school). That makes 65 hours per week a student should be working at school work, according to this argument. There are only 75-80 waking hours in a 5 day week (assuming 8-9 hours sleep) which means students would only have 10-15 hours per week or 2-2 1/2 hours per day to eat, shower, dress, do chores, converse with their family (hah!), or otherwise have a life. This doesn't include the time it takes to just wake up and bring yourself to a functional level in the morning. And they sure wouldn't get to play football. Really? Is that what a child's life is supposed to be like?

I'll be honest, I have never needed to diagram a sentence in my working life, yet we spent a month on that in school. I have never needed to identify a verb, preposition or noun. (Everything I needed to know about that, I learned with Mad Libs). I have never needed to know the year Columbus discovered America, recite the Gettysburg address or the preamble to the Constitution (although I can), or the proper grammar for French (conversational French is another matter). Yet I was able to learn all of these things anyway WITH HARDLY ANY HOMEWORK. Yes, I am so old we didn't have copy machines that made it easy to pass out homework. (Ditto masters, anyone?) They taught us in class. Go figure.

Homework does not help people who do not understand the concept, unless you give them the answers to check against.(Doing it wrong 44 times doesn't make you proficient at it) Homework does not reinforce it to the people who already understand it. (They already got it).

Now if you want to talk optional after school help for kids who don't get it, I'm with you on that one. But you don't often find teachers volunteering for that.

Ghostwheel's picture

[quote]Much of homework is overkill; however, I draw the line at reading. I developed an independent reading program based upon reading discussions. Students read at home and lead a literary discussion with their parent for three-minutes per day, four days per week to offer flexibility to families. I devolved the accountability for these assignments to the student-parent partnership. In other words, parents grade their children on the quality of the discussion and I count the points. I also use this format for online book clubs in which students are required to post and respond about their daily reading.[/quote]While I agree reading is important, school sure takes the fun out of reading. The parent-student discussion is excellent, we do that in our house anyway, but posting EVERY DAY about what you read? How about once a week, so that you can actually get a few chapters under your belt before you give an assessment of what you have read. I like the way my kids school does it. They divide the book into sections, and the students review the sections. It is much easier to get something out of a quarter or sixth of a book than a chapter and a half. (Unless they are big chapters) Some kids are not writers, so posting is a miserable experience. That doesn't mean they didn't get it or aren't intelligent. My son is a Powerpoint kind of guy. He doesn't post, he Powerpoints (and will THAT be useful in the work world!) Thank goodness his school rolls with what works for each student.

Ghostwheel's picture

What is the purpose of homework, or any work, if all that happens is that it gets marked as incorrect and the class moves on? Where is the learning? The learning comes when you are able to see what you did wrong, fix your mistakes and do better. Yet for some reason the teaching profession seems to have a problem with people being able to bring their grade up by doing exactly that. It seems like it is offensive to give an A grade to a person who worked three times as hard for it because they had to re-do the work three times, only the students who immediately get the A deserve it. Maybe a new grading system should be implemented, the "I was born with brains A" and the "I worked for my A". One shows an innate giftedness (valuable in some areas) and one shows tenacity (valuable in other areas). Right now, in most school systems, if you didn't understand an assignment and got a poor grade, there is no advantage to learning how to do something right. Again, I thought school was SUPPOSED to be about learning, not how fast you can grade and move on.

Teachers, can you enlighten me on this one?

Ghostwheel's picture

[quote]
I am beginning to try the flipped classroom idea and have audio/video files for my students to use at night and then come in and work problems in class where I can help them. This may avoid some of the practice the misconception problem. I do not know yet I'm just starting.
[/quote]This sounds like an excellent idea! Did you come up with this yourself?

ElemMusicTeach's picture
ElemMusicTeach
Elementary Music Teacher, PEI, Canada

This is a regular subject of discussion amongst fellow teachers in our staff room. However, most teachers are speaking as parents when they discuss this issue with passion. And inevitably they are all against it. My son is only three, so the joys of homework are still ahead of us in our house.

Of course speaking from personal experience, homework was a huge part of my schooling. Eternal fights with my parents led mostly to more homework, tutors, and of course.... homework club. As a classroom music teacher I rarely give homework - mainly due to the overwhelming work it would take to keep on top of 300+ students' homework submissions.

As a musician we have another word for homework - practise. And I guarantee there is no musician in the world successful or not who hasn't done his homework. In the music world practise is vital for learning an instrument - the daily reinforcement of skills and knowledge eventually culminate into a competent musician.

Our homework goes hand in hand with weekly lessons where a teacher will provide formative assessment regularly. Perhaps it is the intertwining of personal contact with the teacher and the daily practising that makes our homework effective.

Perhaps a more effective use of homework would allow it to become a tool whereby teachers are able to monitor student progress and provide feedback; a component in a formative assessment package?

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