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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Should we assign homework?

Should we assign homework?

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128 Replies 8075 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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Charles's picture
Charles
Graduate Student

I think it's too harsh to say that "homework fails 'this' test...". It is not right to expect any learning tool to be perfect (what in life CAN we expect to be perfect?). I think the last sentiment gets closer to what you want. You say "surely there is another way to do it". Perhaps insert "better" in there.

You can't dismiss a system because there are flaws. (Not to go too political, but everyone has some disagreement with how governments are run, but they still put up with them!)

As for a more pragmatic approach to answering is there "another way", there aren't many other options now are there? You've got school, home, and "other" places that perhaps can be visited as a field trip. Sure, there are schools that are doing the "experiential learning" thing, but as far as I can tell, that's in testing mode. It costs the school a good bit to do this.

Given the typical class structure, you can consider any place outside of school to be "home" in the sense that any work outside of school is "homework", even if, for instance, they go out into the wild and collect leaves and write about that.
In direct response to your points:
1. Well, that's the way the real world is isn't it? It's not hard to add in points for attempting problems (e.g. you see they wrote down something), or that they finished a problem, and lastly, that they had the correct answer (if there is one). But you still want to instill in them that any company isn't going to care if its employee tried to do his/her job, only if the job was done.
2. There are ways to minimize this (or at least ways you can set up homework such that cheating is more evident) and then it's a matter of how your punish cheating.
3. This surprises me. The parent has to care enough that the child gets good grades, but not enough that the child actually learns. Well, you can just have weekly quizzes in class such that homeworks are not enough to do well in the class (i.e. around 50% of the class grade. No more than 70% I would think).

williamsmary138's picture
williamsmary138
high school chem teacher

Homework can be beneficial, and sometimes it is not. It depends on the class and the homework. I teach chemistry to high school students. I can't tell you how many times I have had students say they understood how to do a problem type and then go home and get completely lost. That is O.K. by me because then they know what questions to ask the next day- if they hadn't tried by themselves, they would not have known what they didn't know. In A.P. classes, if you do not assign homework, the students would ask for it- they tend to be quite motivated students in my experience.
Could they solve the problem the wrong way? Yes, but we catch it the next day-and sometimes you learn by making mistakes- I always tell them make the mistakes now, not on the test.Or there are online sites that students can ask each other how to work a problem or give each other help- set up for just your class. Is this cheating? I don't think so.
I also agree with the person who says it is a responsibility. How do you learn to be responsible? Homework is one way, assuming it is needed for the subject at hand.
I disagree with the person who says students have to be interested to learn something. I'm sure I was not terribly interested in learning the times table, but I did, and I am very glad I did.

Herbert Coleman's picture

Of course we should assign homework. The major value of home work is learning self management. Looking back over my academic career I can still remember when I finally "got" school in the 3rd grade. From then on I knew my learning was up to me. Homework became the challenge for me to over come to prove I could do it. It gave me self efficacy; far more important than self-esteem (even though that was a side benefit). It led to the point where in high school I was able to show that the textbook publisher made two errors in my geometry text. More importantly, it gave me the responsibility for my learning.

I worry about those who think they are "protecting" children by expecting less of them. Even if done wrong, even when forgotten, even when done on the bus or the last minute before class, the responsibility of homework has a lot to teach us about ourselves and consequences of our behavior. In many ways the responsibility of homework has done more to prepare me for life than any single course.

But that's just my experience YMMV.

Sharijo2's picture
Sharijo2
GED tutor; starting online Masters in Adult Education soon.

In assigning homework, I cannot a phone call I overheard on the bus. The mother was trying to explain that she can not help her 4th grader because she dropped out in eighth grade and doesn't know the math, let alone help her daughter.

Barb Beebe's picture
Barb Beebe
Middle School English Teacher

Because I feel that middle school is the appropriate time to help students learn to make decisions about their own learning, I try to encourage them to "assign" homework for themselves. Usually, I start with teaching study strategies for vocabulary and/or grammar. Then, I encourage the students to set goals and, if during their self-evaluation time, they determine that they don't quite know the concepts, then they "assign" their homework. Students are required to note (and have me initial) their assignment in their notebooks--before and after completion. Completed assignments improve grades in two ways: first, students spend extra time learning the concepts and second; they earn one bonus point for each assignment. I find that some students are reluctant to do this at first, but jump on board when they get the urge (hopefully because of self-motivation or teacher or parent inspiration) to succeed in my class. I do admit, however, that sometimes I strong arm the kids into creating their own assignments...

As a parent, I appreciate some homework assignments--they help me to know what my daughters are learning in school. Luckily, so far, our teachers have not given "busy" work.

Corah's picture

[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.
[/quote]

Actually many things that are homework in my class are things that require muscle memory (cursive for example) or need to be known without conscious thought (basic math facts). When you have 4th graders adding on their fingers something is wrong. My students get spelling homework 4x a week, math homework every night (that there's no test), and sometimes some sort of Social Studies or reading skill homework, they are also supposed to read for 20 minutes every night. With the exception of the reading everything can be done within 30 minutes to an hour depending on how focused they are. The homework is not graded except as being finished and it is always practice of some sort, we go over the math the following day in class to check for understanding. I see a difference in the students who finish their homework and those that habitually don't.

I work in an urban school district and many of my kids need help in getting and staying organized, we constantly talk about ways to help them with this. It's a life skill that needs to be learned.

Ann Lusch's picture
Ann Lusch
High school religion teacher

Is it reasonable to expect high school students to read outside of the classroom? Much of what I assign involves pages from a textbook to be read before a class. I want them to come to class with some shared knowledge that can be the basis of discussion or related learning activities, so that I don't have to lecture too much. This doesn't seem to be entirely different from the idea of the "flipped" classroom, except that my students are not watching videos. They are asked to read.

I often do assign homework for the weekend and even holiday breaks, but not extra, just whatever the daily assignment would be. To me it makes sense for students to be just as prepared on Monday as any other day of the week.

I say all this knowing that some high school students have a heavy homework burden, depending on how many classes they have and how much they have to do for each. My daughter's AP History, for example, was killer (but that teacher had a great track record for AP scores). I try not too assign too much on a given night, and to give extended time for something that will take longer, a project or something involving reflection about the material. Sometimes I will ask students for input about the due date of an assignment.

Eric P. Olson's picture
Eric P. Olson
HS math/science/art teacher living in Massachusetts

Well-designed and thoughtful homework can be hugely beneficial, but that is the hard thing about it--it often isn't either. Any skill needs to be practiced, so it is difficult to make the claim that practicing something at home is bad. However, I've become interested in using YouTube video tutorials (mostly about 5-8 min. long)that I post as a "homework" assignment. I find that kids can utilize them as a way of absorbing essential, and sometimes difficult content. They are a short activity that is focused and controlled by the student. They can pause the video, take notes, solve a brief problem, etc. (see Khanacademy) Then, when students come to class, they can launch into problems of real substance. These tutorials also help when prepping for group work, and later when reviewing.

Ghostwheel's picture

As a professional, if you have to stay late or bring work home every night, you are doing it wrong. Time management is paramount to doing your job well, and people who constantly have to bring home work or stay late to finish are mismanaging their time.

Students should not have problems that require a minimum of 3 hours per week outside of class (or a minimum of any specific time). Extra credit, sure. My AP calculus teacher only gave assignments. If you could finish them during school time, great. If you couldn't, homework. This rewarded good time management skills and allowed me to do more research in areas the teacher did not decide to cover. If I had had homework every day, I could not possibly have learned as much as I did because, despite what many teachers think, they are limited in their scope of what they deem necessary to learn.

NO to homework.

David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools
Blogger 2014

I think it is also useful to point out that this technique allows you to A. see which students are working hard but take much longer to complete assignments and B. help students develop time-management while they have someone in front of them to assist them with developing the skills, rather than having them try and develop all of them outside on their own time.

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