Student Engagement

Making Homework Meaningful

June 22, 2012

One thing that teaches the lessons of accountability, responsibility, diligence and an appreciation for knowledge is homework. Every student has to do it, and for most kids, it is a necessity in order to do well in school. But its usefulness and whether it's taken seriously are always topics of conversation among students.

A Survey of Homework Habits

In elementary school, we are brought up to do homework, and some kids like myself are lucky enough to have their parents there to reiterate that message. We are taught that homework is important for making the information stick in our brains so that we are ready for the next day's lesson. Beginning around middle school, kids start to question the importance of homework, and that continues into high school, where a definitive rift among students is formed.

Once I decided this post would be on the topic of homework, I set out to talk to students from multiple backgrounds, and with varying degrees of work ethic and success, about their thoughts and experiences around homework.

Starting with students in the top 10% academically, I learned that they all do their homework, plus extra studying on a nightly/weekly basis. Their mottos all seem to be along the lines of "I've built this into my routine" and "I have to do homework or else I won't do well and keep my grades up." These students push themselves and will continue to do well because they see the value of homework.

There are a few exceptions in this group, though. There always are a few students who make it into the top of the class and can get by without doing homework. From what I have experienced and heard, they tend to be auditory learners -- they listen intently in class and can retain the information without having to put it into their heads more than once.

The middle of the road students and those in danger of failing tend to tell me that they don't do any homework. The reasons that they cite include the fact that, under the policy of many schools, homework can count for only 5% or less of a student's overall grade. So if it doesn't count towards a grade, the reasoning goes, why bother? This is unfair to the teachers who have to continuously re-teach material, and to the other students who must endure listening to the same material over again.

A related reason these students don't do their homework is that they don't believe it will help them. It's been so long since they've done homework that they have either forgotten or never learned how -- and thus never reaped its benefits.

Time Management, Resources and Context

Here are a few ways that students I've talked to have had success, which I present with a couple of fresh ideas.

1) Use In-School Time

Doing homework during extra time in school helps. When students have the opportunity to do some of their homework in school with a large support base, I've noticed that they tend to get more out of it, and finish more. Yes, there are the exceptions, i.e., distractions, friends and goofing around. But the students that use the time wisely are no strangers to the ends justifying the means.

2) Do Homework in Period Order

Complete assignments in the order they are due the next day. Many students will suggest this as a means of making sure it all gets done. Setting it out by period and going in order has helped me in the past. A problem, though, is that it often encourages procrastination. When students set their work out like this, they are more likely to picture where their free time is during the school day and imagine themselves doing it then.

3) Use Social Media!

As I discussed in my previous blog post, kids love technology and are highly knowledgeable in social media. One thing I've often thought about is creating groups for classes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If a student is having trouble with a particular problem, they should be encouraged to seek help from a teacher or student that can respond with a picture of their own work within seconds. If schools started encouraging teachers to work this into just a few classes, I think we would see improvements in the quality of homework completed.

4) Make Real World Connections

What could be a better way of answering students' biggest question -- "When am I ever going to use this?" -- than by showing them? There are many ways this could be done. Teachers could assign students the task of finding their own applications of certain principles at home, such as how electrical circuits can illustrate a concept for physics class, or how chemistry is applied in the kitchen. Or you could give them a list of things to notice at home or around town. For example, my town is right on the Erie Canal, and it has more heritage and history than most small towns. But when we study the era in history class, we never go out of the building and realize that it's right there.

From Day One of school, homework needs to be shown as important and assigned as something substantial, not busy work. As we continue to move into the digital age, I am sure homework will change -- along with most everything else.

What are some other examples of meaningful homework you've seen?

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  • Student Engagement
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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