Research* on homework indicates that much of what gets assigned in schools not only doesn’t help kids learn anything long term, but actually is off-putting, takes the joy out of learning and sometimes even reduces learning rather than enhances it. To my dismay, research often is focused only on whether subject matter was learned better with or without homework. That would be good to know, but there is a more important area of learning that’s largely, if not completely, ignored in the studies reviewed.
Though mentioned, not once in the research were the creation, development or refinement of lifelong scholarship, joyful personal inquiry and self-guided learning a central focus of homework. Those of course are the kinds of learnings that last forever, not just until the next test, grading period or school year. Those are the skills that power the mental engines of scholars and leaders, entrepreneurs and inventors, small business owners and CEOs. Those are the skills that could develop for most children, because they rest on the foundational learning attitudes and aptitudes that just about all children have before they enter formal schooling.
Homework policies of schools often are rigid and formulaic. “If you are age X, then you should get Y amount of homework each night.” Along with limiting the duration of the nightly homework sentence, good policies lead with the expectation that homework assignments actually will be focused on some kind of academically high quality activity. The highest in my view are those I mentioned above.
And if what is being taught by homework includes the development of good study habits, then the assignment of homework has an even more powerful potential. Habits are what we do when no one’s looking. When neither a teacher or parent is standing over us. Good study habits would include time and resource planning, decision making, planning for adequate rest and breaks, personal commitment to excellence of outcome and so forth. Great stuff!
This type of homework would not include the all too common, “Just get it done or…” (fill in your own negative consequence).
Outside of long-term projects, which typically are unique to each youngster and so are likely to be valuable learning experiences, pretty much the best homework a teacher could assign to encourage the growth of personal ownership of learning might be “Tonight for homework, you get to read in your current favorite book and discuss what you discovered there with your family.”
All parents need to do to support this all too rare, but always powerful, homework assignment is to ensure that their child always has a current, favorite book.
*Marzano,R., Pickering, D., & Pollack, J. Educational Leadership March 2007, Volume 64, Number 6 Responding to Changing Demographics Pages 74-79. Special Topic / The Case For and Against Homework.