Homework. A Help or a Hinderance?

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parents_homework_helpRemember the fun of doing homework each evening during the school year?

Me neither.

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.

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4 Responses to “Homework. A Help or a Hinderance?”

  1. Laura Baker January 29, 2016 at 3:00 am #

    We recently moved house, town and therefore schools. At my daughter’s old school homework, right from the infants was a chore: too much, too repetitive and downright boring. My daughter hated it and I hated making her do it. It was the source of many unnecessary arguments at the weekend when frankly she should have been outside climbing trees.
    What a fantastic move it has been to her new school. She has far less homework and now comes home excited about much of it. She has had a project based on a sculptor who makes miniature scenes with tiny people: she was asked to make one, she made about 8! She had a project in the holidays to pick any character from history and write a story or paint a picture or make a model: she loved it, the choice meant she did what interested her. She will always remember these projects unlike the endless book reports she used to do every week.
    What’s more, on the school website under the question “How can I help my child with their homework?” The reply is “Don’t ask us for extra”!
    I applaud this attitude and am so glad my daughter has moved schools, I only wish we moved years ago.

    • Mark Condon January 29, 2016 at 8:00 am #

      Wow, Laura! Your narrative puts flesh and bones on my frail skeleton of an argument for meaningful homework, particularly assigning reading of a self-selected book. Thanks for that.

  2. Elisa Waingort February 4, 2016 at 6:04 am #

    Agreed, Mark! At my current school, kids in grades 3 – 5 don’t have homework as a general policy though they are required to do “inspiration projects” twice a year. I teach grade 5 and we will be moving to giving homework during the last quarter of the year since the middle school does assign homework every day. I will be thinking about how to make this homework meaningful as in your post above and in the ways that Laura describes in her comment. Would love some ideas on this, as well.

    • Mark Condon February 4, 2016 at 7:47 am #

      Wow, Elisa, I love this homework policy. My objectives in writing about this were two: 1. I wanted to encourage delightful homework that could joyfully bring parents / siblings into the youngster’s learning circle (YOU do that!). 2. I wanted to encourage the reading of self-selected books at home. Reading of course is the most powerful way joyfully to develop vocabulary and mastery of complex syntax. It impacts comprehension and improves writing all the while the kiddos are learning about ideas and information and life and people in another time and place. Unbeatable. I have to say I am sad to see you needing to “toughen them up” for middle school. That just takes away from the wonderful things you evidently do in your fifth grade class. Because you asked, I might consider just boosting the “inspirational projects” feature to three or four. It would still be meaningful of course, but could help them adjust to a bit of an expanded school agenda as they head on to Grade 6.