Homework - Huh! What is it good for?


That'll be stuck in your head all day if you're of a certain age. You're welcome.

So, homework. It's an issue that plagues families, students, and teachers alike. How much is enough? How much is too much? Does it do any good?

Well, all I can talk about is my personal experiences dealing with homework as a teacher. I'm not a fan.

Homework is a lot of extra work for me because I try to not assign anything that I don't plan on grading. While I can't hold to this ideal all of the time, I do try to stick to it. If I grade everything, then the students know that none of my work is optional or a waste of their time. It makes all work genuine for them.

Why would I work all day and plan a class and work in that class, and then assign EXTRA work that I will have to grade? If I don't grade it, the students won't take it seriously and, inevitably, I'll only get work back from the students who would normally want to do homework anyway. (Yes, students who want homework exist and yes, I find it just as weird as you do.) 

It also seems that the only time I get homework back it's from students who don't need the homework. The students who I really want to practice, typically, don't do the homework, or lose it. There's no point in assigning work to kids who are just going to lose it! That creates stress and a disciplinary issue that I have to deal with, and for what? A piece of homework?

Outside of personal experience, there have been numerous studies in recent years that show that homework doesn't work. Students who need practice need an educator there to help lead their thinking and understanding. This is especially true of students whose parents may not have the skills to help their students. That's not a criticism of parents; I wouldn't know what a gerund was if it wasn't my job, but it's a simple fact of life. Once we're out of school we forget some of the grittier skills that we haven't used since then. That's fine. 

Since the students are not getting the skills reinforced by a trained educator they may not be making the gains in the skills that the practice is supposed to help them with. In fact, if the parents misremember the skill, or don't know it, the student may end up practicing the skill incorrectly. Not only is that discouraging for the student, but then the teacher has to train them out of a poor habit or incorrect method. 


I also want you to imagine being back in school. Imagine sitting in meetings for 8 hours a day 5 days a week. You would be miserable. Why do we expect students to do that? And then if you would, imagine sitting in a meeting for 8 hours during the day, and then going home and filling out paperwork for another few hours. You'd rebel! Rightfully so, I might add, because we expect to be able to spend time with our families and pursuing other interests.

Homework creates a barrier to this. Students need time to be students and children. They need to be able to spend time with their parents and families. They need to go to sports events and religious ceremonies and just go outside and play, or stay inside and read for pleasure. Homework, again, is a barrier that prevents all of this, or, it can. 

Last of all, it just doesn't work. The studies have shown that students gain a little from practicing on homework around late middle school to high school, and only in small amounts. They need to practice somewhat, but again, the gains are small. They are non existent prior to high school and maybe 8th grade. If there's no point in doing it...why assign it?

Instead, I recommend that teachers pack their days to the brim. Make the students work from bell to bell and keep them occupied. This will make the day go shorter for everyone, but you can also go home at night knowing that you did whatever you could, and there's no one sitting at a kitchen table staring at work they've been doing all day, wondering what to do, and wishing someone could help them. You get evenings off (or you should. Stop working so much!) and so should your students.

Just as I need time to write and to play games and visit my friends and family, just as I need time to come home and unwind and take the baby for a while, kids need time to do these things as well. They're not machines. They need a break. 

PS - I want to apologize for mostly going dark last week. We were on Spring Break and I was consumed with helping take care of Rosalyn, my wife, playing games, and generally unwinding. I will be back to regular updates this week.

Jeff Hewitt