Homework can be a controversial subject. Those who are against it often state that it is not an effective instructional tool and can be detrimental to the student’s health. They are quick to cite that it interferes with home activities and values work over the family’s well-being. Those who are for homework will tell you that it creates disciplined minds, improves our stand in the world rankings for education, and improves academic achievement. Further, they will tell you that it teaches responsibility and fosters good study habits.
There has been research conducted on both sides of the debate, and both sides have been left with mixed results. Both sides have had positive results for their theories and not so positive results. Even with all this empirical research, the debate continues to live on…with no real answers.
Even with my years of experience in the classroom, I can say that my opinion of the usefulness of homework can waver from side to side. Sometimes I think the outside factors really play a role in it. If I work in an urban school district where students are more economically disadvantaged, it is a bit more difficult, and sometimes I feel it can be useless. The same can be said in other districts, too, where parents can be highly competitive, and it appears that projects aren’t necessarily being done by the students. But what if you are in a school district where you are required to give homework, regardless of your opinions on it?
So, ultimately, the question is…how do you give homework without it being a waste of time? How do you see results when giving homework?
Suggestions for Getting Results with Homework
When done appropriately, homework actually can have many, many benefits. Here are some suggestions to approach homework more effectively and then start seeing results!
1.) Homework should have different purposes for different grade levels. For lower elementary, it should really be more about learning habits, practicing simple skills, and creating positive experiences with homework. In upper elementary, it should be more about improving school achievement. This would be reinforcement activities, not busywork.
2.) It should be at the independent level, not the instructional or frustration levels, but still challenging. It should be more about elaborating on a topic to deepen the students’ understanding or to even extend it.
3.) The length of time for completing homework must be just right! Too much homework can actually be counterproductive. The research-based* rule for length of time completing homework is 10 minutes times the grade level. So, if you are teaching 4th grade, then the total time (start to finish) should not take more than 40 minutes. *Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
4.) Make parental involvement interactive. Do not expect parents to be experts or actually teach the materials. I have actually found that often, we teach information very differently today compared to how parents learned. If they teach the students, then sometimes it actually confuses them more. Instead, provide parents with guidelines of how you would like them involved and what their role is. Provide them with guiding questions they can ask their child to help their child summarize and clarify what they have learned.
5.) Teachers must carefully plan and assign homework in a way that maximizes potential for student success. In your classroom, homework may not work because this group doesn’t have the materials at home, or the community doesn’t speak English. This goes back to what I was saying in the beginning. You know your students best. You are a professional and don’t need research studies to “prove” that something works or doesn’t. You are in the trenches everyday. Use your experiences, your knowledge base, and other aspects of teaching to determine what is effective with the students YOU work with every day, because every child is different.
Finally, as a side note, I do not ever grade homework. I just never know who is completing it. If you need a grade, then grade the completion itself or for turning it in. You can read more about common grading mistakes in this blog post.
With teaching there are challenges – but with challenges, there are amazing teachers who trust their gut and find a way to see results!