For parents and educators, there exist three “big” ideas about the benefits of homework:
- Homework reinforces skills,
- Homework allows students to work independently and develop their self- discipline,
- and homework is a means for parents to keep aware of what’s happening in school.
As an educator AND a parent, I believe that homework can and should, (at the very least), meet these three objectives, but traditionally, let’s be real – it has not. Most parents can attest to homework being either: “busy work” for their child OR a source of anxiety and tension in the home for parents and children alike. Neither of those scenarios meets any of the supposed beneficial aims of homework. In reality, being “busy” or being anxious are not ideal scenarios for our children after a full school day – even if one of them seems like a perfect scenario for the adult.
Anxiety at home and the fear of boredom/ having to keep kids “busy” are why the teacher in me has always rejected and challenged the idea of homework. Don’t get too excited, though – let me first quantify what I mean by homework. Traditionally, homework has been: assignments across curriculum via workbook and textbook pages, homework assignments without the input and consultation of students, and homework assigned as an appeasement to administrator or district demand; these are the types of homework I oppose, and I do so at all times and circumstances staunchly.
There is a plethora of research on the great homework debate, but in the interest of time, you can also just read this essay written by Alfie Kohn, a Principal, renowned author, and lecturer of progressive education.
Have no fear, though, if education essays aren’t your thing, I offer you the most salient points here in a direct challenge to the significant three homework objectives.
- Homework reinforces skills,
For homework to reinforce skills, it has to be student-specific. For example, when you go to work, and it is time for your yearly review, your feedback will differ significantly from your colleague’s, and it should. The same principles apply to school. The idea that a whole class reinforces the same skills simultaneously as assigned on page 47 of whatever textbook the district decided on does not make any sense. In fact, according to Kohn, “students should be asked to do only what teachers are willing to create themselves, as opposed to prefabricated worksheets or generic exercises photocopied from textbooks…it’s better to give no homework to anyone than the same homework to everyone.” Your child’s skills and learning styles (in whatever grade they are in) might be similar to their best friends,’ but they are not the same. If we want homework to reinforce skills, then each student needs specific assignments. Hence, having teachers create and evolve activities and practice opportunities in real-time to hone personal and specific skills will always be better than a generic task found on page 47 in a random text/workbook.
- Homework allows students to work independently and develop their self- discipline.
This sentiment is only valid if the assigned homework contains student input and buy-in. Meaning, if your child can come home and say, ________ is my homework because I am working on / pre-reading / struggling with ________. I am willing to bet your child will be engaged and not just “busy” PLUS there will be an abatement of anxiety because power and control are in the hands of the learner, and not only in the hands of the teacher. Additionally, independence and self-discipline are all precursors to GRIT; and if we are keeping students busy OR elevating their anxiety, we are misrepresenting the development of grit – a skill needed both in and out of the school hallways.
- Homework is a means for parents to keep aware of what’s happening in school.
Is this true, though? The way I see it, this idea creates the chorus of “my child is bored in school” because obviously, the homework is too easy. Or, the refrain I dread most, “there is something wrong with my child because they cannot do the homework.” The best way for homework to be the tool that connects school and home is when homework is specific and delivered via the student, not the page(s) assigned.
The teacher in me fully understands how hard it is to create and foster a truly student-centered environment. Most schools do not offer teachers the support, education, or tools to make these types of environments, yet I will still encourage the following.
If you fall into the camp of homework is too easy for your child (and whether or not you are happy that he/she is “busy”), I will encourage you to create the bridge homework should be. Reach out to the teachers, and share your observations. Phrasing your concerns as the desire to have your child engaged in learning for learning’s sake, not just for the sake of finishing their assignment, is an excellent way to open the conversation.
Alternatively, if you fall into the camp of homework, causing anxiety and distress, I again encourage you to create the bridge homework should be. Reach out to the teachers, share your observations, and ask them to pare down the assignments to target specific skill needs and help develop student grit appropriately.
In neither of those scenarios should you expect a teacher to start generating their own materials to appease you and your child – especially if you are in a text/workbook heavy school. BUT you can expect a teacher to adjust how they assign for your child – even if it means changing the number of pages or questions posted.
If you are working with a teacher who refuses to budge, have some empathy for that teacher. Their hands are probably tied, and remember all 35 assignments of page 47 will be his/her job to “grade” on his/her own time – it’s ok to take your request up the chain – a homework revolution must come from the top and with that I leave you with Kohn’s final sentiment:
“…change the fundamental expectation in our schools so that students are asked to take schoolwork home only when there’s a reasonable likelihood that a particular assignment will be beneficial to most of them. When that’s not true, they should be free to spend their after-school hours as they choose. The bottom line: No homework except on those occasions when it’s truly necessary. This, of course, is a reversal of the current default state, which amounts to an endorsement of homework for its own sake, regardless of the content, a view that simply can’t be justified. “
If this leaves you concerned about your child being “bored” after school – we can probably cover the benefits of childhood boredom in a subsequent post…
Sima Maryles, Educator at A+ Solutions