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Is Homework Overrated As A Tool For Learning?

Al taught English at home and overseas all his working life. He is saddened by the results-based education system of today.

Doing Homework


Rethinking Homework

Kids used to come home from school, change their clothes, maybe play for a bit, do their homework then get involved with their hobbies and off to bed. Nowadays, the routine is about the same except for one essential ingredient. Homework. Teachers, parents and kids are complaining that homework is not all that it is supposed to be. There is also a feeling that homework can cause conflicts and lead to less learning, not more. Consequently, there is a drive to take homework out of a child's routine or at least modify the way it is assigned.

Children Cheat

The evidence seems to be overwhelming. A lot of the homework submitted to teachers is not the original work of the student. Some research points to up to 90% of homework being copied from someone else. What, some may ask, is the point of setting homework when children are not doing it, preferring to give in copied material from another child? Moreover, is it possible that teachers allow such high rates of copying? Surely, when a whole group of essays sound the same, there must be alarm bells ringing in an educator's head. It might be that it is easier just to accept the copied work rather than confront the students about the duplication of assignments. Children can argue that they have produced original work. If they are not believed, they are not averse to bringing their parents into the argument. They turn up at school, indignant, annoyed that their child has been accused and ready to defend their offspring – sometimes even accusing the teacher of picking on their child as a distraction. Administrators don't want to face up to the wrath of an indulgent parent either, often leaving their staff to work out complaints with parents. A teacher could ask, "Is it worth the bother?"

Homework Can Be Uninspiring

Research points to disappointment with the quality of homework topics. For some, homework is often "busy work" rather than something that is engaging, challenging and rewarding. Students often see no point in the work they are asked to do, even going so far as to say it is a kind of social control.
When faced with 20 algebra problems and make a model of the maize in "Flowers For Algernon", students would probably choose the latter as, they could see a finished result, a reason for the homework.
Children Get Too Much Homework
Over the years, parents and children have complained about too much homework.Zealous teachers, who want the best for their students, tend to forget that other subject teachers may have assigned work on the same night they have. Consequently, children sometimes come home with work that would take them all evening to complete.

Homework Causes Fights

"Andrea, have you done your homework?" (Pause) "Andrea, I'm talking to you".
"I'll do it later".
So, it goes on, Andrea doesn't want to do her homework right now but her mother feels that if she doesn't make her point, the homework will never get done.
Such a situation can build up real tension in a family, especially in the teenage years. Kids feel that a parent is taking sides against them and they feel isolated when they need support. Parents get frustrated because they want their offspring to do well at school but worry that their relationship may suffer if they push too hard.

Is Homework Ever Effective ?

The list of research on the effectiveness of homework is exhaustive. In a nutshell, homework in elementary school seems to do little in the way of raising educational performance. In Middle/High School there appears to be some effect in tests performance.
The most effective homework is when themes, information and knowledge are revisited on several occasions. For example, the Spanish Civil War is best set as homework in a series. So, the first assignment is the origins of the civil war, the second is the origins and strategies, and the third one is origins, strategies and consequences.
It is argued that homework gives students the chance to show that they are independent learners. An assignment done well demonstrates a student's ability to link up knowledge, skills, analysis and presentation. Although the guidance of a teacher is crucial to a child's development, if the relationship is too dependent, it is going to be difficult for real knowledge and understanding to shine through.

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Is There A Future For Homework?

I think there is but we need change our attitude to homework. When I was at school, I felt homework was a chore, something we had to do to show our submission to the rules of the school. I doubt whether any of the assignments I completed in middle school did me much good. In High School, where I was studying for external exams, I think it did. But the work that got me through examinations was the extra work I did in swotting up and making sure I knew my sources and so on. So, overall, the best thing I could say about homework is that it gives you a decent work ethic. It makes you work harder on your own. It gives you that sense of independence that is so important if you are going to study in tertiary institutions where you don't have any kind-hearted teachers looking after your welfare.
As the research points to a negligible effect of homework in elementary schools, I think it would be best to drop it. I can see no point in eight-year-olds slaving over homework when they get back from school. They should be playing and enjoying the company of friends and family members. It might be an idea to give some homework to children in the last year of elementary school so they may be used to it when they get to the secondary level.
For middle and high school students, they need to get some homework so they can get the hang of studying. But it should be set with care. Review sheets should outline the work that needs to be covered and what the content and presentation should be. Secondary schools need to have study skills lessons right from the start so kids know the way in which they should tackle assignments and what resources to use.
Teachers would do well to make the assignments given as engaging and challenging as possible. Sufficient time for completion should be allocated, and work should reflect what has been done in class.
There should be breaks from homework, except for students who are sitting external exams. So, those not involved in tests can be homework free at weekends and holidays, but the senior classes will have homework at any time.
Homework is the not the key to academic success in school. Attitude, co-operation, behaviour, aptitude and active parental involvement, count for far more. But when given creatively, it can certainly help in learning and understanding. Let us, not burden our children with homework but give it selectively so that it adds enjoyment to learning rather than misery.


Al Greenbaum (author) from Europe on March 22, 2017:

Yes, I did a lot of homework when I was at school - especially in the last two years of study. I think it helped me pass my exams. There is a need for homework but I think it should be assigned carefully. It shouldn't be just about academics either. At the same time, the amount given should be related to the age of the child.

Sam Dreiberg from India on March 14, 2017:

How I wish I didn't have to do all that homework in school.. However, homework does have great importance.. it helps a student grow and understand things better..

Al Greenbaum (author) from Europe on February 16, 2017:

Hi, lions44. Thanks for dropping by. Homework is always going to be a controversial topic, isn't it? I think we have over-estimated its importance in the past. But there will always be a place for homework in a child's education but we need to adapt homework to meet the needs of the modern world. For example, busy work is out and creative assignments are in.

CJ Kelly from the PNW on February 16, 2017:

Great topic. My wife has been a 3rd grade teacher for 23 years and she believes it's of vital importance. She can point to the students who do well in their homework and predict how they will finish at the end of the year. Now, we can debate if we should be doing something different for kids having trouble. But her students don't have any IEPs or anything. Pretty even playing field.

I'm curious to see what the homework policies are in different countries, particularly the Pacific Rim and Scandinavia.

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