The Great Homework Debate
“I left it on the bus.”
“My computer didn’t save.”
“My backpack got stolen.”
“My desk caught fire last night! Thankfully, my dad put it out, but my homework burned up.”
Some students never have to rack their brains for such creative (err, true?) stories as to why their homework isn’t complete. Why? Because they never have homework! Let’s take a look at both sides of this debated approach to education.
The Case for Homework
Continued learning: Homework reinforces what is taught in class and gives kids a chance to continue learning outside the classroom.
Hands-on practice: Students get to solve problems and make a hands-on attempt at what was discussed in class.
Life lessons: Aside from the topics students are studying, homework teaches valuable lessons like discipline, time management, and the importance of practicing.
Progress gauge for students: Students can track their own progress. Homework makes it easy for them to identify what they know and what they need to work on.
Progress gauge for teachers: Homework also makes it easier for teachers to see how well students understand the lessons and determine who may benefit from additional help.
Parental awareness: When students complete assignments at home, it gives parents a chance to see what their kids are learning and how well they seem to understand the material. Since teachers aren’t present, homework also encourages students to go to their family members with questions when they need help.
College prep: Homework builds good study skills and helps prepare students for college, especially when completing writing assignments.
The Case Against Homework
Lack of time: Between class and extracurriculars, students are already working the equivalent of a full-time job. It’s important for students’ mental health to spend the remaining time in their weeks with family and friends or pursuing a hobby.
Health concerns: At a time when obesity is at an all-time high, homework requires kids to spend more time sitting and takes away from time that could be spent being active. Active playtime is not only associated with increased overall health, but also higher levels of safety awareness, character development, and academic achievement.
Burnout: 23% of elementary school teachers and 45% of high school teachers say they see signs of homework-related stress in their students. Not only does homework increase stress and negative feelings toward school, it also takes away from time to decompress.
Achievement gap: Not every home is a suitable learning environment, and not every parent is willing and able to help their kids with homework. Homework widens the achievement gap, putting students from low-income families at a disadvantage, as parents are less likely to have free time to spend with students. In fact, “inability to complete homework” is cited as a contributing factor in students’ decisions to drop out of school.
Lack of evidence: There is no concrete evidence that homework contributes to improved academic success below the high school level. At the high school level, studies offer debatable results.
Ways to Compromise
Flipped classrooms: In a flipped classroom, the traditional learning approach is reversed: Instruction is delivered outside the classroom, often in the form of videos students watch at home. Traditional “homework” activities are completed in the classroom.
Flipped classrooms offers several benefits:
- Teachers are available to offer guidance, so students aren’t relying on parents when they get stuck.
- Watching videos takes all students approximately the same amount of time, versus traditional homework which may take some students many times longer than their peers.
- When students are absent from class, they can catch up faster.
- Time in the classroom can be spent digging deeper into material, since students come to class with a baseline understanding of the topic.
Quality, not quantity: The National PTA recommends the 10-minute homework guideline—students should not be assigned more than 10 minutes of homework per day per grade level (so first grade = 10 minute max, fourth grade = 40 minute max, etc.). Yet many students are completing two to four times this amount every night. If homework is assigned, the focus should be on assigning a small amount of high-quality work.
There are two sides to every debate. Only time will tell which direction the homework pendulum swings. But one thing is for sure: Just because something is “the way we’ve always done it,” doesn’t mean it can’t be reconsidered.
Originally posted on Skyward’s Advancing K12 blog
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