Homework: Heaven or Hell?

Should schools insist that students do homework?

On the one side there are many supporters who maintain the benefits of homework while on other are the detractors who would prefer for all schools and colleges to end the practice.

Parents, educators, students and indeed the general public it seems are divided over the homework issue.

Last year the French president, Francois Hollande, proposed a no homework policy in his plans for educational reform.  His rationale was that students do not have a level playing field when it comes to homework, because some will have parents who can help them while others do not.

It is difficult to see that this will implemented as homework appears to be part of the education fabric and remains popular with most parents if not their children.

The key though lies in the true value of homework and in terms of the research the even experts disagree over the advantages and disadvantages of homework.

Cooper, Robinson, and Patall in their 2006 study concluded that there is a positive correlation between the amount of homework students do and their achievement levels. However in contrast, Kohn and Naughton also in 2006 found that there was little or no benefit to homework and that it does not really lead to improved academic performance.

From my own perspective as a parent and a former head teacher I believe there are a number of positives and negatives regarding the issue of Homework. Some of these are listed below:

The positives of Homework

  • It may help clarify what was learned during the school day.
  • It may support practice with content, concepts and skills.
  • It may improve the performance in test taking.
  • It may be an extension of class work that allows students to practice the mastery of the content or skills to be learned.
  • It may help to reinforce issues that due to lack of time were missed or hurried through during the day.
  • It gives parents an opportunity to see what their children are doing at school.
  • It may help to teach self-discipline, time management and research skills.
  • It may reduce the time for TV and Internet and promotes good study habits.
  • It may increase the interest in schoolwork especially when feedback is swift and positive.

The negatives of Homework

  • It can be too burdensome and stressful at times for certain students. Particularly if a child has Special Educational Needs.
  • It may disturb family life and prevents students from doing other activities.
  • Parents or relatives may do the homework for the student
  • Students need time to relax, play and pursue sports and hobbies.
  • Homework can make students over tired after a long day at school.
  • It may keep students up too late at night and may interfere with sleeping.
  • Some assignments may be meaningless and do not promote real extended learning.
  • Students from middle- and upper-class homes have better resources to help them with homework. (The Hollande rationale)
  • It may actually reduce the interest in schoolwork if feedback or marking is delayed.

The key issue I believe to success in the Homework principle lies in the quality and not the quantity of the assignments given.

Overall care must be taken to ensure that homework is relevant and linked to vital learning objectives. It must be designed to deepen students’ understanding, and facilitate mastery of the material to be learned.
In addition, the planning of Homework should include options of differentiation especially if a child has Special Educational Needs or SEN.

This will be necessary as not to burden both students and parents and prevent friction and unhappiness within families.

An example of this is that research shows that it takes a child with ADHD at least three times as long to complete the same assignment at home than in the classroom environment.

Similar considerations should take place if a child has Dyslexia, ASD or any other learning difference or disability,

As a result planning differentiated homework assignments is vital for specific students.
When I was teaching I once had a unique response from a parent. A child who had ADHD gave me a white sock which had a posted note which had been sent in by his Mother.

The reason was due to a 30 minute Homework Assignment I had set the night before for the child..
It read “I am spending 3 hours trying to help Jason complete his Science homework, please find his laundry enclosed”

Needless to say I thought a great deal more about the type and length of Homework assignments that I set for Jason in future.

In summary I believe that the pros of homework outweigh the cons. The key issue is for teachers to think carefully about how the issue may impact on each child and their families.

Good communication regarding expectations in terms of each assignment and timelines is crucial and the amount given should be reasonable and both age and person appropriate.

Maybe Homework will never be Heaven but with some care in planning and understanding……..it doesn’t have to be Hell either.