As teachers, we all want our students to learn, practice skills, and thrive. Time is certainly limited in our classes. Even critical academic time gets interrupted with so much from assemblies, to guest speakers, and even standardized assessments themselves. So, homework often seems to be a great way to get kids to practice those skills we have taught. It’s a deceiving idea, though. There is substantial research that extra homework is NOT the answer to getting children and young adults to learning more. In fact, sometimes overdoing the homework can have a pretty negative result, overflowing to the home and school the next day. Here are some thought provoking reasons why it is okay to reduce the homework.
Not All Kids are Created Equal – For some students, doing homework might be fairly quick. I know several students who enjoy homework, even. It comes easy to them and they can finish with their assignments within an hour of getting home. For other students, though, that same homework is a significant and painful challenge. Students with reading disabilities and weaknesses may struggle with just reading the directions. Children without access to computers or technology may lack the ability to find information online or access websites. Kids with limited attention may sit for 30 minutes and only get one problem done. Since not all kids are created equal, it seems insane to assign homework that is a one-size-fits-all. Simply put, kids who struggle are going to need less.
Home Time is Important – Working families are so busy. Parents come home, do chores, and start dinner. Time is really so limited to spend with kids. Consider that single hour left before bed time. Do you really want the only family time being used struggled with homework? While this could serve as family time, in many families it is probably more important for children to sit with their parents and talk, watch the news, or play a board game together.
Kids are Busy, Too – Children and young adults are so busy with their own activities that homework is often quite a struggle to fit in. Some who disagree with this mentality might say that academics should come before sports. It’s true! That is why kids spend six or seven hours a day in a school learning. It’s extremely important to a child’s social, emotional, and academic well-being to be involved outside of school in all sorts of ways. This might include sports, music, drama, dance, and a variety of other extracurrricular activities. Of course we want our kids to be academically solid learners, but we also want them to be well-rounded individuals who can balance all aspects of their lives.
Homework is About Practice, Not Endurance – Imagine doing the same type of math problems over and over again thirty times. It gets old pretty quickly! At some point, it becomes only a race for endurance and no longer practicing the actual skill. So many kids burn out this way. Reducing homework to a minimum, though, is one simple way to get around this. You can still provide the practice and allow for independence while keeping the work to a reasonable level.
These points are not at all to say that some homework is not helpful- it is! Homework, in moderation, can help children and young adults practice skills, learn their weaknesses and strengths, build confidence, and come to class the following day prepared to ask questions and get necessary support. However, some points need to be remembered when you do in fact assign homework.
1. Give homework as practice, not a graded assessment. Homework should not be graded for accuracy. This is the time when kids should be practicing the skills. They should feel free to try new things and take risks. It’s perfectly find if students come to class with homework that is wrong, as long as they made a genuine effort. Homework should aid in the learning process and be a tool to help teachers guide instruction. It shouldn’t serve as an assessment.
2. Homework should be independent work. Some students have extremely supportive homes with parents available to sit with their children through the homework. Others simply do not, for a variety of reasons. The reasons really aren’t important. What is important is that homework shouldn’t need to be something a child does with their parent. The ultimate goal is that homework is done independently. If the homework is too challenging for a student to do on their own, consider changing that student’s assignment or the homework entirely.
3. Accommodate or modify for your struggling learners. The students needing specialized instruction or intervention support in specific subjects will need different and lower level assignments to help them through. As stated above, since not all kids are created equal, it’s impossible to think that a student reading two grades below grade level should be able to read and complete the same passage as someone reading on grade level or above. Consider your learners and allow differentiation. It’s also an important lesson for the kids to learn that sometimes what is fair doesn’t mean exactly the same.
4. Make homework meaningful. If you assign homework, you should definitely give time to go over problems, provide extended examples, and allow students to ask questions. Show students that the homework assignments are extensions of your learning during the day.
5. Be comfortable assigning just a few questions or problems. Sometimes teachers feel like they have to assign twenty or thirty questions for a homework assignment. If the goal is some practice to see if students really understand a skill or idea, just a few problems will often do.
6. If a student is struggling, ask them why. Recently, I had a student who was not completing any math assignments. When I talked to her about her lack of homework, she told me that the math was too challenging for her and she lost her calculator. What an easy fix! I immediately gave her what she deemed to be a “fancy” calculator. Within a week, her math work was caught up and her confidence zoomed through the roof. The lessons here is that if you have a student who is not turning in homework, talk to him or her personally. Find out why. It will give you so much insight to the student’s life and give you ideas for how you can help him or her along the way.
As the school year rolls on by, remember that homework is just one small part of the big equation. Students who are in our classrooms and schools are there for several hours each day. Homework should help reinforce skills, encourage independence, build confidence, and encourage questions for upcoming classes so that students are even more ready to learn. Always come back to these core principles with homework and you can’t go wrong.
If you are a parent struggling with homework completion at home, or a teacher who wants to help parents with this, consider the Parent Homework Helper to save you some time.