Why do we have Homework

29 Nov

Homework has been the bane of kids for generations.. though it is not the norm in every country. A burden on all those who participate in the miserable process – then why is so much effort put into it? A recent study declared that homework does not add much value to student achievement. This may be a great study to quote in arguing against homework, but teachers, students and parents know that this is the one process that binds the child to their work, and the parents to the school. There is much that is achieved via the process of homework.

Homework is supposed to work for the student – it is an act of reflection on the day’s learning at school. Many students do not absorb learning rapidly, it gives them a chance to reprise at their own pace. Some are too hyperactive at school to really have absorbed the details around the topic.. at least not well enough to ask questions and identify gaps. This is their chance. Of course – schools and teachers must complete the loop properly and design the homework well to identify gaps even if the student cannot, and must allow questions to be discussed after the work is processed. If the loop is merely a formal process of marking homework in red, then a grand opportunity for inspiring a child has been lost.

Homework also works as an information tool for parents and caregivers of the child. It has been consistently proven that children, especially younger ones achieve better with supportive parental involvement. If there is no homework, parents have no way of understanding the standard expectations or parameters of work. But where I think homework berings the greatest value is in teaching children the extremely useful skills of time management, seeking resources and delivering to a goal. If a parent controls this – and micromanages this, a child will learn close to nothing. But with gentle nudges these crucial skills for employability can be built.

Many do believe that there is no role for homework and all academic learning activities must be contained within the school. Others measure the success of schools by how much homework their children get.. and how well the children perform in these review tasks. There are of course norms and standards on how much homework is appropriate for each age group that vary only slightly between countries. Younger children are not expected to work for more than twenty minutes and only on simple tasks. Older children are expected to do about two hours of work that include analysis and hunting for resources.

The burden of homework is evenly spread – teachers have to create the work, align workloads of children in staff meetings, align the level and content of the assignment across the subject area, set the work to the students and ensure they are all up to speed with understanding the question. Then, on the deadline the work starts trickling in and the tedious process of tracking responses and the safety of the work begins. Marking is time consuming if done well. The objective of marking these must be to nudge the students on to the right track, not to prove them right or wrong. This requires more than red and green marks on notebooks.

While the burden of homework is supposed to be borne by students, many parents micromanage the process. Often fearing that the work will be done to standards that are less than the best in the class group, parents tend to involve themselves more than is ethically right. If a child has an essay to write or a speech to make, a parent can listen, edit, support, record, give advice. But to write out the essay or speech is cheating and is teaching the child to be dishonest. The stretch exercises in homework are a chance to test the level of honesty we teach our children. In being too competitive or caring, call it what you will, do watch out for how many truths you trample over.

Homework may not impact student achievement as it is managed in the standardised tests. It may or may not improve their ability to do Maths or better in exams – but it certainly teaches our children to buckle up and keep going on. If we wish to build that stamina, let us carry on as before. In India, I wonder if homework has another purpose altogether – to memorise the rote-style examination answers, even in Maths? As a wise friend once told me – in India you do not solve questions in a examination. you recognise them and replicate the answer. Maybe, we will hold on to homework till we fix our assessments. And then ask the questions again.

This was published in the Times of India blogs on November  26, 2012 as a response to a study that Homework had no impact on student achievement. Achievement of course was measured as an aggregate of standardised test scores.

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3 Responses to “Why do we have Homework”

  1. behrfacts November 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    My daughter’s school organised a session with parents on homework and were probably surprised that those who attended seemed very much in favour of it, as long as it doesn’t completely take over children’s lives out of school. I agree that the exams system produces all kinds of pressures which may not always be conducive to good learning.

  2. Nina November 29, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Homework should be an opportunity for the student to revisit what s/he learned at school during the day. It should not be graded, because it is a tool for learning, not for assessment. Homework shouldn’t take too much time to be effective, it cannot be busywork, and it should be individualized. Also, to get best benefits from homework, students should check and correct their own mistakes on the following day at school. This is the way I used homework while teaching in Finland, and it truly contributes to student learning. And quite frankly, I preferred for parents not to help their kids in homework fro two reasons: it was based on what we did in class, and certainly within student’s ability to finish; also informally checking in with students while they corrected their homework provided an opportunity to reteach something if necessary.

  3. aapkimarzi January 15, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Am totally with giving HW.Its a reinforcement of what’s taught ,more so for students who tend to be somewhere else most of the time. Parents can keep a tab at times till the middle classes as to whats’ for HW,and if done…As a teacher/mother the latter worked …

    Wonder why we never discussed/debated so much in our era and yet we turned out not so bad..One thing that stands out in memory….We would wait for the nuns to pass,wish timidly and then move,especially in the stairs.That’s another story how we used to be reprimanded for entering the class late.Did’nt have the guts to say that I waited for Sister so and so to pass….

    Some of my generation teachers still have a problem with the kind of discipline we get to see these days in schools.I say,’Can’t do much about it single handedly.Do as much as you can ONLY.’ For all you know the child/parents would’nt like it!!!!!!!!!!!!

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