Homework: is it really worth the effort?

Dad_Doing_My_Homework_ComicAs Year 12 Coordinator a lot of my time lately has been taken up ‘dealing’ with students who have not completed their homework. According to our school policies and procedures this officially means detention, although in the senior sub-school we are trying to have less of a punishment and more of a making-a-better-choice approach – so I negotiate with the students about how many nights they need to stay back in the senior study room to complete the tasks that have been set.

Really, I just want to shake the teachers and say “Why is this my problem?”

There is tonnes of evidence, let alone my own experience, that suggests most homework is a waste of time. Issuing a punishment for not doing homework is an even bigger waste of time. A better use of time (for both teachers and students) is to find out why students are not doing the homework … what is wrong with the task being set??

I do, occasionally, set homework. My students know if I set a task:

  1. It is always for a reason (usually skill practice and I explain why);
  2. It is always time limited (usually to be completed in no more than an hour block because that is an exam unit of time).

It is rare that students do not hand in homework for me (although we are often very flexible on time frames!!).

I also provide extra activities via a website and as an extension of class activities that students can choose to complete. These activities will extend students’ knowledge and skills but I am not going to check on them. I don’t have time to check and give useful feedback on every piece of work students do … not if I want to have a life outside of teaching. If they complete these tasks they get the benefit from being able to contribute more to class discussions and including more detail in written responses. If they specifically request that I read and give feedback on a task then I take the time to do that for them. I don’t need to punish them for not doing these tasks because they reap what they sow in terms of their grades on actual assessment tasks.

I also encourage students to make the choice to finish assignments at home. Recently my Year 8 English class have been working on an advertising assignment. We had 6 sessions in class, which was sufficient to complete the task at least to a satisfactory standard. I had lots of students ask if they could do some at home and my answer to this question is always “I’m not setting this for homework but if you want to do some at home that is OK by me.”

I do believe there are activities students can do at home that influence how well they do in school: Having conversations with adults in their lives about current affairs, reading, playing games (especially word or thinking games), and getting enough sleep all impact on how they contribute in my classroom learning environment.

I think a lot of the time teachers set homework because there is an out-dated idea of what learning looks like still being harboured by schools and parents! Students do spend a lot of time outside of regular school hours learning stuff, it often isn’t valued as ‘homework’.

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What are your expectations about homework?

What consequences do your students have for not / completing homework?

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Posted on May 19, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Fantastic post, diggers! I wholeheartedly agree and this couldn’t have been more topical at our school than at the moment

    • Thanks for your support 🙂

      My point was supported beautifully by four of my year 8s today, who came to my office (a scary thing for juniors to come to the senior school area) to hand in their homework because we didn’t have class today.

      Admittedly this was an extension I had granted them on the advertising assignment – however it involved only having the weekend (PFD Monday) to complete and had to be submitted today in order to be marked. They could have just left it till class tomorrow and taken a chance that I would accept it.

      But, no! They respected that I don’t give homework (or extensions) very often – so if I do they need to meet the requirements.

  2. I give homework to my Year 2 students. There are 2 sections – “Please do…” and “Optional”. I only set Homework because unfortunately my parents expect it 😦
    Reading and practising spelling words are in the Please Do section – if they don’t do them, there is no punishment, but I like to celebrate with students who do well on their weekly spelling test.
    The Optional things are ideas like Mathletics, writing comments on our class blog, writing a quiz about the book they’re reading, counting the money in their money box, or playing card games with their family.

    It’s all about balance 🙂

    • Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts 🙂

      I’m all for choice and I agree it’s about balance. Celebrating with students when they see their efforts pay off is the way it should be.

      I also agree with the “Parents expect it” … but I think that’s because that’s how they remember school. Most parents don’t really understand the world their kids are growing up in. I love the idea of anything that helps parents interact with their children though, playing games writing a quiz, counting money … all of that is stuff they can do together. As a high school teacher, a lot of parents tell me how they feel they can’t help their children with homework – it’s beyond their skill level!

      I’m not against homework, I just think we should always question the value of the tasks we set.

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