Homework Wars

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By: Rachelle Nones


Homework debateKids don’t want to do it.
Teachers don’t want to grade it.
Experts don’t even know if it has any true education value.

 So the question is: Is homework really necessary?
No thorough answer to the homework question would be complete without the input of students.

After surveying 72 students in the south Los Angeles middle and high school, students expressed a desire to move beyond the “how many pages?” homework mentality. Many of the surveyed students preferred challenging homework assignments that “make us think” or “involves a part of our lives.”

While a handful of the students wrote that they loved to do homework, most reported negative feelings towards homework assignments that were “boring” or “too much.” A majority of the students felt that they had been inadequately prepared to successfully complete their homework assignments alone. They requested that teachers explain the homework in greater detail and “actually give homework that we have talked about in class.”

Almost 30% of the surveyed students named English essays as “the worst homework assignment of the year.” They also commented on homework often being “too hard” and advised teachers to: “Take it easy because we already get frustrated with all the assignments we do in class.”

This student poll holds an obvious bias. Common sense tells us that most students would choose to do less or easier homework, if given the choice. These survey results do stress the struggle to challenge students without frustrating them, to adequately prepare students and to ensure that homework assignments are actually valuable.

Some experts believe that homework can actually impede student learning and motivation.

According to Dr. Vicki F. Panaccione, licensed child psychologist and founder of the Better Parenting Institute, “One of the biggest detriments that I come across each and every day in my clinical practice is the absolute abhorrence that the majority of students feel toward homework. I think, in most cases, the assignments are counter-productive and create a strong dislike for learning.” For optimum benefit, Panaccione recommends assignments: “that move them beyond the facts they have learned, helping students develop their ability to think, not regurgitate.”

Alfie Kohn, education critic and author of “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing,” recommends that homework should be assigned only when necessary, and urges teachers to organize a change in mandatory homework policies. Kohn says that teachers should reflect on one main question before assigning homework: “What will the effect of this be on kids’ interest in reading, their desire to learn, and their attitudes about school?”

While Panaccione and Kohn might prefer that homework assignments be dramatically reduced, major research studies have proven that homework can increase student achievement at the secondary school level, in addition to other benefits.

According to Harris Cooper, “Homework can foster independent learning and responsible character traits.” Cooper is a professor of psychology and Duke University’s education director, and author of “Using Research to Answer Practical Questions About Homework.”

Parents also benefit from homework. Cooper argues that homework allows parents to get involved in their children’s education and to foster an appreciation for learning at home.

Clearly, the homework debate is not as simple as “to give homework or not to give homework.” The answer may be, rather, to redefine homework and its goals.

In her extensive research, Susan Hallam determined just that. Hallam is the head of the School of Lifelong Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, University of London. She says that the most important information that she has gleaned from research is that homework must possess specific aims related to learning.

“The real question that needs to be considered is whether homework is useful,” Hallam writes. “Giving homework just for the sake of it is wasteful of children’s time. Where it can be demonstrated to contribute to their learning, then it has value.”

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