Homework

The recommendation of the commission regarding assigning “far more homework than is now the case,” is very interesting. On average, one third of the students even at high performing high schools do not do their homework.  The percentages are higher in the 9th and 10th grades and especially in core subjects such as English and Math. In spite of the enormous thrust on standards based instruction, students, and even some teachers don’t truly understand the quintessential nature of assigning homework. If homework is not adding any value to student learning how will increasing the quantity improve student achievement? If the concepts are not being clarified in class, and there is no one to assist the student’s learning at home, how is more homework a solution? Who is defining the ratio between what is given now and how it will be defined as “more”? Are teachers being trained to understand what independent practice means? Is homework being graded conscientiously? Is the feedback given on homework improving students’ understanding of concepts?

In many schools, educators have had discussions around what home work truly means. If it is not meaningful and does not add value to the student learning, it becomes busy work. Homework needs to be directly tied to classroom instruction and must challenge students to a deeper level of thinking. Homework needs to reinforce the spirit of independence and success. In this age of easy access to resources, meaningful and thought provoking work which requires multiple skills may be more valued than “more homework.” With the boom in information technology and so much help available from the virtual world, the nature of homework has changed significantly.

When students fail, teachers often respond by saying  that the student doesn’t do his/her homework. As has been the case traditionally, all teachers assign a grade for homework. Doing homework should be part of the students work habit grade as opposed to the academic grade. The commission does say that more homework helps students academically if training is provided to teachers on the nature of homework.  The thrust must be on what the homework accomplishes – i.e. independent learning. Whether a school is high performing or low performing the dialogue around homework or lack thereof can become meaningful if there is a clear understanding of the rationale behind it. The problem arises if a student fails because he/she did not do his/her homework. Do we then stop to reexamine the kind of homework assigned or the value added to learning via that homework?

Educators and researchers often compare American students to in other countries. In many South East Asian countries, the thrust on rote learning and home work is so great that student development is impacted in terms of applicability of skills. The American education system promotes and provides opportunities for students to be hands-on in their learning. Additionally, it inculcates a culture of participation in activities outside of academics that provides opportunities for young men and women to become well rounded. As shared by some Korean and Chinese students, students in their countries spend an additional 4-6 hours of homework after school is done.

Homework, that is guided, is meaningful, and adds value to the students learning experience, may inspire a love for learning. Students may just need more quality time in school under the tutelage of adult advisors or tutors that could help guide independent practice.

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