What Teachers Should Know About Homework and Student Learning

What Teachers Should Know About Homework and Student Learning

A widespread assumption is that homework is an essential element of the learning process. But homework lacks consistency in definition, application, and purpose. Often it is assigned simply because teachers feel that parents expect it, but parents generally accept teachers as the experts and will accept less homework if less is assigned.

The Research on Homework and Learning is Inconsistent at Best

There are educational researchers who have given much time and effort to homework and its effect on learning. A comprehensive review of the research will support many opinions. Studies on homework are difficult for broad application because homework is not standardized nor does it have standardized applications.

Even within one school homework policies vary widely from teacher to teacher as do policies on how homework affects student grades. Claims made on teacher and school websites about homework are often not based on research.

But resistance to the misuse homework seems to be mounting. Dr. Etta Kralovec — coauthor of “The End Of Homework” claims that homework may actually contribute to the dropout problem. Also worth noting is that the increase of homework was spurred by the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957. There is no evidence that homework has helped raise standardized test scores or contributed to learning since then.

“Homework practices tend to be based on individual teachers’ beliefs rather than on consensually agreed upon research-based practices” according to Bryan Tanis, and Karen Burstein in their article, “Improving Homework Completion and Academic Performance: Lessons From Special Education,”

Also, for teachers who feel that homework fosters responsibility this is an assumption that has little basis in research. When students who are judged to be responsible complete homework and those judged as irresponsible fail to complete it, teachers might erroneously assume causality ­— i.e., there seems to be a connection between homework and responsibility.

But how to talk about responsibility if, for example, doing homework on mathematics, students googling: do my math and find clues or ready solutions. So is there a meaning in this homework?

What is Homework and how does it Reinforce Learning

As has been said, homework is not one thing. Often it consists of answering a list of questions from a text. This type of assignment is often boring, aimless, and put away immediately upon being finished. Sometimes a five-minute assignment can be more meaningful than an hour’s worth of bookwork.

For example, instead of converting 25 English measurements to metric, have students find five examples of metric measurements on containers at home and recording them to share with the class. This involves students is a more meaningful and memorable task.

Most students will accept a creative, interesting, and reasonably brief assignment than a list of questions, but homework is often viewed by students as boring and excessive. When homework is piled on, especially when students have to prepare for tests, it is excessive and may interfere with learning.

If teachers allow students time to complete or begin homework in class, it isn’t homework, and instructional time is being sacrificed. Call it what it is — classwork.

Homework is for Practice and Diagnosis Not Grading

New teachers must understand that homework is a formative assessment. That means that it is a tool used while students are learning specific standards and is not for grading because students should not be assessed on what they have not been given adequate opportunity to learn. This means the standards should be studied, explained, and reviewed; students should receive feedback to clarify misconceptions.

A common reason for grading homework is to give it artificial grade value so students will do it. This is a misuse of grades as coercion. Compelling students to work by adding stress to an assignment misses the point. From the beginning students should learn the importance of learning for the sake of learning, but somehow the message has morphed into learning for grades.

The fundamental is simple, “Which is more important, that a student do homework or pass tests?” It is a surprise and frustration to some teachers that many students have no trouble passing tests and quizzes without homework.

Teachers might gain insight into the value of homework by looking at how it affects grades. This is easily done by looking only at tests and quiz grades for students and seeing if the averages increase. If the grades increase substantially or if several students are moved from failing to passing, then homework is responsible for too much of the student grade. Students should not fail because of homework.

Suggestions for Assigning Homework to Students

Teachers must always be sure that homework is necessary for reinforcing learning specific standards. If this is done, then the standards should appear on summative evaluations ­— tests and quizzes. If homework is linked to formal assessments in this way, there is no need to grade it — the failure to do homework should be revealed in low tests grades.

Thus homework is graded when the test is taken. This is a straightforward way to make the point that homework can be important. The need to coerce vanishes as the relevance of homework is established. When parents are told that their child is not doing his homework it means something more.

Precisely it means homework is standards-based and precedes learning and the child is not studying. Such a practice requires that the quality of homework is high and busy work is avoided.

Also, checkmarks are not grades. For teachers who simply check homework off to avoid grading all those papers, they are avoiding their homework. School homework policies generally require that homework be corrected, graded, and that students receive feedback.

How much time does a teacher spend on homework including choosing it and assessing its relevance, reviewing it in class, and in correcting, grading, and recording scores? In other words, is homework taking class time away from high quality instruction and planning.

The use of homework as a teaching tool is misunderstood. It is a formative assessment and not meant to be graded. Students should be encouraged — ­not coerced ­— to understand that homework will improve test scores. It is incumbent on teachers to correlate assignments to standards and not feel pressured to assign unnecessary homework.