The “H” Word

Homework has become such a controversial word in education. Some teachers hate it, while others love it. I am a believer that homework was designed to be a help, not a hindrance. However, years of inappropriate assignments and homework abuse have lead teachers, students and parents to loathe the “H” word.

Personally, I am a fan of homework when it is planned and assigned appropriately. What is appropriate homework? Work that is assigned by the teacher with the intent of moderate independent practice to reinforce concepts being taught in the classroom.

What does that mean? Take a closer look:

“Work that is assigned by the teacher.”

The teacher is the person responsible for the lesson. She knows what the objective of the lesson is and how students should work toward mastering that skill. She knows, in order to learn the material, if students should spend one evening on a worksheet, or two weeks on a project. When students and parents interfere with that decision making, homework loses its vigor and purpose. Therefore, students, parents and administration should respect the role of the teacher and allow her to make the call.

“With the intent of moderate independent practice…”

Homework should be meaningful and reasonable, yet not too difficult. Your students should be able to complete the assignment based on the notes taken in class. If the task is too difficult, students will grow frustrated and quit. (Or, worse yet, get the answers from somebody else in class.) On the flip side, if the assignment is too easy, it won’t have an impact on their learning.

“To reinforce concepts being taught in the classroom…”

Homework is a continuation of the learning process that was left off in the classroom, and it should reflect the guided practice that took place in class that day. Homework should not be used to introduce new concepts. (That’s your job, Teacher!) Although homework needs to stay relevant to what is being discussed in class, spiral review of previous concepts is acceptable (especially if the previous concept relates to what is being learned).

Reflection

I had a math teacher in middle school whose homework assignments were almost too predictable. Just before the bell would ring each day, he would bark, “For homework, complete the problems on page ___ in your book…numbers one through fifty…odd only.” To keep us on our toes, he would sometimes tell us to do even numbers instead.

I look back on his assignments now, decades later, and think, Did he assign appropriate homework?

His homework assignments – albeit monotonous and predictable – always went along with the lesson taught in class, so it was always a continuation of learning in his classroom. The problems that were assigned to us came from a 20-pound text book, which had example problems and definitions for reference. And I don’t recall spending too much time on my math homework that year; it was always a reasonable amount that could be tackled and finished before dinner.  As a student learning to time-manage, it was a nice feeling to be able to rely on my math homework being the same each evening So, in conclusion, I would state that his homework was appropriate.

Homework Should Be…

  • Assigned by the teacher
  • Continuation of the learning process
  • Relevant in content
  • Reasonable amount

Homework Should NOT Be…

  • Introducing a new concept or skill
  • Too difficult (or too easy)
  • Repetition of a skill already mastered
  • Determined by students or parents
  • Punishment
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