The “H” Word – Part II

I’ve noticed during the past several months that “homework” has increasingly become the new educational taboo word on the street. I’m used to students and parents rolling their eyes at the mention of the “H” word. But now we are getting that same kind of response from educators? What’s going on?

Let me start off by admitting to you that I believe in homework. I think the advantages of homework FAR outweigh the disadvantages. Instead of joining the crowd of naysayers, I suggest we place the concept of homework under the microscope for a moment to examine how it has become one of the roots of evil in our nation’s school systems.

The Purpose of Homework

Homework was not originally designed to be a monstrous threat (“You better use your time wisely in class or you’ll have homework…”) or a method to kill trees by using up more paper. No, homework was designed to help students learn more.  There are four main reasons why teachers should assign homework:

  1. Provide additional practice on a skill outside of school hours
  2. Utilize more time (that we just don’t have in a typical school day) to master a skill in creative and inspiring ways
  3. Encourage students to work independently and challenge their cognitive skills
  4. Teach responsibility and accountability

How It Became So Negative

I propose that the negative connotation associated with homework wasn’t created by students or parents, but by educators. I don’t mean we assigned homework with malicious intent; however, homework was assigned with a different intent than the four listed above. Here are some examples:

Teacher: Gee, we aren’t going to be able to finish this lesson today in class due to the school assembly. I’ll just let my students try and finish it on their own at home.

Teacher: I have assigned this same at-home project for the last 15 years, I’m not changing it (well, maybe the part about completing it and saving it to a floppy disk…)

Teacher: They wasted 20 minutes in the beginning of my class talking about the homecoming game/dance/American Idol/Gossip Girl finale. I’ll just give them an extra 20 minutes of work to do during their free time at home tonight.

Teacher: I have ten objectives to cover this week! In an effort to get through them all, I am going to set a quicker pace today to motivate students to work quickly; the slower-moving students will just have to take their unfinished work home and complete it as homework.

As you can see, a trend of time-savers (and alternative forms of punishment) became a common reason for assigning homework. Over time, more and more teachers lost focus on the crucial homework elements, such as the time it would take to complete a task at home, the objective of the assignment or even the expected outcomes of the assignment. Over time, this abuse has led to student, parent and even teacher resentment.

Adjusting Our Outlooks

It is time to regain a clear vision about how homework should be assigned and assessed.  We need to lose the murky, preconceived notion of what we think homework is (boring worksheets, projects with no purpose, and repetitive practice on a skill that was mastered days, weeks or even months ago) and replace it with the idea that homework should always serve as an advantageous support to our students’ education. Homework is supposed to help students excel in the classroom. Period.

Think About It: Have you ever tried to learn how to play a sport or a musical instrument? What would happen if you were given no time to practice off the court or off the stage, and then were expected to perform in a big game or a concert? Would you do as well as if you had practiced some at home?

Is academic homework any different?


Lastly, remember this quote:

“I love grading meaningless assignments and shuffling papers!” – No Teacher Ever


One thought on “The “H” Word – Part II”

  1. I am a middle school Agricultural Science educator and I give homework. Once a month, I require that my students complete an agricultural news article review. What does this mean? They have to take time to find a news article that connects to the broad scope of agriculture (it is so much MORE than farming), read it, write a brief summary of the article, identify why they chose that particular article, and explain how it connects to agriculture. They need to cite it too. We start the course discussing what news articles are vs. blogs or other internet content. The media specialist does a lesson on writing citations. I do this to help them see the connection class has to the world around them.

    I also have them complete assignments such as “Bring in a ziploc bag of ‘dirt’ from your yard” or record your water use for the week or other homework that:
    1. applies what we are doing in class
    2. sometimes involves pulling the family into activities and discussions

    I agree with you on the purposes you identify. For example, if you don’t have a front yard to get a bag of ‘dirt’, you need to problem solve and think of what you could do to complete the assignment. (Students have two weeks.)

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