I read an interesting article recently by Maurice Elias, a Professor of Psychology and Director of Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, titled ‘Homework vs No Homework is the Wrong Question’. The tile caught my eye because it seems homework policies and practices are often a bone of contention and tend to push people’s buttons. Some parents will complain that their children have too much homework while other parents with children in the same class will argue that there isn’t enough homework. Our TIS website outlines some suggested daily time allotments of homework starting with JK at 15 minutes up to Secondary at 75 minutes. However, I think we should be considering the nature of the tasks assigned as homework rather than the amount of time spent doing homework.
In some cases, we assign homework in preparation for a lesson. For example, the teacher may have students read a chapter or an article as homework so that there can be a more meaningful class discussion the next day. However, most of the time, homework is assigned as practice. As such, it should enable students to apply or extend the day’s learning. As a coach, I always told my players that contrary to popular belief, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. The same applies to homework. If we assign homework before students fully understand the content, we risk them becoming frustrated and not completing the homework, or even worse, practicing incorrectly. Learning acquired from incorrect practicing is very difficult to overcome. Proponents of the “flipped classroom” would argue that doing ‘practice’ at school with the teacher there to help is more effective, but that is a topic for a whole other discussion.
Many teachers see homework as evidence of learning and often use the results as a significant part of the final grade. According to Rick Wormeli, any evidence gained from assessing homework is strictly formative and should be used to provide meaningful feedback to students. It should never be used in the final summative grade, or if it is, used with an extremely small influence on the overall grade: 2 to 5 percent. He argues that we don’t give the gold medal to Olympians who trained well and worked hard, we give it to those who achieve the highest results.
We know our students are busy with academics and many extracurricular activities and that their time is valuable. As teachers, we need to examine our practice and ensure that what we are asking our students to do after the school day is meaningful and worth their time and attention. When considering what constitutes effective homework, I concur with Professor Elias’s belief that “No time-wasting, rote, repetitive tasks should be assigned that lack clear instructional or learning purposes”.