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Homework: Does it help or hinder the learning process?

September 18, 2009

Around this time, all of us are thinking about homework: why does my child have so much? why does my child have so little? could it be more inspiring? shouldn’t we be practicing more rote skills like I did when I was younger?  how much homework is enough? what do I do when it is more advanced than my skills?

There are several books that have covered the topic.  One interesting perspective is The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn, in which he argues that the widespread assumption that homework assists in academic success is not substantiated by research. In fact, Kohn states that beyond the mere absence of research supporting non-school hour assignments, there are real costs that come with homework:

  • 1. Burden on parents
  • 2. Stress for children
  • 3. Family conflict
  • 4. Less time for other activities
  • 5. Less interest in learning

Perhaps there is a difference in homework — does the purpose of the homework impact its effectiveness?

    • Consider instructional homework (provides the student with an opportunity to practice or review material). Is this helpful or just busy work if a child already understands the concepts? Should students be able to demonstrate proficiency and “test out” of this kind of homework?
    • What about homework with non-instructional objectives? Is it valuable as a tool to create a bond between parent and child? Create structure and teach responsibility? Punish students who do not behave during school?

Harris Cooper (and several colleagues) from Duke gathered and analyzed all the research about homework from 1987-2003 and made several interesting conclusions. In his article, Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? (brief summary here), he concluded that students do better on teacher-created tests when they have homework; yet, there was no significant correlation between homework and performance on standardized tests. He did note most evidence supported a positive impact of homework in grades 7-12 compared to grades K-6, yet even this link had a point of diminishing returns when too much homework was assigned.

“Practice assignments do improve scores on class tests at all grade levels. A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits. Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2½ hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.”

What are your thoughts? Too much homework? Too little? Just right?  have you heard of services like IELTS essay correction? What are your thoughts on them? What kind of homework do you feel is the most valuable?

Further food for thought:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. She-Bear permalink
    September 21, 2009 10:50 am

    When asking your kids about their homework load, be careful about terminology. My son never considered reading (even in a textbook) to be homework. To him, homework was something that required filling out a piece of paper….what in college they refer to as “problem sets” or “p-sets”. So if I asked him how much homework he had tonight, he would say “none”, even if he had been reading textbooks for 2 hours.

    Also, homework isn’t just to help kids do well on tests in K-12. It is also to teach them the disciplines they need to succeed in college, where the bulk of the word is done outside of the classroom.

  2. September 21, 2009 2:11 pm

    Kohn’s ideas were extremely thought-provoking for me. It really makes the reader question what is and isn’t important, as well as how children spend thier time. I can’t say I’ve formed a strong opinion one way or the other yet, but definitely recognize now that it’s not just a necessary evil and it’s something that as parents we should be in dialogue about with teachers as appropriate.

    Todd – Thanks for sharing this with us! We appreciate your time.

  3. Communications permalink
    September 22, 2009 2:23 am

    I WAS one of those parents who asked, “What do you have for homework?” as soon as my children walked in the door after school. I have made a conscious decision to stop this practice and ask more important questions that tell me about their school day and how it went for them. I agree that homework is important if it’s relevant and an extension of what is going on in class. It also teaches discipline and responsibility, life skills that a child will use throughout his/her life. Homework, however, is not worth damaging a parent-child relationship that will outlast any assignment. This makes such perfect sense, but sometimes, as parents, we need to reassess and remember what is important in the long run.

    Many thanks to Todd for picking such a great topic and sharing his time with us.

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