In Search Of The Benefit Of Homework

There Is No Homework In Finland!

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher

The debate about homework is growing heated in education circles.

With more and more demands being placed on teachers, students, and educational leaders, homework can provide valuable practice time for students. It can also be a time of torture where families lose their precious little time to conflict and stress, as the battle of “I don’t want to do my homework” ensues. It’s important to impress upon students the value of getting the work done, but sometimes homework demands are unrealistic, bringing up the question “Is homework productive?”

It has been argued that homework unfairly punishes students who do not have family members available to help them, giving the long-term edge to students with parents who do.  Those on the other side of the divide say that appropriate homework should be for the student alone. If homework is appropriate, family members aren’t necessary, therefore, there is no disadvantage to students–tasks are for student reinforcement alone, because “practice makes perfect.”

As a high school teacher, I must admit, I’m conflicted about this subject. At last year’s EdCampRI, homework was the focus of serious intellectual debate, during which I staunchly defended my right, no, obligation to assign homework, with conditions. My homework is purposeful and flexible; I suggest deadlines in advance, “By Friday, I’d love it if you can read through the cases on the Learnist board “Really Awful Court Cases” because I’d like to discuss the ones you thought were most horrific. Make sure you know these 20 court words, too…I’ll be using them. Put them in your notebook.”  I try to make my homework relevant or interesting enough that students realize it’s going to set them up for something fun. That usually works. But should I be assigning it at all?

That is the inner conflict: What is the benefit of homework?

As a parent dealing with Stubborn Boy, homework became a nightmare. I considered I might have stored bad homework karma in assigning it to my students, and it was now coming back to bite me. At five years old, my son Declan regularly brought home a folder full of papers he didn’t finish at the proper time because he was too busy talking. He’d say, “No, thanks, Mommy. I don’t want to do it. It’s boring,” to which I’d reply, “You’re five. You don’t get to decide what you want to do. That’s the reason I walk this earth.

The battle had begun. One day, in a moment of very bad parenting, I issued a bribe, just to diagnose the problem. “Too bad you don’t want to do your homework. We were going to have an ice cream party after you finished.” That boy ran for a pencil, whipped out the three papers, and completed the rows of problems without a pause. But he refused to draw the required circles for the word problems, calculating them directly instead.

“Remember, you have to draw the circles here.” I said.

“No, Mommy. I don’t do the circles. I don’t need to. I always know the right answer.”  That’s a can of worms I didn’t want to open. I had diagnosed the problem. The problem was the homework was too easy. Should homework differentiate? Entertain? Scaffold? Remediate? Enrich? What is the purpose of homework, anyway?

This week’s Learnist feature is about homework and its purpose in the classroom. Does it indeed promote academic success? After all, as Gwen Duralek notes in a learning on her board below, “There is no homework in Finland.”

5 Resources In Search Of The Benefit Of Homework

1. No Homework!

On this board Gwen Duralek presents the case for no homework. Many people argue that homework is counterproductive and even biased. It’s something I have been considering over the past year or so. More and more demands are placed on teachers, and the temptation to assign work is there, but is it necessary or better yet, productive? This board by a veteran educator soon to be educational leader has some eye-opening learnings.

2. My Case against Homework for Kindergarteners

This is a short board discussing homework for very little students. Is homework age appropriate at the early elementary level? Does it build responsibility and habits for success if it is well-considered?

3. Should I keep Assigning Homework?

This debate is in every teacher’s mind. It is in my mind. Sometimes, I think that homework is helpful, and other times, I see kids struggling or not doing homework, and I wonder if it furthers my goals as a teacher. What, ultimately, is the benefit of homework?

4. 5 Pieces of a Flipped Classroom

Terry Heick shows the definition of flipped classroom. The flipped classroom, by definition, is structured around homework. Teachers assign videos for home, and students discuss, differentiate, or receive help in class with their valuable teacher time. Many people have found this very helpful, but is it another manifestation of homework? (Editor’s Note: Hey, I heard that.)

5. Real Talk about the Flipped Classroom

Some of the debate about the flipped classroom is around the homework issue. This board contains “real talk” about that issue.  Students can be grouped and given opportunities to do the work at another time if they don’t tend to do homework. Students might be invested in the assignments if they are given a task or question to answer. Students might be grouped and peer-taught in the event that some students haven’t watched the videos or completed their end of the flipped lesson.

Even for teachers not completely flipping, this provides some great thinking about the student responsibility end of encouraging them to complete assignments in a timely manner.

Image attribution flickr user dotmatchbox