Issues Concerning Homework

Molly Saddler
ECI 696
Final Project: Homework
July 5, 2011

There are a couple situations in high school that teachers deal with in assigning homework: one is being able to provide immediate feedback but that requires teachers to actually receive the homework to provide the feedback. “Good morning students, please pass forward last night’s homework assignment.” Then we hear, “Mrs. Saddler are we going to grade this in class?” “No, I will look at it and return it to you in a day or two”, I say as I collect the work. Just because the homework is not being addressed at that particular time does not mean that it is not an important component to a students learning. Often times students feel that because homework is not immediately addressed, it is not relevant or necessary. The scenarios do not change from day to day: “Johnny, where is your homework?” I say and Johnny replies, “I do not have it.” This homework issue needs to be addressed by teachers with administrators, teachers with peers, teachers with parents and teachers with students so that expectations are clear. Not only does the issue need to be addressed, but decisions should be made that are clear and well communicated to parents as well as students about whether homework is necessary, if it meets the needs of all students, if it teaches lessons or if there are problems in assigning homework there is a need for clarification and consensus.

Homework is typically defined as “any task assigned to students by school teachers that are meant to be carried out during non-school hours” (Cooper¸1989). Homework has been a staple of education that tended to shift every ten years. In the 1940s homework was seen as drill and kill punishing students with repetitive work, so the 50s responded with less rigor, while in the 60s there was a societal shift that was more concerned with the pressure students felt by completing homework than its benefits and in the 80s society realized that homework was important because our nation was at risk (Cooper, 1989). It is no wonder why our country pales in comparison to others in test scores when we choose each decade to place more value on a child’s ability to play afterschool than to prioritize time and complete homework.

The lessons that homework teaches students is nearly as important as the homework itself. Students learn responsibility by writing down the assignment in a planner, taking the assignment home, completing it and turning it in the next day. It also teaches students that learning does not only occur inside the four walls at school, but also occurs at home, the library or at an afterschool program. Homework may entail reviewing facts, lists or vocabulary that requires practice. By reviewing materials at home, students have opportunities to practice, question and learn on their own. This extra practice (rote memorization) is what aids in student success inside the classroom while taking tests. Homework’s goal is not only to increase a student’s achievement on a test; however it is important to note that it can, according to Alfie Kohn in his article, The Truth About Homework, “in high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores (or grades), but it’s usually fairly small and it has a tendency to disappear when more sophisticate statistical controls are applied” (Kohn, 2006). Even if the correlation between homework and test improvement is small, where is the harm in having students complete homework? Parents trust that teachers know about their individual child’s strengths and weaknesses and homework is just another tool used to measure. While homework may be seen by some as a way to keep kids busy and out of trouble afterschool while parents are working, parents see a correlation between homework and academic success. Despite the value adults may see in assigning homework, there is often confusion about homework.

A problem with assigning homework may vary in its importance and expectation. Teachers may not explain the necessity of the homework assignment to students which causes frustration. According to Kohn, teachers should only assign homework when they can justify that the assignments are “beneficial” (Kohn, 2006). Failure to regard the assignment’s intent causes students to be uneasy and they do not understand why they are completing the work or what the assignment will do for them. When teachers carefully and purposefully consider the role of homework in furthering curriculum goals, they can turn a homework task into treasures (Alleman, 2010). When teachers set the expectation at the beginning of the year in regards to assigning and completing homework, students and parents will be more willing to complete the work. The problem occurs when the homework assignment given is used to teach material because the teacher was unable to complete the lesson for the day. When this occurs students feel anxious and incompetent about the material which results in a lack of production, but homework is generally designed to practice a skill taught during class opposed to teaching the skill independently. Homework may not always offer immediate feedback to students when teachers set it aside to grade for later and this causes students to think that there was no real urgency or relevance in completing that assignment. Some argue that there is no relevancy in homework assignments and I’d argue that practice, preparation and organization are relevant in being a successful student. It is understandable that there are situations where students do not have quiet workspaces to complete their work and in some situations receiving parental assistance is more detrimental than not, but schools can only provide a “safe-haven” during the school day and hope that the student can work at an afterschool program or home to complete the work. Homework for young children should help them develop good study habits, foster positive attitudes toward school, and communicate to students the idea that learning takes work at home as well as at school (Marzano, 2007). What is it about work completion? What does it teach students? It causes students to be more knowledge producers than consumers. For every student who completes their work, they are improving their chances at success in life. Whether it is working at a grocery store or a corporation, the student is learning how to meet a deadline. Despite the efforts of the teacher to produce well adjusted, deadline meeting students, there are some uncertainties about homework.

There are problems with homework. Teachers produce mass packets at the beginning of the school year in hopes of receiving them completed each week. Sometimes students are rewarded with prizes, extra recess or time with teacher incentives to ensure homework completion. Once students jump from elementary school to high school, the incentives become more intrinsic than extrinsic. Teachers are not handing out candy for work completion, but a zero if the work is not. The teacher may not consider taking time to talk to the student to find out why the homework was not completed because there may have been seventy five other students out of one hundred and fifty who have not done their work and instead of trying to figure out who needs what and why, it is easier to think the students are apathetic and give them a zero. The teacher should be able to recognize by past behavior or grades that some students must spend more time completing homework than others and “Because weaker students may spend more time doing homework, either as a remedial activity or simply because it takes them longer to complete their homework, time on homework can be associated with lower achievement” (Canadian, 2009). The student misses out. Now the teacher has to just move on to the next objective to stay in line with the curriculum set in place regardless of who needs more practice or who failed to catch it the first time. Despite the needs of the students, teachers grade the homework often without assessing it.

Grading homework can be a valuable tool is assessing student needs. When a teacher grades homework are they grading it for completion or diagnostics? That can make a difference in homework completion. If a student is struggling with his/her homework, he/she may seek a friend’s homework to copy in order to receive the completion points while having no idea how to actually complete the work. The teacher then has lost an opportunity to assess strengths or weaknesses of the student by simply checking completion. Ideally, homework should provide feedback to the teachers about student understanding, enabling teachers to adjust instruction and, when necessary, reteach concepts before assigning practice (Vatterott, 2010). The cycle continues and the student suffers because he/she has not received the supplemental materials needed to improve in the deficient areas. Again the teacher and student are at a loss because in some schools, stop watches are being used to monitor teachers time spent on lessons and regardless of the outcome, the teacher must move on. So homework can cause students to regress if they feel that they are incompetent. Certainly, inappropriate homework may produce little or no benefit—it may even decrease student achievement (Marzano, 2007). Once students get to this point, they may shut down entirely. Teachers must be deliberate and mindful in assigning homework that is relevant and realistic for all learners.

Traditional homework is not regarded as beneficial to students. With little research supporting the correlation between homework completion and student academic success researcher, Alfie Kohn (2000) wonders, “So why do we continue to assign homework?” It may be because traditionally teachers teach and give homework for students to learn or practice at home. Teachers want students to stay out of trouble and by assigning homework, it will keep kids occupied. Parents expect teachers to be prepared with thought provoking materials for their child to learn and practice daily. If teachers were to “rethink” homework and its value, what would that look like? How would parents respond (Kohn, 2007)? Since research does not support traditional homework, teachers must change the way they assign homework to involve students.

There needs to be a revolutionary shift in the assignment of homework. It is time out for packets that are supposed to serve a “one size fits all” student when educators know that is not the reality of the classroom. It takes time for teachers to be deliberate in compiling packets for students who are struggling in certain areas, but it shouldn’t take much more time especially when the resources are there. According to Kathleen Cushman (2010), “Homework should target the areas of weakness and pushing them to reach a new place just within their capability”. Imagine how the classroom climate can change if students had teachers that knew exactly where they were academically and what extra practice would assist in them moving to the next level. Ideally, teacher and students would share the responsibility of identifying what skills need improvement and making improvement happen through the right kind of practice (Cushman, 2010). For example, students struggling with verbs would receive a worksheet with definition, examples and then verbs at three different levels: recognition (being able to see the verb in the sentence), application (using the verb in a sentence) and analysis (knowing which type of verb is being used). Once the student turns in the work, the teacher can see which area the student is struggling in and provide remediation (whether through lunch or afterschool tutoring or peer assistance from one who has already mastered the three areas). Students and parents would feel better knowing the student is an individual in a class of many receiving customized instruction and remediation to produce success.

Since researchers say that eliminating homework will not hinder students, why won’t teachers change? Alfie Kohn says, “it is due to lack of respect for research, for children, not questioning existing practices and administers requiring teachers to teach faster for better test results” (Kohn, 2006). For many it is difficult to change what has always worked although there is not much evidence to support that it has actually worked. It is understandable that teachers want to keep some educational traditions, but it makes more sense to modify what has always been done to improve morale and possibly the completion and comprehension rate. The student who was assigned appropriate homework would score 23 percentile points higher on tests of the knowledge addressed in a class that the average student who was not assigned the homework (Marzano, 2010). So teachers who offer homework options that appeal to various multiple intelligence levels of learning may improve the classroom climate. When students become active participants in their learning by exploring and questioning, they may see school, homework and the teacher in a whole new light. Alfie Kohn (2007) challenges principals to rethink the school homework policy to better engage students to learn rather than drive them away:

  1. Educate yourself and share what you’ve learned with teachers, parents and central office administrators.
  2. Rethink standardized “homework policies.”
  3. Reduce the amount—but don’t stop there.
  4. Change the default.
  5. Ask the kids.
  6. Suggest that teachers assign only what they design.
  7. Use homework as an opportunity to involve students in decision-making.
  8. Help teachers move away from grading.
  9. Experiment.

Since education is supposed to be in the best interest of the child, reviewing, discussing and possibly changing the homework policy may work wonders for schools. Whether homework is beneficial, necessary or relevant really depends on the teacher assigning it. If teachers communicate the demands of homework with administrators, peers, students and parents, everyone will be well informed of the teacher’s expectations and desired outcomes from homework. If teachers take the time to modify homework for students needs opposed to the class as a whole, students will begin to look at the teacher differently. The teacher can then focus not on the lack of completion but the need itself. The homework should be tailored to meet the needs of the student. The homework should be relevant. The homework should give the student an idea of where he/she is most successful and draw upon that strength to provide some encouragement while the area of weakness can be worked on at home or school with teacher support. Once all parties realize the goal is student success and that the teacher offers the road map, many more courses will be traveled upon.

References

Alleman, J. et all. (2010). Homework done right. Educational Leadership, 68(1).

Canadian Council on Learning (2009). Homework helps, but not always.

Cooper, H. (1989). Synthesis of research on homework. Educational Leadership, 47(3), 85-91.

Cushman, K. (2010). Show us what homework’s for. Educational Leadership,68(1), 74-78.

Kohn, A. (2006). The truth about homework. Education Week. Retrieved from https://vista.nau.edu

Kohn, A. (2007). Rethinking homework. Principal. Retrieved from https://vista.nau.edu

Marzano, R.J. (2007). The case for and against homework. Educational Leadership, 64(1), 74-79.

Vatterott, C. (2010). Five hallmarks of good homework. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 10-15.

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