The Homework Battle

What is homework exactly? Is it the bane of every student's existence or the tried-and-true method for mastering a skill? Is it extra practice to be done at home or is it the leftover material too vast to be covered during one class session? Perhaps homework is meaningful or perhaps it is busy-work. No matter its form—reading assignments, practice problems, interviews with family members, etc.—homework takes time, too often to the point that it becomes counterproductive. The use of homework continues to be a divisive topic among students, parents, and educational professionals.

On one hand, homework has its merits as a teaching tool. Meaningful out-of-class assignments can enhance a student's ability to master a new skill. For young students, homework is primarily assigned as a way to build and strengthen study habits. The rigor of these assignments is minimal (as it should be) since studies show little academic gain is made when homework is given to this target age group. Of course, homework demands much more from students as they advance from grade to grade.

Students who see homework making a positive impact on their education are being assigned meaningful work. Students benefit when they find a connection between what they are to do at home and how it will tie to the content of the course. After extensive research, Educational Leadership created a list of guidelines that schools should incorporate into their homework policies. An essential part of the guidelines requires homework to be meaningful. Meaningful homework benefits students by having them practice a skill recently introduced or by providing them with the opportunity to extend their knowledge of what has been discussed and employed in class. Beneficial homework can even be the type that inspires students to use their specialized skills that go unnoticed during a usual class period. When students can display their musical, artistic, or athletic talents on a homework assignment, they can be inspired to work towards academic success. When teachers leverage students' interests outside the classroom with a homework assignment, student interest tends to escalate.

Another benefit of homework is its potential for parental involvement. When the work is being done at home, parents have the chance to monitor the habits of their children. This allows them to make suggestions or offer study tips to their children. Parents may even become aware of possible learning disabilities during this time spent with the child.

Still, not everyone agrees with homework's place in a student's life, and their complaints are well-founded. One major concern comes from parents who see their children struggling with a new skill that the parents lack themselves. When the assignment's level of difficulty surpasses the student's and parent's abilities, this can result in incomplete homework and a negative perception of the educational system in general. The same effects can result from not having the materials necessary to fulfill the assignment's requirements. These are factors teachers should consider when gauging the homework's ability to be accessible by their students.

Quite often, the time it takes to finish an assignment is cited as the reason why people are against homework. First of all, teachers can be in the habit of ignoring the students' responsibilities and obligations that fill their lives outside of school. Sure, students choose to participate in extracurricular activities or after-school jobs, but issues like doctor's appointments and child-care schedules are frequently beyond a student's control. Even when there is study time available at home, the work may be too lengthy. When learning disabilities are present, even seemingly manageable tasks can eat up hours.

Research has shown that time limitations according to a student's grade level should be imposed on homework assignments. While first grade students should not be assigned more than ten minutes worth of homework on a given night, second grade students can be expected to complete twenty minutes worth of it. The recommended limitation increases by ten minutes for each subsequent grade. There are exceptions, however. These recommendations for time constraints have little significance for students who enroll in accelerated courses or advanced classes. Yet, even when a teacher attempts to create an assignment with a time budget in mind, there are those assignments that may last longer than expected. When this begins to happen habitually, there is a clear problem.

If teachers continue assigning homework to students, they must take into consideration how meaningful and accessible the homework will be for them. Homework certainly has no value if it cannot be completed. Reasonable homework expectations and meaningful work can help students make strides in the learning of new skills.