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Homework: Why Do It?

By — Education.com Member Contribution
Updated on Mar 15, 2011

To assign homework or not to assign homework, that is the question! At a recent workshop on Effective Teaching Strategies (ETS) led by Dr. Robert Marzano, the group was asked to discuss the topic of homework. The discussion got rather heated. There were many points and counterpoints made in favor of and against homework. Here is a brief synopsis of our understanding of the benefits and disadvantages of homework.

Some experts, including Alfie Kohn and Timothy Naughton state that there is no benefit to giving homework and that there is no correlation between academic achievement and homework. Other experts, such as Harris Cooper and Ronald LaConte suggest that homework is a good tool when used in the correct manner. Copper and LaConte counter that there is a body of research that shows homework to be quite beneficial if approached as part of a focused strategy for increasing understanding, not as an afterthought to the school day. By creating proper homework, the students will find their assignments more productive. Cooper states that the more homework students complete, especially from grades six to twelve, the better they do in school.

In summation, there are basically pros and cons as mentioned above. The data collected will validate this researcher’s belief; which rests somewhere in the middle. Homework that is just assigned as busy work and which has no clear benefit is indeed pointless and will have no impact on student achievement. The students will become frustrated and will not give it their all once they realize that it is just busy work and that there are no connections that can be made back to the class. However, those homework assignments that are well thought out and that are, indeed, an extension of the class can make significant differences in students’ learning. When a student is assigned a thoughtful homework assignment, they are more apt to complete the assignment with diligence and are engaged in their learning experience. In these situations, homework is used to reinforce what was done in the classroom, but also to spark the student’s interest for the next class and well beyond. 

To some extent, all would agree that when a teacher assigns homework, that is indeed their intent, however, we know that this is not the case. Students today are unfortunately assigned homework just as a means of busy work. This is counterproductive because we all want our students to succeed. Interviews and the observations of several teachers from various districts (both suburban and urban) have been conducted over a month long period and data has been collected based upon homework completion and the student’s average and more importantly their level of understanding within the class. All of the teachers modeled similarly to the several that have been the chosen illustrations. 

The following data comes from a teacher that is magnificent. Upon observation, it was easy to see that this teacher’s homework assignments were indeed meaningful and reflective. While teaching, this person used several of the Effective Teaching Strategies (ETS) as outlined by Dr. Marzano. Here are the results graphically:

 

Overall, this particular class had a homework average of 70 and the classes overall average was 72. What a strong correlation? The students’ homework average paralleled their overall averages.

This next data set comes from a former teacher of the year recipient.   Upon observing this person and having the pleasure of participating on committees with them and hearing them speak about ETS as well as the overall importance of effective homework assignments, the results were terrific. It is this person’s belief that homework be seen as an extension of the classrooms learning experience. This person’s results are truly indicative of that belief. The students overall homework average was an 85 and her overall students average was 83.

 

The next data set comes from a teacher whom upon observation does not particularly assign meaningful homework. However, to their credit, this person is a strong classroom teacher and does use some of Marzano’s ETS; however, the homework assigned is not always meaningful and not used as an extension of the class. This class’s homework average was 87, but the class grade average was only a 72. Talk about a negative correlation. The interpretation here is that the homework which is done is not done properly; the students just rushed through in order to have something for this teacher to look at when it was checked. What a difference from the other teacher. 

 

Now some of you may be saying that the overall average is the same, so what’s the difference between the above two teachers and the later? The difference is that the last teacher is missing the message. The third teacher’s class should be doing so much better. The students in there are scoring only based on their classroom knowledge obtained from the teacher. Conversely, the first teacher’s students are trying in the classroom and on their own to some extent and the results parallel perfectly. That is not to say that the first teacher is perfect; that person still needs to increase those students averages, however, they are on the right track because the assignments are definitely an extension of the class and promote a continuum of learning for the student. This was clearly seen in the discourse amongst the students while being observed.

Dr. Sam Goldstein reiterates the point of extension when he states “that homework is important because it is at the intersection of home and school” (Goldstein and Zentall 1999).  Dr. Goldstein also mentions that two important purposes of homework are the overall participation in the learning tasks as well as continual practice of the newly acquired skills. If a child is taught by an effective teacher and the homework that is given parallels, then, “it would be it would be expected that if homework were completed accurately, not only would your child’s general knowledge and grades improve but your child would also increase mastery of basic academic skills, such as reading, writing, spelling and mathematics” (Goldstein and Zentall1999). Goldstein and Zentall also go on to describe the more administrative aspects of homework. Some of them are that homework strengthens a child’s responsibility. The reason being that he or she must organize themselves to write the correct assignment down, bring home the necessary materials needed to accurately complete the assignment, and then pack it back up to bring in the next day in order to show the teacher. This concept at its core is so relevant to our discussion to being effective because effective teachers should be fostering effective learners. This process definitely promotes effective life-long learners. 

Now let’s take a look at the parental aspect of homework. Imagine that Kelly (a student) comes home with an assignment from a teacher that does not believe in assigning effective homework. Kelly is not motivated to start her homework, nor is she motivated to do her assignment at all. This in turn frustrates Kelly’s mother who always thought that homework should be done and that there were no excuses. That is until she looked at the assignment. To her surprise, the teacher’s assignment was not well thought out and did not promote higher order thinking skills at all. Now, what message is that sending home? A frustrated parent that we all know will soon be emailing the teacher or the principal. However, this all could have been avoided if the teacher truly used ETS. This is the last piece that Goldstein and Zentall discuss about homework. It provides a message home to parents. It clearly shows the parents exactly what learning is taking place within the classroom. This is such a simple concept, but one that definitely should be seen as an eye opener for teachers. Homework is looked at by parents and at times critiqued. So what a better way to send a clear message home then with an effective homework assignment that cultivates and nourishes the learning experience.
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