Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Homework is Evil--NOT

At least many parents apparently think so. Charles J. Sykes comments on the strange crusade against homework at American Thinker.
This is a genuinely strange crusade.

A generation of hyper-parents has larded their children's days with band practice, piano lessons, soccer practice, volleyball, martial arts, dance recitals, and swim classes. For their part, teens find time to spend something like 6 hours a day using various forms of media; Xbox 360 sales do not seem to be suffering because kids are too busy to play video games and the malls have not been emptied of teens.

And yet the cry goes up that it is Mrs. Grundy's history homework assignments that are destroying the innocence of childhood and wrecking the American family.

Of course, as any parent who has spent hours working on pointless dioramas and time-wasting cardboard volcanoes can testify, some of the complaints are not without some merit. But while some children undoubtedly do have too much homework, reports of a national homework crisis are highly exaggerated. In 2003, a study by the Brookings Institution found that the great majority of students at all grade levels now spend less than an hour a day studying, or about a quarter of the time they spend text messaging things like "NMHJC" (Not Much Here, Just Chilling) to one another.
The problem with modern homework at least as it has been described to me by parents of older kids and my own decades ago experience, is relevance. Even my kindergarten daughter, who has about 30 minutes of homework a week, does not have homework that is designed to either expand or reinforce the skills and knowledge she is learning or needs to learn.

Admittedly, there is homework that is a waste of students' time and energy. That particularly subspecies of homework can and should be eliminated. But homework, in general, is not a bad thing. The problem of course is that homework has come to be viewed,by students and their parents alike, as busy work. While the student perception is as common today as it may have always been, adults should know better and teachers should know better than parents. Homework, quite frankly, may not be utilized to its maximum potential. I am not arguing for more homework (or less homework), but for relevant homework.

Relevant homework serves two functions. First, it should reinforce current and revisit past lessons to reinforce knowledge or to keep skills sharp and refine those skills that may be getting rusty. This can be done, for example, by asking questions or presenting problems that draw on previous lessons. Second, homework should stretch the critical thinking skills of the students. This is done by presenting problems outside the norm, that call for applying what has been learned in other contexts to new situations. When employers and colleges decry the lack of critical thinking skills in the graduates they see, part of the problem is that critical thinking is not routinely asked of the students. If classtime is precious (and it most certainly is), then homework needs to be used to foster those critical thinking skills that, while clearly valuable, are apparently in short supply.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with some drill and kill exercises for younger students. But drills should last only as long as necessary. If 20 drill questions are enough, why give 50? Why not take the time to expand the ideas and apply them.

Make homework relevant and use it effectively. But the argument that homework is unnecessary or too time consuming is ridiculous, particularly when modern students spend so little time on homwork and so much time on other things.


karrot said...

a reecent studey haz showen that hoemwork is eneffective.

Artemisia said...

My experience is limited to one suburban district - but my problem with the homework is that it either 1) is busy work, with little to no educational purpose (this more in lower grades), or worse 2)focuses on learning content that hasn't been sufficiently addressed in school - so kids are learning it on their own or with parental help after school.

As such, I think homework is ridiculous.

When it is a well-designed assignment that reinforces or extends what's already been taught, I'm behind it.

Joe Jordan said...

Good stuff, Matt! Thank you for opening an important debate.

Homework--or class work--ought to create a framework so the student learns to think logically and critically about the subject he/she is studying. (A process that is also an essential part of parenting.)

I live with one of those kids that is at band practice at 6:45 a.m., takes private lessons on two instruments, and is often studying when I go to bed after 10:30 p.m. His AP English teacher is teaching him how to think critically and he'll push himself to complete the work for her class. His AP History teacher is doing little to capture the interest of his students--and my son has to force himself to complete yet another chapter of history notes.

Maybe the effectiveness of homework has as much to do with a tacher's willingness to create an engaging environment for discovery and parents stopping long enough to engage with their kids about what they're learning.