By Susan McCrossin

I haven’t met a child or adult who ever said that they enjoyed homework or asked a teacher for more. Although most adults remember that one child in class at the end of the day that reminded the teacher that she/he hadn’t set the homework assignment for the evening and everyone groaned and glared.

The number of research papers in the last century are numerous and the findings various, depending on exactly what you are measuring, how you ask the questions and then the resulting analysis methods.

Some focus on the general effects of homework, others on homework versus no homework, homework with teacher feedback, homework that is graded thus the resulting statistics can vary wildly offering little help for teachers and parents alike.

Research has looked at achievement benefits, developing self-directed learning skills, parental involvement, and homework that motivates.

Benefits for middle school students and younger are weak, the main focus seems to be on setting them on the path for future high school homework. Even high school children only show a 45 percent benefit. While other students have shown that the more time spent on homework is associated with lower achievement. Fatigue perhaps?

A more important factor with the development of self-directed learning skills was shown to be when parents assist in ensuring they have a suitable place to work, set goals, manage time, and avoid distractions. Parents can assist with homework management skills, assuming of course that the parents possess these skills themselves. When parents are interested in and value homework then it is likely that the children will also, but if the parents are over-controlling then it can have a negative effect on children.

Homework is any material done outside school hours, so it doesn’t have to be boring. Students given choices about their homework are reported to have a higher interest, no surprise. I can recall research I did on subjects I chose to be very engaging. Teachers don’t have to assign boring worksheets.  Some teachers have their students conduct interviews, experiments, surveys, look at historical records, use video journalism, take photographic images, the choices are endless.
Effective learning also needs timely feedback from teachers so that the homework process is a learning experience. So when used effectively, homework is useful.

But how much homework should be given? When is enough, enough? Not all children work at the same rate. If the child has a learning difficulty then it should definitely be reduced. The positive effect of homework is related to the amount of homework that is completed rather than the amount of time spent on what is assigned. So careful planning ad assigning is critical for student success.

How much should parents be involved? They should have clear guidelines so that they don’t end up doing entire projects, which becomes rather obvious when presented in the classroom.
Many private schools believe that vast amounts of homework will keep those grades up, and the burden falls on the parents to make sure it is completed. Resulting in increased stress for the entire family. Teachers should also be aware of how much homework other teachers in the school are assigning, so that it’s not overly burdensome.
Just like busyness at work doesn’t mean productivity, the same applies to school. Constant busyness with school, homework, sports doesn’t make for a balanced life. The stress levels can affect health, happiness and general well being.

Here are some practical suggestions from Marzano and Pickering printed in EL Educational Leadership as a result of studying the extensive research of the 20th Century.

1.     Assign purposeful homework. Legitimate purposes for homework include introducing new content, practicing a skill or process that students can do independently but not fluently, elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen students’ knowledge, and providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest.

2.     Design homework to maximize the chances that students will complete it. For example, ensure that homework is at the appropriate level of difficulty. Students should be able to complete homework assignments independently with relatively high success rates, but they should still find the assignments challenging enough to be interesting.

3.     Involve parents in appropriate ways (for example, as a sounding board to help students summarize what they learned from the homework) without requiring parents to act as teachers or to police students’ homework completion.

4.     Carefully monitor the amount of homework assigned so that it is appropriate to students’ age levels and does not take too much time away from other home activities.

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