Homework is a highly contentious issue with polarised views from both parents and educators alike. One of the problems is that many parents expect school to be the same as when they attended. The old ‘it was good enough for me to do homework’ approach. The problem is that homework is one of those things which cannot be monitored, is inconsistently administered and assumes that kids have households which are conducive to doing it.
My issues with homework are as follows:
– Some households are too chaotic and dysfunctional for homework to take place.
– The majority of homework has minimal impact on student learning
– It can cause major conflict between parents and kids which turns learning into a chore or punishment eg- “Do your homework or you won’t be going out to play”
– Many students have very busy lives outside of school which prevents time for extra school work
– Why do we need kids to be spending additional time at home doing school work?
– It is an equity issue in that not all kids have access to the same resources at home. Eg – internet, books, supportive parents/siblings and basic stationery supplies.
By setting homework for students are we suggesting that there’s not enough time in the school day to complete the work? I would say we need to make better use of the time we have with kids at school not give them extra work to do at home. I have listened to many of my friends who are parents of primary aged children complain about the daily battle they have with their kids over homework. The last thing kids want to do when they get home from a long day at school is sit down for another dose of school and do homework.
The research I have looked at suggests that there is almost zero impact on learning for set homework up to year two and minimal impact from years three to six. This means that we may be spending a significant amount of teacher time and effort in preparing, marking and delivering something which is not helping kids learn. Why wouldn’t we focus our energy on high impact pedagogical practices such as cooperative learning, formative assessment and quality feedback for students instead? We shouldn’t just keep doing something because that’s what we’ve always done.
It is definitely a challenge to influence the entrenched mental models that many parents have about homework. However, anything that’s worthwhile is never easy and I strongly believe that it’s worth the effort. We need to provide some key messages to our communities in ‘parents friendly’ language about homework. I have discussed this issue with many parents over the past 20 years and their views range from “my kids aren’t going to do homework” through to “I want homework every night for my child”. I maintain that as educators we are the professionals and thus need to be the ones to influence the debate. We need to work with parents in partnership to ensure that a clear understanding about homework is enjoyed by all stakeholders.
At my school we discourage set homework. When I arrived two years ago there was a homework club once a week after school. Kids would come in tired and irritable from a long school day and were expected to then sit and do boring homework sheets such as practice spelling words and maths questions. I swiftly closed the homework club and we engaged with the AIS Active After School Communitues Program which gets kids involved in physical activity instead. Kids actually enjoy going to these twice weekly sessions.
At my school we promote the idea of parents spending quality time with their kids which could involve reading, playing games or any other worthwhile activity. Kids need to have time to be kids, play outside and enjoy childhood. Homework intrudes into this very important time of their lives.
I may sound a bit radical but I believe in putting our energy into strategies that make a big difference for kids and discarding those that don’t. That’s why I don’t agree with setting formal homework for primary school kids.
Here are two links worth reading on the subject: