What is this mania our education planners have with homework? It is least surprising that even as we break off to mourn and commemorate the over a million souls horribly lost in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, some school administrators are circulating memos for teachers to give holiday work to students and releasing schedules for beginning of term exams when students return from the break.
Is homework such an invaluable instructional tool without which students’ performance would see a downward trajectory?
The most cogent argument leveled for homework is that it extends learning outside the classroom, and that by dropping the use of homework, schools would be forced to identify a practice that produces a similar effect within the confines of the school day/term without taking away or diminishing the benefits of other academic activities.
This argument holds some water especially if the homework is effectively structured to extend learning. The concern is that if you get to assess the quality of homework learners are usually given, you would be gravely disappointed! We tend to set quantity rather than quality: the opposite should be the case.
Harris M. Cooper of Duke University, the leading researcher on homework, criticizes both the quantity and quality of homework.
In “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It,” he provides evidence that too much homework harms students’ health and family time, and asserts that teachers are not well trained in how to assign homework.
He further suggests that individuals and parent groups should insist that teachers reduce the amount of homework, design more valuable and effective assignments, and avoid homework altogether over breaks and holidays.
That being said, what constitutes high-quality homework? Is it assignments that are developmentally suitable and evocative and that stimulate self-efficacy and self-regulation? Meaningful homework is authentic, allowing students to engage in solving problems with real-world relevance.
An artistic rendition of a period in history that would take hours to complete can become instead a diary entry in the voice of an individual from that era instead of simple true or false memory questions. By allowing a measure of choice and autonomy in homework, teachers foster in their students a sense of ownership, which bolsters their investment in the work. I must point out, though, that with the mood this month historically commands on the students, high quality or otherwise- homework will still not work.
While I run the risk of sounding irrevocably impassioned on this subject, honestly speaking, how much learning can homework enhance during the April school break? The emotional weight of this month cannot be over emphasized, especially in the second week. Even if we carefully planned and assigned homework in a way that maximizes the potential for student success, it would not yield the expected outcomes in this scenario. This is not an ordinary school break; as such, it should be treated with serious caution and lenience as far as homework is concerned.
When all is said and done, homework is only effective if it objectively extends learning. We should expect that every teacher and school leader understands the nuanced evidence that attends homework, with the differences that relate to individuals, groups and students of very different ages and stages of development. If we cannot formulate constructive quality homework that will have a direct effect on learning, we should just forget it.