Most schools still dish it out, but is homework a benefit or detriment to a child’s education? Some experts believe it is time to say goodbye to homework.
Twenty years ago, homework was a well accepted aspect of a child’s schooling. Few parents quesioned the teacher’s reasons for setting homework, and many parents equated homework with intelligence–the more homework a child was doing, the smarter they must be. Homework was usually dull and repetitive, just more of the same work being done at school. Perhaps the occasional uninspiring project was assigned, but for the most part, homework was another chore children–and parents–were expected to complete on a daily basis. In more recent years, schools and parents are challenging the idea of homework, placing significant emphasis on differentiated homework and acknowledging the role of family time and experience in a child’s overall educational development and attitude toward school.
What are Homework Policies?
Most school boards have homework policies outlining why homework should be assigned by teachers, completed by students and supported by parents. The Halton District School Board in Ontario, Canada cites homework as “an aid in developing life-long learning skills such as self-discipline, task commitment, time management, responsibility, independence, initiative, and problem solving.” This is a common thread among other boards’ homework policies, and many schools will even specify the amount of time students should be spending on homework. At South Perth Primary School in Perth, Western Australia, students as young as six years old are expected to complete up to an hour’s worth of homework every evening, and the time increases into high school, where homework can take up to four hours a day. Homework time extends into weekends and holidays as well. Teachers are expected to follow these guidelines and assign and check homework regularly, and consequences are doled out for incomplete tasks.
But the Toronto District School Board in Ontario, Canada has chosen to take their homework policy a bit further to adapt to the needs of students and families, explaining that homework ought to be differentiated based on a student’s “needs, learning ability, subject, school schedule…[and] should be balanced with the importance of personal and family wellness.” The policy further outlines that homework in the primary grades “shall more often take the form of reading, playing a variety of games, having discussions and interactive activities such as building and cooking with the family.” Not until children reach about eleven years of age are they expected to do independent homework.
Homework can have an adverse effect on a child’s attitude toward school on a whole and thus take their progress backward. Gerald LeTendre, Head of Education Policies Department at Penn State University says studies suggest that, “overburdened by homework, students may become disillusioned with homework and lose motivation altogether.” He also advocates the idea of individualized homework tasks that are assessed by the teacher and then fed back to the student.
Does Homework Prepare Children for the Real World?
Imagine an adult, employed full-time, being told to complete four hours worth of extra work, at home, every day, without additional pay or benefit. Consider how partners and children view a parent who brings hours worth of work on holiday with them, or misses a child’s weekend soccer game because of work. People who work excessive hours are labelled “workaholics,” implying work outside of regular hours is akin to an addiction. Though hard-working is valued, excessive overworking is viewed as a detriment to family time in this busy age of double-income households and active social lives.
Yet the expectation is that school-aged children ought to come home and, above spending time with family or participating in extra-curricular activities, they should sit down and do more work, more of what they already did at school today. That doing their homework is of the utmost importance, paramount to family time, sporting activities, art lessons or time playing with friends. Values such as self-discipline, independence and responsibility are equally learned through team sports, part-time jobs or caring for younger siblings–homework is not the only avenue teaching these skills.
What Can Parents Do?
Ask your child’s school what their homework policy is and what kind of homework your child can expect. Calmly communicate your family’s needs with the teacher and explain what you consider to be realistic homework assignments. Be aware of the school’s curriculum or topics of study so you can find opportunities in your daily home life to support your child’s learning. If possible, take fifteen minutes to sit down with your children while they are completing their homework. In the end, let common sense rule. Is the homework causing stress in the child because it is too difficult? Are they bored and disengaged because the homework is too easy or aimless? If they are obviously frustrated or struggling with the task, stop, put it away, and talk to the teacher.
What Can Schools and Teachers Do?
Spend more time making lessons as engaging, constructive and meaningful as possible. Be sure to include a plenary at the end of every lesson to assess students regularly. Consider a “standing homework” routine–a relevant task that is due on the same day every week to encourage skills in time-management, and provide a logical consequence for incomplete work. Communciate with parents on a monthly or termly basis detailing what is being studied and the type of tasks taking place at school. Link homework tasks to family activities, such as writing up a favourite family recipe, or creating a photo collage of weekend family outings. If you must give holiday homework, make it brief and enjoyable as possible, like reading, creative writing or artwork.