Friday, April 24, 2015

The Value of Homework

* I want to start this post off by saying that I really don't know what the "right" take on the homework debate is and I am only laying down my arguments.  I think that it is healthy to challenge arguments so that we can either see their strength or watch them crumble. I also want to note that I did not do any quantitative research but am merely noting what I have observed.*

Image of people sitting around a round table.  Focus is on the open note book and laptop on table.Just before Christmas, we had a guest lecturer in one of my classes.  At this point, I cannot remember the overall topic of his lecture, but I remember vividly that he was anti-homework and that as he passed out an article on the subject, told us that we should be the same.  One of the main arguments is that there is no definitive benefit to overall grade outcome.  In response, if the homework serves no productive purpose, then yeah, there's a flaw somewhere.  That doesn't mean homework is bad, it just means that THAT homework is bad.

Second, many argue that kids should be able to play and have fun while they are kids and that homework takes away from this time.  Yes children should play and have fun, but what is wrong with spending an hour working on skills and developing other areas of your brain?  Homework should not be designed to steal ALL of a student's time.

Third, I have read that many people think that independent work should be done in an environment where there are teachers to help and supervise.  I don't know about you, but this last one seems counter-intuitive just based on wording alone.  I think that students should be able to get help and as a teacher-to-be, I would want to help and give guidance.  But I also think it is important for students to work through problems on their own and develop problem solving skills without a teacher within arm's reach.  But more on this in a moment.

I know that everyone hates homework.  Let's be frank: do you know anyone who, at the end of the school day, said, "YES! More homework to do! That's exactly how I wanted to spend my evening!"  No?  I hated homework in school.  Studying for spelling tests in elementary school was the worst.  What?  More math equations?  Can't I just practice my equations at school?  Wait... you mean you want me to read the textbook on my own time?

I hope that you can see that I am being a little silly here.  I have heard so much anti-homework spiel lately that I think people have forgotten or are ignoring the benefits of homework and as such, I wanted to add an argument for the other side.  Again, yes, I know everyone hates homework, but I think that when done properly, it is helpful.  I am thankful to my past teachers for assigning homework because they helped teach me valuable skills.

So, without further ado:
Three Reasons to give Homework

1. Homework provides practice opportunities.  Especially with regard to letter formation, spelling or math equations.  Realistically, in a classroom of 20+ it is impossible for the teacher to give each student the amount of time they need to individually practice their skills because everyone is at different levels.  It is helpful to assign a worksheet for for so that the students can work at their own pace.  I am not talking about a billion worksheets, but a few is manageable.  It is also empowering for a student to practice addition or multiplication at home and then come to class and be able to answer questions faster because of that added practice.  These skills become easier and less time consuming with practice.

2 & 3. Perhaps most important: homework teaches self-regulation (2) and time management (3).  Pause on that for a moment: Self-Regulation and Time Management... These are such important skills.  Without the ability to self-regulate, students struggle in staying on task with their assignments and projects in high school, then in university, and then in their adult social and work lives.  It's cyclical.  If students cannot manage their time properly, they will have trouble organizing their workload.  When both these skills are lacking, the amount of work can quickly rise to dizzying heights and students can feel over stressed and anxious.  While moderate stress is conducive to a good work effort, too much stress and anxiety does more harm to an individual's body and work product.

Because I had to do smaller research projects in elementary school (when, let's face it, the overall grades don't count for a lot) I was able to develop the skills I needed for high school.  I then had larger assignments that were worth more and would affect my acceptances to university.  The big point being that education is meant to build on itself.  You start learning skills in grade school and you expand, elaborate and improve those skills with age and practice.

How can we expect students to enter high schools, university or the workplace and complete longer essays (in academia) or create better projects when they did not have to do the groundwork in elementary school?  How will they know how much time to spend researching, writing, building or practicing if they only ever had to worry about working during the time the teacher allotted?  How can they learn to keep themselves on task when there is a push to only have them work when they are at school and the authoritative teacher is telling them it is time to work?

Children need to know how to schedule their work and social lives.  These skills can be acquired and practiced through homework in elementary and high school.  To a child, homework can be stressful and it can be seen as pointless or tedious, but it serves a higher purpose.

I'll end with an analogy.

Not every child who takes music lessons likes to practice.  (Me being a prime example).  Practicing songs over and over again can get boring and it doesn't always seem like fun to a seven or eight year old.  In those cases, if the child does not practice, they will not develop the skills needed or they will develop them a lot slower than if the child practiced a lot.  In the same way, homework, while not always enjoyable, provides students with the opportunity to practice and develop important skills.  All that's needed is a balance.

Thank you for reading.

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