The Case Against Homework
The one issue that causes more family discord between parents and children than any other is...homework. Once children return from school, groceries are picked up, the house tidied, dinner fixed and eaten, there's barely enough time for parents to check in with their children before its time for bed. Unrealistic homework expectations are unfair and can interfere with precious family time, especially if there seems to be little educational benefit.
I recently traveled to China where I learned that the government had become concerned about overworking children, so they had reduced the workload during school hours but failed to reduce the levels of attainment expected on tests, thereby farming the majority of the stress out onto already overburdened parents. After our tour guide had to return home and wake her second grader after a day's work to study for a test, this seemed like madness.
In fact, a school district in Spain has recently experienced parents revolting against homework, which they say is consuming up to 6.5 hours of their child’s extracurricular time per week. These parents have declared that homework will not be completed by their children for the entire month of November.
A writer for the Guardian argues that British parents should take a similar stand against
school homework policies in England and points to Shanghai students who are estimated to spend a staggering 13.8 hours on homework per week!
So what exactly is the purpose of homework? Teachers and school boards may claim that homework helps to consolidate knowledge learned in class, that it practices essential skills and teaches students about study skills and discipline.
But what does educational research say about the effectiveness of homework? Studies mostly show a negligible effect on elementary school students and a small increase in attainment for high school students, mostly due to the development of time management and revision skills which help students to do better in test situations.
If homework does little to improve students knowledge, it may be time to reconsider its practice.
What would a Homework Free School Look Like?
As a teacher, imagine how much time would be freed up if you didn't have to assign homework, create resources and worksheets, chase after students who did not complete the homework and grade those who had?
What other tasks could you use that time for? Could it possibly result in better lesson planning, a more thorough assessment or a better work/life balance for teachers?
Teachers are often at the mercy of their school administration and have to comply with policies on homework set by the board or individual school managers, but even if your school does decide to ease up on the homework requirements, there are still some homework assignments which actually deepen learning and help to ensure students achieve greater understanding in a range of key areas.
Subjects which require constant repetition benefit from regularly set homework in order to practice essential skills such as spelling, math problems and exercises and of course reading, which should be a daily practice.
If you want to set some alternative homework assignments that seek to develop important life skills and better connect students with their families you should check out the resource created by Mrs. Thom, a teacher in the UK, including ideas such as riding bikes or going for a swim.
To enhance family time rather than compete with it, teachers should consider assigning conversation starters and research projects instead of traditional homework activities at home, such as:
- Ask a parent what their favorite sport is
- Ask a parent to tell you about a historical event they lived through
- Ask a grandparent to tell you about their childhood
- Do something kind for a neighbor
- Think of a business you would like to start
- Imagine you won a million dollars, how would you spend it?
With or without expectations of homework, schools should be careful not to underestimate the importance of the time students spend away from school as much as the time they spend in school, for as we know learning doesn't only happen in the classroom.