For most of us, who endured years of our own homework purgatory, there is a cruel irony about listening to our parents’ voices come out of our own “enlightened” mouths as we encourage, cajole and threaten the next generation about the consequences of unrequited homework expectations.
One of the issues that haunts children who struggle with a learning difference is the volume and frequency of homework. It has come to be conventional wisdom that the watershed of learning is a child's ability to complete any and all assigned tasks sent home by their school. Parents will often wade into the process; researching, scribing, editing, even completing their child's homework rather than have them face the imagined wrath of their teacher if they arrive at school in the morning with a blank or half-completed page. There are even educators and schools that claim to have "high standards" based upon the height of the mountain of homework that they pile on each evening. The successful completion of this work, relevant or not, is seen as a clear indicator of future academic success!
Having said all of that, the traditional approach to homework is not the sacrosanct institution that we sometimes believe. There is considerable research evidence to indicate that years of school-assigned homework may not have had the impact on the teaching and learning process that we once thought.
For example, a recent study in the United States found the following discouraging statistics: 65% of homework assigned is unnecessary and marginal (at best) to student learning; 45% of all homework is never referred to again in class; 75% of overnight work is not marked, shared or evaluated in any way to ensure accurate completion or to address concerns; 80% of “taken up” overnight homework is peer reviewed to ensure completion or accuracy but there is not meaningful analysis to aid in student understanding; 35% of all submitted homework is never marked or returned; and, 67% of of what is returned is not done so in a timely fashion.
Are you depressed yet?
Given these stark statistics, should homework simply be scrapped? The answer, obviously, is “no”, but what is clearly necessary is a rethinking of how we use homework to enhance learning, the extent to which the homework that is assigned reflects the academic priorities and philosophy of the school, and, the establishment of a truly collaborative approach to the assigning and completion of homework that involves on-going discussions both among educators, and between home and school.
According to the research, homework definitely has a role in a number of specific instances: when reinforcement of a newly learned concept is clearly necessary; when time (as in “there isn’t enough in the school day!”) is a factor; and, when you want to actively engage parents in the learning process. So, what can schools do to ensure that students and their parents appreciate the value of doing work beyond the end of the school day? To begin with schools have to ask themselves so hard questions: Is what we are assigning essential? Is it better done at home than at school? Is it effectively integrated into our programme plan for the next day? Clearly, some things simply must be done at home in the evening or on the weekends: completing work not finished in school; review and revision of written work; test preparation; assigned reading; project work; research that is beyond the resources of the school; in short, almost anything that can’t be accomplished within the constraints of a regular school day. At Kenneth Gordon, we try to minimize the amount of homework and keep it only to essentials. Our students work hard enough during the day without piling in on in the evening as well. Our goals are: to monitor the type of tasks that we assign for students to do; to prune the unessential, prioritize the rest; and, to maintain collaborative discussions among staff to guard against inconsistencies and overloading.
What are we asking of you in our drive for more effective homework? Be involved. Sit at the same table as your child and do some of your own "homework". Read with them and take the time to ask them about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Please try to remember to monitor your children’s assigned work and look to see not just “how much” but also “how valuable”; and, let us know if you think that it is out of whack. And finally, if it becomes too angst-ridden a process, tell them to put it away and let it go.
One request from every educator and every school is to try not to negotiate away your child’s responsibilities for homework with a late night email to the teacher. We are a flexible bunch, but let your child take ownership of the situation. We will work it out with them.
In the final analysis, we are all working in concert to manage the learning process at school and at home in a way that is meaningful and respectful to the needs of each and every child. Homework should always be a bridge between home and school and never a battleground!