Homework: Harmful or Helpful?

Mathematics homework

Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The homework debate has been raging for many decades, with no end in sight.  On one hand there are the proponents of homework who swear by its benefits and efficacy, and on the other hand we have the detractors who would like schools to end the practice of giving homework to students.  Among the proponents there is also the burning question of just how much homework should be given to students. Parents, educators, students and indeed the general public have all been deeply divided over the homework issue for a long time.  It seems as though the numbers of detractors are slowly growing.  Some schools in the United States and elsewhere have a no homework policy.  The French president Francois Hollande proposed a no homework policy last year in his plans for educational reform.  His rationale being that students do not have a level playing field when it comes to the matter of homework, because some have parents who can help them  while others do not.

The experts also disagree over the advantages and disadvantages of homework.  Cooper, Robinson, and Patall (2006), for instance, concluded that there is a positive correlation between the amount of homework students do and their achievement levels.  Other researchers, such as Alfie Kohn and Timothy Naughton, state that there is little or no benefit to giving homework and that it does not really lead to improved academic performance.  Alfie Kohn, (2006), wrote “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.” Even the title is eloquent.

Let us consider the pros and cons of homework and then make an informed decision and recommendation about its value.

PROS

  • Homework helps to  consolidate and clarify what was learned during the school day.
  • It gives practice with content, concepts and skills.
  • Homework improves performance in standardized tests.
  • It is an extension of classwork that allows students to achieve mastery of the content or skills to be learned.
  • Students do not have enough time during the day to fully understand all the information they are given.
  • Homework facilitates rote learning.
  • It  lets parents see what their children are doing at school.
  • Homework teaches self-discipline, time management and research skills.
  • It reduces time for TV and video games and promotes good study habits.
  • It increases interest in schoolwork when it is corrected quickly.

CONS

  • Homework must be corrected quickly or students get frustrated and lose interest.
  • It can be too burdensome and stressful at times.
  • Homework disturbs family life and prevents students from doing household chores.
  • Parents or relatives may do the homework for the student.
  • Students need time to relax, play and pursue sports and hobbies.
  • Homework can make students too tired after a long day at school.
  • It keeps them up too late at night.
  • Homework is often meaningless busywork which does not promote real learning.
  • Students from middle- and upper-class homes have better resources to help them with homework.

After examining the pros and cons where do you stand on the homework issue?  What would you add to the debate?

On the strength of 39 years of experience as an educator I firmly believe in the efficacy of homework.  I know that more homework equates to better academic performance.  I have seen it countless times.  I wish to sound a note of caution though.  Care must be taken to ensure that homework is relevant and linked to vital learning objectives at all times.  It must be designed to deepen students’ understanding, and facilitate mastery of the material to be learned.

Finally, teachers should not overburden students with homework.  There should always be reasonable homework timetables or schedules and homework should be age appropriate.  In elementary schools homework should be light.  It can be increased in secondary school on a sliding scale as the student progresses through the school.  It can range from one hour or a little less per night in the lower school, to three hours or a little more per night in the upper school.

When no written homework is given, students should be encouraged to review the important elements of the day’s work or do additional reading as self-given homework.  They need to understand that they are largely responsible for their own academic progress.  When a student is absent from school he should contact a classmate to get the homework and do it .

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197 thoughts on “Homework: Harmful or Helpful?

  1. My experience as a Teacher. I see no improvement in giving students a homework since they never do it by themselves. Some teachers are ruining students career by giving them difficult one. Homework should not be given before the topics/lessons are discused.

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    • I agree with your last point. Enlightened homework helpers understand that it is better to help students to understand how to do the homework themselves, than to do it fully for them. The goal is to show them the principles and patterns behind the homework and teach them how to think or reason their way through it.

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      • One thing my math teacher did was he gave us an outline so that if we already knew the content, we could do the homework in advance.

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      • My experience as a student in the eighth grade has been disappointing. While I have many good teachers my school does have less qualified teachers. I usually have 1.5 hours or more homework to do each night. My grades mean a lot to me so I probably do better work than some students but many students do care about their grades. I have thought a lot about ending homework and the best conclusion for everyone is to extend the school day. Many teachers don’t want to be at school for any longer than they need to be but by extending the school day there would have to be no homework. I believe this would benefit the students more than the teachers but I think its best. The teachers would get paid more for longer school days and would not have to worry about assigning homework as well as grading it. I truly believe this will better help my school and schools everywhere.

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      • Your ideas about ending homework are interesting but they may not necessarily end all homework. Extending the school day will create new and significant problems for students and teachers. Many of them may consider homework to be the lesser problem.

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    • First of all, the ‘teachers’ at home are usually your guardian and most of them are not qualified teachers and personally, I don’t learn/gain/benefit from homework as it is also stressful and last minute work. Therefore, homework is nothing but a chore…

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  2. Okay let’s have this homework thing fully explained the advantages of it is that you miss all that tough house chores the disadvantages is that you get stressed after a …. school day.

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    • school days typically run 9 hours per day not counting extra curricular activities and homework and a job if you have one. Not only does homework screw with your sleep schedule, but family time, and much needed socializing time as well. During ages 12-19 the body requires approximately 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night and schools here start at approximately 7:30 if you ride a bus at most you can sleep in until around 5:30 and you’re at school until 2:50 to 3:00 in the afternoon classes. Let’s not forget those club meetings, those usually last about an hour per meeting, unless you’re in debate then you’re at school until around 5:00 everyday, DECA really depends on your instructor, and let’s not forget about sports either. Typically sports practices run about 3 hours and usually work around club meetings so the district can have a “well-rounded student” so if you get out of school at around 3 and are in a club meeting until 4 or 5 and have a sports practice afterwards, you aren’t leaving school until around 8:00 at night. keep in mind you still have to eat dinner, and do homework and typically the amount of homework is about 30mins per class and here we have seven classes so that’s about 3.5 hours of homework so you’re up to around 11:00 at night doing homework, lets not forget study time for those exams coming up either! The average teenager should study for at least 30 mins per class so really if you do all of this you’re not in bed until 2 o’clock in the morning and have to get back up at around 5:30, that leaves you with about 3 hours of the 9 hours of sleep required.. so please tell me more about how school is not stressful…

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      • Thanks for your very extensive and thoughtful comments. I notice that they include several other after school activities and not just homework. I agree with you that daily schedules such as you have described above would be excessive and undesirable for students. Balance is needed.

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  4. I strongly disagree with homework. All it does is cause more stress to family life and robs children of their all to short childhood. Education was designed to give children opportunities for their working life not control their younger years. One day all we will be left with is our memories, it is a very sad state of affairs if our memories are of just work and stress.

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  5. Often homework helps kids that are behind in homework but at times
    it can be annoying. For instance if you have homework that you cant get to
    the teacher can easily discipline you. But still it can help you get good grades;.

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  6. In my opinion homework should only be given if a teacher notices certain students struggling in a certain topic in that class. Also if students don’t finish required assignments in class then those worksheets become homework. But I disagree with teachers giving homework that will take hours to complete, I don’t think some teachers understand not all students have stable homes where a student can get help if they don’t understand something and then end up getting a bad grade to no fault of their own. Also some teachers don’t understand is students have lives outside of school they can’t just sit there for hours doing homework when they have to get things done after school. Also sometimes you do a assignment and the teachers don’t grade it, I feel that teachers are getting paid to teach not for us to teach ourselves or for our parents to teach us for them.

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  7. I only have about 15 years in teaching to back up my statement that homework is unnecessary, especially for elementary-aged kids. After putting in 7-8 hours at school, the 30 minutes a day of homework is pointless. I don`t bring work at home, why should they? Why should a teacher dictate how I spend my evenings with my family?

    Fortunately my kids are in a school where they hardly get any homework. Which doesn`t prevent them from being A students and winning spelling and math competitions at school and provincial level. Maybe I got lucky and my kids have a natural drive to learn. But I’m sure that homework would have killed it pretty quickly.

    I will end by mentioning an event that happened in my kitchen last week. I allowed my first grader to watch some TV before dinner, to which she replied that she couldn’t, because she wants to make a book (gluing pages together, writing a made-up story and drawing pictures to go with the story). She was busily working on her book, asking me how to spell words in two languages – her story was bilingual – when I suggested she should do her homework instead. It was funny (and sad at the same time) to see all the energy draining from her face when she exclaimed “Aaahh, do I have to???”. This is what homework does to the kids’ love of learning.

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  8. Homework sucks I agree but when your studying hard you can have family time but if you have extra activates like me then it’s hard to fit everything in.

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  9. Homework has little to no use. I have chronic migraines, causing me to miss around a sixth to a fifth of the entire school year, so added to the homework I have the make-up work I need to do. Whats funny is I have an F in my Computer Tech class, and around 30 missing assignments, but we just took the state final, and I got the highest score in my class. So to sum it up, Homework and a lot of the actual Schoolwork is pointless, if I have to go school because the law says so, I want to actually learn something.

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  11. Well-written post. I like how you stayed neutral and tried to see different aspects of homework’s ‘goods’ and ‘bads’. I think, as you said, homework can be very helpful and hurtful in different ways.
    I believe that it can contribute to a student’s education by reinforcing what they learned in class and making sure the information does not go in one ear and come out the other. It is also a way for teachers to know if a student is struggling with certain content or if they need extra help.
    Although giving homework has benefits, sometimes it can impact a student negatively. These days, like you said, kids have their own pursuits and hobbies, and it’s important for them to have time to do what they enjoy. Homework takes time away from that. In addition, it can be stressful and impact a student emotionally, making them think that they are ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid’. But, if they were really not understanding the topics learned in class, they should’ve contacted their teacher.

    Teachers really need to see all aspects of their students’ lives and see how homework could impact them. This specific text helps review that.
    That is my understanding of homework given to students!

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  12. Put it this way…….I don’t bring my work home, it stays at work and so should school. How would you feel if you had to bring your work home? there needs to be a healthy balance!!

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  13. I strongly believe that homework is uneccesary. I am an advanced student and I am placed in higher classes due to grades I get. In the higher classes, they completely swamp us with homework. Most teachers don’t understand that in every single class we are getting just as much work as they give us in their own class. I am also a huge golfer. I am doing a program where I am required to golf 15 hours every week. I leave school a period early each day and then golf 3-4 hours depending on the day. I don’t get back to my house until 6 or 7. On Wednesday’s, I go straight from golf to church and then I don’t get home until 9. I constantly struggle each night to complete all of my work, eat, shower, and still get to sleep at a decent time. Usually it doesn’t quite work out. I can say that I consistently go to bed as 11:30 or later. Then, I have to turn right back around and wake up incredibly early and I’m expected to function 100% every day. It’s exhausting and I’ve had to drop certain classes because I just can’t keep up with it all. Homework is not helping with my grades either. In my mind, it is a waste of time that forces us to stay up late into the night and caused major stress.

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    • Thanks for sharing your views. I agree that teachers need to understand that other teachers also set homework. There should be overall homework timetables so that homework does not become too burdensome. Golf and church also take up chunks of your time.

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  14. So far, (in my eyes) I seem to be losing interest in both subjects and good grades. This is mainly because of my habit to procrastinate, but honestly, procrastination does have its pros. I spend time learning other things by simply having conversations with other people over the internet. I also spend time wondering when the heck will I ever use half the things I learn school.

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    • Procrastination generally does not lead to good grades and there are much better study methods than merely talking with people on the internet. In addition, education goes beyond learning facts. At school you are taught competencies and skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, team-work and doing research. You will use these skills all your life.

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  15. I understand the concept of homework to enforce what youve learned in school and to see if u understamd the subject but the amount of homework given out is to much im in second year in ireland and im spending nearly 2.5 hours at homework some nights amd other 45mins . I often see my self fustrated and angry if i dont understand or my drawing in art wasnt good etc which for the rest of the day leaves me in a bad mad. Then when i dont understand i dont do it then get nervous and unsettled in school think whats this teacher gonna say am i gonna get a note or extra homework that night . This is really not good for my mental health and therefor think homework is abolished completely or given less homework by each of the 9 teachers i see a day

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  17. I think that the only homework that should be assigned to learners ,especially at the level of primary and secondary school, is to do a kind of revision to what has been learnt that day at school. However if the teacher really feels that students need to do some of it, he/she should not give very challengning homework.

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