The Homework Debate – Homework is a Tool, not a Punishment – By Ellen Kelner
Few issues polarize parents and educators more than the great homework debate; which has been raging for decades. Though the opposing camps clearly delineate their positions with sound arguments, they have been unable to find a middle ground. Let’s take a closer look in an attempt to find a solution that benefits kids’ learning, which is the ultimate goal after all.
Proponents argue that homework:
- helps to consolidate what was learned during the day
- gives extra practice with skills (particularly important for math, reading and writing)
- facilitates rote learning
- teaches self-discipline, time management, and research skills
- provides a bridge between school and home
- allows students time to achieve mastery that can be difficult to acquire during the competing demands of the school day
- promotes good study habits
- decreases amount of time spent watching TV and playing video games
- improves performance in standardized tests
- increases interest in school if corrected quickly
Detractors contend that homework:
- is often busywork that does not promote real learning
- increases stress for the family and is an on-going source of conflict
- restricts time for extracurricular activities, family, and free time
- extends an already long enough school day
- creates an uneven playing field as affluent kids have access to more support
- is often done by adults instead of students
- penalizes slow learners as it takes them longer to complete
- causes frustration and increased stress levels among students
- does not consistently demonstrate an improvement in standardized test scores
- is often not taken up and therefore of little use to students
Where do you stand on this complex issue? It can be difficult to decide as both perspectives hold merit. As a teacher and parent, I would like to see a line carved right down the middle of these divergent viewpoints incorporating the best from both sides.
- Homework is to be done by children, not the adults in their lives. If it is too difficult to complete independently, then it should not be done and let the teacher know why. This does not mean you cannot give some support, but parental involvement should be kept to a minimum; you’ve already graduated.
- Homework should be of a limited duration according to age. Parents have the right to put an end time accompanied with an explanation to the teacher if work is not completed.
- Homework should review skills taught during the school day that students may not have sufficiently mastered such as multiplication tables, vocabulary related to a second language, reading or writing.
- Homework should be differentiated so that students who have gained mastery of a skill are sufficiently challenged. If kids know their math facts they should be applying them to problem solving situations. Spelling and vocabulary words should vary according to ability levels.
- Homework should enhance the learning experience by making connections between what is happening in school and the real world. It should provide an opportunity for meaningful discussions to explore issues more deeply.
- Where possible, homework should involve an element of choice so that students can take ownership in their work.
- Flexibility in deadlines is crucial to accommodate children’s outside commitments.
- Feedback is essential so that students learn from what they have done and feel their work is valued.
It is time for educators and parents to align with a homework mandate that enhances children’s learning without jeopardizing their out-of-school life.
ELLEN KELNER holds a Master’s Degree in Education and is a resource and math specialist at a private school in downtown Toronto. She is a long time resident of the West Village Community.