Is Homework Always Helpful?

Sometimes when I was making homework packets, I was almost asleep it was such a part of my muscle memory routine as a teacher. About 5 years into it, I began to really challenge the idea of homework. Was it doing any good? Was it doing any harm?

homework.I have asked myself the question, “Is homework helpful?” many times since I started teaching in 1997. I have stood at the copy machine and reloaded reams of paper time and time again. Sometimes when I was making homework packets, I was almost asleep it was such a part of my muscle memory routine as a teacher. About 5 years into it, I began to really challenge the idea of homework. Was it doing any good? Was it doing any harm?

Homework is perceived by most parents as a worksheet or packet their child is to do in a straight-backed chair at the kitchen table. Rarely in low socio-economic settings is there home tutoring. Parents are usually disengaged from this event and rarely assist their children when they do it. My son’s homework has usually been “disconnected” from the lessons he had that day. Math is usually most closely aligned but even still he always has questions when he does his homework. He is lucky I am a teacher and even more that I am a caring, involved parent with time to help.

I hate to say it but most kids I teach aren’t guaranteed homework help. Moreover, teachers sometimes give homework in haste to appease parents. They don’t always select it as material they’ve already taught. What is the result? Kids work in homework packets and on worksheets they often do not understand and make mistakes over and over that never get corrected. With the demands of instructional minutes, well-meaning teachers often don’t get to correct the homework and kids never see what they did wrong, or right. There is an option of online tutoring but in families where paying the gas bill is a luxury, it’s not very realistic.

I assign 30 minutes silent reading as homework. This is help with spelling and reading comprehension. I also applaud and assign practicing times tables on index cards. I recognize that many parents will “demand” homework from the teacher because it has been a traditionally automatic thing expected of teachers. To some extent I share with parents my feeling on homework but if they still have a problem with a “no homework” policy, or a “low homework” policy as I have, I will have a sheet or two for their child that is material they already know how to do. If tutoring is available, then homework becomes much more helpful.

New material should never be given as homework for reasons I have already stated. The buzz word in education in the 60’s and 70’s was “practice makes perfect.” This is true in a certain light. We should also consider the student who does homework or any work incorrectly over and over. In that case, the phrase should not be “practice makes perfect” because incorrect is the converse of perfect. In that case the phrase should be adjusted to say: “Practice makes Permanent.” As we explore this concept in a new generation, I invite your comments on homework and homework tutoring.

Author: Damien Riley

Having been a public school teacher since 1997, I've gained valuable classroom experience. Sometimes a great tool is a dynamite lesson plan. These posts are from a real teaching journey. I hope they inspire you. Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “Is Homework Always Helpful?”

  1. There are parents out there who have a problem with no homework? Seriously?

    We have so much homework here and as the kids got to Jr. High School and High School, the amount is a huge source of irritation to me. The school encourages the kids to participate in extracurricular activities as they should, but even the extracurricular stuff is out of control. You can’t just play on a school football team or be a cheerleader at games, they have to practice 5 hours a day so they can be the state champion cheer squad, marching band, soccer team, etc. The kids go to school from 7:30 am to 3: 15 pm, don’t come home til 8 or 9, still have to eat dinner, shower, etc., and then we’re looking at hours of homework.

    Of course, they often need help with the homework and I’m not a chemist, biologist nor do I speak German. I try to help as much as I can, but my kids are already taking higher math classes than I ever had to take.

    It’s craziness. I think the kids would do better with a little less homework, a lot less stress and some down time with the family. Just my 2 cents :)

  2. I, too, have struggled and struggled with the value of giving homework. (Though I have yet to teach at a school that will give me the option.) Now that I have a school-aged child in first grade, I question the value even more. My little guy is tired. Fine-motor skills are rather weak, so a worksheet or two can be a battle. I’d much rather be playing Monopoly with him as we often did in the summer. He actually uses much higher math skills than is required on the paper-pencil tasks. I want kids to spend more time learning by doing, and I want them to be well-balanced people. As a teacher, I’ve always given homework, but I’ve only felt good about it when it was “out of the box”–watching French music videos, cooking a French meal for the family, or creating an original cartoon. Worksheets . . . yuk!

  3. I think homework is an important tool to use as reinforcement and a way for the teacher to check for understanding. The homework should be connected to the lessons of the day and it should not be new material. Ideally, the students should be able to complete the homework without parental help…the only role of the parent should be to encourage the student to do the work.

  4. @Meaghan: Thank you Meaghan, I was hoping to get at least “some” dissent with this post.

    Just to restate ideas aforemetioned: I do not think homework is an important tool, especially with this new group I have this year. They are all kids who have scored 25% or below on their state standards test last year. What’s more, most have parents who have already “hit me up” for reams of homework. They are not as interested in the homework I give: 30 mins of reading a grade level chapter book in a quiet sheltered area and studying times tables on flash cards. Many of them are used to assigning them to their “homework packet” at the table without assistance. Make no mistake Meaghan, in my experience homework is NOT a good CFU. In fact, CFU should come before the end of guided practice which is 2-3 steps before independent practice the way I teach. Homework is rarely helpful to my style of teaching and for the last two years my students’ scores have been THE highest in the district. This year will be a new challenge since my students are the lower scoring group.

    I find it relevant to note that in 11 years I have never found a group of kids’ parents more interested in homework worksheets and packets. I may break down to make them happy, because I work for the parents, nonetheless, I don’t think I can agree with your comment that “homework is an important tool to use as reinforcement and a way for the teacher to check for understanding.” As long as you are talking about reading or rote times table type practice, I could in theory agree with your statement. However, homework on the whole when given credibility as CFU can actually harm kids in my experience.

    But thank you for your opinion. How can you make that conclusion about homework?

  5. I use homework as a basis for repetition and practice. I never assign “busy work”, rather valuable material that will prepare the students. I keep in mind that not all students have a quiet study place at home or the support from an adult. As a result I do my best to make myself available at recess (I teach elementary) for those students where we can work on the material together.

    For my students who do not complete homework because of whatever reason I have found the only time for them to do so is recess. While I hate to take this away from students I believe the homework I assign is valuable for the learning process, therefore I feel it needs to be completed at some time. If recess is all I have, that is when it needs to be done.

  6. I agree with almost all of what you said. The part about doing homework with your kids at recess is where we part ways. Homework should be done at home, schoolwork at school. You are making my point in saying that because my thesis here is that most of my students cannot get help or a quiet place at home. I still give homework, it’s just modified to be things they can’t practice “wrong.” I could go on, but the article says it all really, for me anyway. Thank you so much for your comment in this dialog! Please return to share more of your experience and opinions.

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