Homework That Works

“How is this ever going to help me,” asks every student at some point in his/her life, buried under mountains of busy work, properly hidden by the euphuism of “homework.”

Now, teachers are going to need a better answer to this common question, one much better than “it’s (homework) due tomorrow morning.”

Alfie Kohn, the author of 12 books about education and human behavior and blogger for the Huffington Post, recently guest published an article in the Washington Post, claiming that homework is counterproductive and needs to be reevaluated.

Kohn noted that even the best teachers assign counterproductive homework, knowing that there is credible research suggesting that homework is can be useless.

Many teachers – especially at the elementary level – are pressured to teach a more topics and information than what they have time for. So, they assign homework simply to get that information in front of their students. Students then mindlessly complete the homework, and it’s never discussed or reviewed in classes.

 Essentially students do not actually learn anything from completing some forms of homework. It’s simply tossed aside and quickly forgotten. Many teachers are aware of this conundrum; however, they are simply trying to meet state education requirements.

Teachers then pass this burden onto students and their parents, wasting their time on new material – time that could be spent learning current material.

However, not all homework is counterproductive. Papers, essays and projects that encourage students to discover new topics and engage/react to different pieces of information help students learn and retain information much more efficiently than stretching just to cover a bunch of information via busy work.

Kohn also argues that teachers force students to teach themselves when they assign homework on material that was not covered in class. So, teachers essentially take themselves out of their roles, placing the burden of learning new information on students and their parents. Most of the time, students won’t actually learn the information as they mindlessly sift through irrelevant homework.

The best teachers understand that homework is an opportunity for students to practice what they learned in class, to reinforce material, not to attempt to learn a lot of new material. This is especially relevant to mathematics and foreign language homework.

However, Kohn’s claims that students learn best when they actively engage in their homework, using critical thinking skills and different approaches to learning, is consistent with other research.

Students and parent should encourage teachers to assign better homework that forces students to deeply explore topics instead of busy work that squeezes in all the topics the state requires.