Lately, the question of homework has been coming up in all kinds of educational discussions — on Twitter, in blogs, on parent chat groups, in Facebook entries. Wherever I look, I see people asking: Should we give students homework? If so, what kind of homework? Does homework improve learning?
These are crucial questions and ones that we should be thinking deeply about. However, our conversations are often confused by the fact that many of us define the word “homework” differently. Since we don’t share a common definition, our discussions can quickly become incoherent: we’re arguing about different things without realizing it.
We’re also frequently talking about different age levels — when we discuss homework, it seems obvious that we can’t compare a 6-year-old with a 15-year-old. And yet, so often we don’t clarify this. Elementary students do need more time for play, just as high school students need to be learning how to effectively manage their time and balance their life. So, as a secondary educator, here’s where I stand on assigning homework in high school. First, however, I want to start by defining exactly what I’m talking about when I mention “homework.”
What is homework?
|Definition one||Definition two|
|Busywork, worksheets, low-level comprehension questions, oodles of repetitive math problems.||Meaningful projects that students choose for themselves and that are guided by personal interests.|
|Assigned at the end of a 45-minute class that involves review of previous homework and a lecture by the teacher, and ends with, “Okay class, for homework tonight, I’d like you to…”||Classes are 75 – 90 minutes long, and after a 15-minute mini-lesson or discussion, students begin to work. The teacher conferences with students, helping those who need it.|
|Assignment is entirely done at home.||Assignment can be completed in class. Students who need extra time can finish at home.|
To clarify, when I talk about homework, I’m using definition two: a workshop model, in which the homework is an extension of an assignment started in class with plenty of teacher support.
Why give homework at all?
The other day I had a conversation with a twelfth grade student about the homework load and she said, “I don’t think we have too much homework, the problem is that some days we don’t have any, and other days we’re overloaded.” I asked her to give me an example and she said, “Well the night before last there was no homework at all. I kept checking to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake, but there was nothing. Then last night we had to work on a sonnet, we had some grammar boxes to complete, and we had a two page essay due for our coding class.”
I know that students have coding once a week, so I asked, “When was the essay assigned?”
“Oh,” she laughed, “Well, it was assigned last week. I know, I know, I could have done some of that on Wednesday night, but I guess I’m disorganized.”
This points out one of the most important reasons for giving homework to adolescents. When we ask students to complete assignments at home, we’re not just covering content, we’re also teaching them important life skills, including:
- prioritizing tasks
- tackling work they don’t actually enjoy
- managing their time
- avoiding procrastination
- working independently
Learning how to keep an agenda and to manage their time are some of the 21st century skills that are essential to our students’ future success. They’re the strengths that students will need in order to do well both in life and in their careers. We can scaffold and teach these skills in school, but they are mastered by learning to independently complete homework well and on time. In the long run, learning to prioritize tasks and organize their time will teach students crucial life skills that will ultimately help them be successful.
So, I’m going to make myself unpopular by saying, “Yes, I think homework should be assigned in secondary school.” I’m sure many of you won’t agree with me, but disagreements are a good thing: they help us see other points of view and refine our thinking. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this complex issue.