Homework – What is its purpose?

Yesterday I read a blog post by a fellow classmate regarding handing out zeros for plagiarism and taking off marks for late assignments. This inspired me to write about another controversial topic in schools that I have a hard time understanding… that being homework. Really and truly what is the purpose of homework? How can one justify ¬†handing out homework. I honestly do no think that there are many benefits for the students in doing so. Sometimes you send home homework and the parents end up doing the majority of the work, sure it gets done, but is that the kind of learning that you want your students to have? Also on the opposite end, how do you know that the students have a place to go work that is quiet, how do you know that they are not worrying about putting food on the table for siblings and that homework just does not get done as a result. I must acknowledge that this is not a fresh thought of mown but rather one that has been influenced greatly by many of my professors at the UofR, most specifically on this topic, Marc Spooner. There are so many factors that play a role in a student’s ability to get homework done that need to be taken into consideration as a teacher. I understand that as a teacher homework seems like a good idea because it will help you stay on top of things and continue moving on through the curriculum however, again what kind of learning is occurring for the students in doing so? When they rush through are they really getting anything out of it, or are they just simply memorizing what needs to get done to get through the next quiz or assignment and then the knowledge will be forgotten one month later. I also understand that I am not a teacher yet, and I do not have my own classroom and therefore, a teacher who reads this may think that I am inexperienced and that my views will change once I get my own classroom. That may be completely right, I actually hope that over the years I continue to challenge myself and continue to challenge my own views to change. However, until I find something that will change my view I stand strong with my view on homework. I urge the teachers to question the learning that is going on, and that will occur when the students are sent home to work rather than do it at school.


12 thoughts on “Homework – What is its purpose?

  1. Here is an excerpt from The New Teacher Book we used in ECS 210: “What is the purpose served by homework? Is it a real opportunity for students to review or practice a skill? Is it meant to let families know what is going on in class? Or is it just ‘busy work’? Who looks at it? How is it used or not used? These questions are just the beginning . . . Homework has to be thought through and planned like any other part of the curriculum” (p.88). It goes on to talk about some benefits and also mentions some of the cautions you listed above like considering your students’ lives after school. I personally wouldn’t write off homework completely, but definitely agree that student realities should be considered and that it should serve a purpose.

  2. I’m going to have to say that I completely disagree with you here Jane. Call this middle years views versus elementary views, but I think homework serves a larger purpose than just getting the homework done. I think that society values education so much because it teaches kids life skills – which I think is more important in the greater scheme of things rather then memorizing when Napoleon discovered North America. Homework being part of those life skills. By assigning students homework it teaches students about responsibility (getting the homework done), how to organize and prioritize their life (homework vs going to play street hockey), how to make decisions, and it also teaches students about consequences and rewards (which is part of life even after school). For example if a student does go play street hockey instead of finishing their math homework, they have first off, made an informed decision – knowing very well the consequences of them not doing their homework and in doing so have decided that playing street hockey is more important (they have prioritized their life – even if we think it’s wrong). I think that homework is beneficial for students throughout their entire education for one main reason – it helps set them up for success in higher grades. I also think that homework is beneficial, especially in the younger grades because it allows students who are struggling with some basic skills to catch up to where they should be at. For example, my sister struggled with reading in grades one and two. In grade one nothing happened, she passed. But in grade two the teacher wouldn’t have it and she started sending books for her to read to improve her reading skills. My parents did have to get involved to help her through these books and motivate her to read them – but after months of hard work she was at the grade 2 reading level. I don’t think this would of been possible had it not been for her spending time after school hours working on her reading skills. I do agree with you that homework should be given in moderation, and that teachers do need to take into account that students in today’s society have more on their plates, however I don’t think that homework should be removed altogether.

  3. I have read other articles from Alfie Kohn focusing on standardized tests but have never come across this piece – thanks for the share! There are some very interesting findings in this article regarding the success of homework. Being a teacher, one must know and be aware of when something is working or not – like homework. Therefore, I wonder why it continues to play a role in a children’s education? Sometimes I think that many of the practices which have become very normalized in schools are continuously practiced for the very reason that it is normal to do it, when really teachers need to evaluate these practices and find ways to adapt and change aspects in their classroom to help the students succeed.

  4. Thanks for the post Kaitlyn, I love to hear opposing views that contradict the way that I think! Overall I do agree with the responsibility factor that you are stressing, and how that is important for us to install in our students. However, I would challenge all of us educators to try and think of innovative and varying ways to help our students learn responsibility. For, giving homework may work for some students who have a support system at home, but unfortunately that is not always the case – even when from an outsiders view it may seem to be.

  5. When you stop and think about the preconceived notions that surround homework, it becomes clear that we need to seriously rethink what we are doing to children.

    Like all elements of traditional education, once you start pulling on one thread, the whole thing starts to come apart. Whether you are for or against homework, it’s important to remember that we keep the discussion going. Far too often, we are given directives and simply ask how we can best carry out our orders when we really need to stop and ask why we should be doing it in the first place…

    As a student-teacher, never discount your thoughts and feelings about the kind of teacher you want to be. Too many teachers are worn down by the bureaucratic friction of the system and lose sight of why they became teachers in the first place. Never lose touch with your desire to do right by children.

    Thanks for sharing this post. You can find more of my writing on homework here: http://www.joebower.org/p/abolishing-homework.html


  6. Thanks for your thoughts Joe, you make some very critical points. I too think the question of “why” is one that we must continue to question ourselves as a reflective practitioner.

  7. Pingback: Cheating? Who Needs It? | pedagogical pondering


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