Homework is a controversial topic and the object of differing opinions among teachers, parents, and educators . While some highly value it considering it key in scholarly achievement and academic performance, others view it as a nuisance to students’ independence and a cause for unwarranted emotional and physical stress for kids.
However, as the research cited in this article demonstrates, homework, controversial as it is, has some benefits for students although these benefits differ according to various factors including students age, skill and grade level, students socio-economic status, purpose behind homework, duration of the homework, among other considerations. In this article, I cover some of the key issues related to homework and provide research resources to help teachers and parents learn more about homework.
What does homework mean?
According to Cooper (1989), homework is defined as “tasks assigned to students by school teachers that are meant to be carried out during non-school hours”. Cooper’s definition is similar to the one found in Cambridge Dictionary which defines homework as “work that teachers give their students to do at home” or as “studying that students do at home to prepare for school”.
There is way more to homework than what these general definitions outline. Homework assignments are not equal and there are various variables that can affect the value and effectiveness of homework. Some of these variables, according to Blazer (2009), include difficulty level of assigned tasks, skill and subject areas covered, completion timeframe (short or long term), degree of autonomy and individualization, social context (done independently or with the help of others), obligatory or voluntary, whether it will be submitted for grading or not, among other variables.
Homework good or bad?
Going through the scholarly literature and regardless of the disagreement and controversies the topic of homework raises, there is a growing consensus that homework has some benefits , especially for students in middle and high school (National Education Association).
One of the most comprehensive research studies on homework is a meta-analysis done by professor Harris Cooper and his colleagues (2006) and published in the journal Review of Educational Research. In this study, Cooper et al analyzed a large pool of research studies on homework conducted in the United States between between 1987 and 2003. Their findings indicate the existence of ‘a positive influence of homework on achievement’. The influence is mainly noticed in students in grades 7-12 and less in students grades K-6. However, even though kids benefit less from homework, Cooper et al. confirm the importance of some form of homework for students of all ages.
What is the purpose of homework?
There are several reasons for assigning homework. Some of these reasons according to Blazer include:
– Review and reinforce materials learned in class
– Check students understanding and assess their skills and knowledge
– Enhance students study skills
– Provide students with learning opportunities where they can use their newly acquired skills to explore new insights.
– Enable students to hone in their search skills and apply them to find resources on an assigned topic
– Help students develop social emotional learning skills
– Enable students to develop functional study habits and life skills. These include time management and organization skills, problem solving skills, self-discipline, accountability, self-confidence, communication skills, critical thinking skills, inquisitiveness, among others.
Drawbacks of homework
– Homework can cause emotional and physical fatigue
– Homework takes away from kids’ leisure time and interferes with their natural development.
– Homework can drive students to develop negative attitudes towards school and learning.
– Assigned homework prevents students from engaging in self-directed and independent learning.
– Homework can interfere with students’ engagement in social activities including sports and community involvement.
– Excessive homework can create tension and stress and lead to friction between parents and kids.
– Homework may encourage a culture of cheating
– Homework “can widen social inequalities. Compared to their higher income peers, students from lower income homes are more likely to work after school and less likely to have an environment conducive to studying”.
How much homework should students have?
According to Fernández-Alonso, Suárez-Álvarez and Muñiz (2015), spending 60 minutes per day doing homework is considered a reasonably effective time. However, the study also added that the amount of help and effort needed to do homework is key in this equation because “when it comes to homework”, as the authors concluded, “how is more important than how much”.
Catty Vatterott, author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs, also advocates for quality over quantity when assigning homework tasks.She argues that instead of banning homework altogether, we can embrace a more open approach to homework; one that deemphasizes grading and differentiates tasks.
Along similar lines, studies have also confirmed the correlation between autonomy and positive performance. Autonomous students, that is those who can do homework on their own, are more likely to perform better academically (Fernández-Alonso, 2015; Dettmers et al.,2010, 2011; Trautwein & Lüdtke, 2007, (Xu, 2010a). Findings from these studies indicate that “students who need frequent or constant help with homework have worse academic results.” (Fernández-Alonso, 2015)
Besides the 60 minutes per day recommendation for older students, there is also the 10 minutes rule which, according to Harris Cooper, works by multiplying a kid’s grade by 10 to determine how much time they need for homework per day. According to the 10 minute rule, first graders require 10 minutes per day of homework, second graders 20 minutes, and for each subsequent year you add another 10 minutes so that at the last year of high school, grade 12 students will have 2 hours of daily homework. As Cooper argues, “when you assign more than these levels, the law of diminishing returns or even negative effects – stress especially – begin to appear”.
My take on homework
The debate over homework is far from being settled and probably will never reach definitive conclusions. With that being said, l personally view homework as a heuristic for learning. It scaffolds classroom learning and helps students reinforce learned skills. For elementary students, homework should not be tied to any academic grades or achievement expectation.
In fact, kids’ homework assignments, if any, should align with the overall interests of kids in that it should support and include elements of play, fun, and exploration. Needless to mention that, once outside school, kids are to be given ample time to play, explore, and learn by doing. As Cooper stated “A good way to think about homework is the way you think about medications or dietary supplements. If you take too little, they’ll have no effect. If you take too much, they can kill you. If you take the right amount, you’ll get better.”
Research about homework
1.Blazer, C. (2009). Literature review: Homework. Miami, FL: Miami Dade County Public Schools.
4. Dettmers, S., Trautwein, U., Lüdtke, M., Kunter, M., & Baumert, J. (2010). Homework works if homework quality is high: Using multilevel modeling to predict the development of achievement in mathematics. Journal of Educational Psychology,
5. Dettmers, S., Trautwein, U., & Lüdtke, O. (2009). The relationship between homework time and achievement is not universal: Evidence from multilevel analyses in 40 countries. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 20, 375– 405.
6. Epstein, J. L., & van Voorhis, F. L. (2001). More than minutes: Teachers’ roles in designing homework. Educational Psychologist, 36, 181–193
7. Farrow, S., Tymms, P., & Henderson, B. (1999). Homework and attainment in primary schools. British Educational Research Journal, 25, 323–341
8. Goldstein, A. (1960). Does homework help? A review of research. The Elementary School Journal, 60, 212–224.
9. Trautwein, U., & Köller, O. (2003). The relationship between homework and achievement: Still much of a mystery. Educational Psychology Review, 15, 115–145
10. Warton, P. M. (2001). The forgotten voices in homework: Views of students. Educational Psychologist, 36, 155–165.
11. Xu, J. (2013). Why do students have difficulties completing homework? The need for homework management. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 1, 98 –105.
12. Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (2005). Homework practices and academic achievement: The mediating role of self-efficacy and perceived responsibility beliefs. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 30, 397– 417.
13. Kralovec, E., & Buell, J. (2001). End Homework Now. Educational Leadership, 58(7), 39-42.
14. Krashen, S. (2005). The Hard Work Hypothesis: Is Doing Your Homework Enough to Overcome the Effects of Poverty? Multicultural Education, 12(4), 16-19.
15. Lenard, W. (1997). The Homework Scam. Teacher Magazine, 9(1), 60-61.
16. Marzano, R.J., & Pickering, D.J. (2007). The Case For and Against Homework. Educational Leadership, 64(6), 74-79.
17. Skinner, D. (2004). The Homework Wars. Public Interest, 154, Winter, 49-60.
18. Corno, L. (1996). Homework is a Complicated Thing. Educational Researcher, 25(8), 27-30.
19. Forster, K. (2000). Homework: A Bridge Too Far? Issues in Educational Research, 10(1), 21-37.
20.Hoover-Dempsey, K.V., Battiato, A.C., Walker, J.M., Reed, R.P., DeLong, J.M., & Jones, K.P. (2001). Parent Involvement in Homework. Educational Psychologist, 36(3), 195-209.
Books on homework
Here are some interesting books that profoundly explore the concept of homework:
1.The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, by Kohn (2006)
2. Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs, by Catty Vatterot
3.The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, by Kralovec, E., & Buell, J. (2000)