Homework is a topic of discussion that often turns into a battle and many parents, teachers, and students have strong opinions on the subject. Do a quick search for “homework” on Amazon’s books page and you’ll see hundreds of books related to this highly-debatable topic. While my kids are not quite school-aged, I see the struggles and frustrations that friends and relatives have with their young children and the dread that homework brings, and I wonder why ineffective homework is still the norm in many elementary schools around our country.
World renowned education expert John Hattie, author of Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, conducted a meta-analysis of over 800 research reviews, involving more than 250 million students around the world. His research concluded that there is basically no benefit to homework for students at the elementary level (Routledge, 2009). While homework often serves a clear purpose at the secondary level (if it is based on student learning and promotes a student’s growth), elementary homework often falls into one three areas that don’t improve academic achievement and have zero effect on growth.
Do they have the skills to do it correctly?
Homework is only effective if it is based on practicing a skill that the student understands. The purpose of homework is for students to continue their learning. Often times students leave class at different levels of learning and that math worksheet that may make sense to one kid is a page full of confusing numbers to the next. If students are practicing skills incorrectly, they can actually be hurting their long-term learning.
Are they the ones doing the homework?
I am sure you are nodding your head along with me right now, but as much as we hate to admit it, the parents are sometimes the ones that end of doing the work. Whether it’s the science project that the parents are staying up until midnight to complete or the math packet that brings out the devilish side of your third-grader, it can feel “easier” for the parents to just do it. While some argue that homework builds responsibility and organization skills in children, none of these skills are being built if the parents are doing the work. Homework typically needs to get squeezed in with soccer practice, piano lessons, speech therapy, dinner, and play time. Sometimes there just isn’t time.
Do the kids understand their performance and how to improve?
Getting timely feedback on homework is critical in this debate. If the work is due the next day, the busy teacher probably needs a few days to review. Often times teachers have stacks of homework to grade and so they mark answers correct or incorrect and do not take the critical step of providing clear feedback on the students’ progress. This isn’t the fault of the teacher, but the fault of the system. If schools supported a limited homework policy, which is usually not the norm, teachers would have the time they need to provide clear and timely feedback for kids to support growth and achievement.
Homework at the elementary level often does not promote academic achievement and many researchers and experts who have dedicated their life’s work to this agree that homework often lacks benefit and in some cases can cause more harm than good. Education expert Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, says, “For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement” (Da Capo Press, 2007).