Homework and Learning


Homework has been a contentious subject in the field of education.  Many people in education have been/are willing to talk about the subject; see examples 1, 2, 3.  Beyond the annual science fair and occasional project, homework in elementary school is generally used to practice or reinforce skills learned in school.  Reinforcing skills through application is important, although the homework that is often assigned at the elementary level tends to be worksheet based.  I’ve found this to be especially evident in math classes.  Beneficial math homework has value and can extend the learning experience.  I’ve observed some amazing educators assign math homework that stretches their students’ thinking.  I believe that this type of homework isn’t the norm, although I wish it was.  At times, I’ve seen math homework being used as a motivator, but there are definitely myths related to homework. Some teachers use homework as part of a student’s grade.  This can be problematic, as the environment outside of school can play a role in whether the homework is done and if it’s actually accurate.

Adam @agholman wrote a Tweet that seemed to be spot-on when talking about grades.  I connected the Tweet below with the idea of homework and motivation.

“But they won’t do it if it’s not for a grade” – This tells me way more about your motivation than your students’

As soon as I read the Tweet I started asking questions …

  • So in theory, one way that educators can encourage students to complete homework is to assign it with point values attached?
  • If a reduction in a grade is based on incomplete homework, does the grade really reflect mastery?

I believe that rewarding/punishing students for doing/not doing their homework can limit motivational tendencies in and outside of the classroom.  Can a teacher truly validate that a student should receive a “C” instead of a “B” because of homework issues?

Now … for some students homework fulfills its purpose.  Students practice and may receive help, but through the practice they are improving in their understanding of certain concepts. This can be beneficial.  As educators already know, this is not the case for all students.  Students that don’t complete the homework on time or turn it in may need some type of intervention in the form of extra help or possible enrichment, depending on the student.

Grading homework in itself can be a form of feedback, but purposeful direct feedback can help students understand concepts more clearly.  Unfortunately, many students don’t look beyond the grade on their paper for feedback.  There isn’t an easy answer for this problem, but I believe moving towards standards based grading practices may help in this situation.  An emphasis on formative assessment practices and feedback may also provide value.  Written feedback with a self-reflection component can be especially valuable in enabling students to become more responsible for their own learning.

My Takeaways:

  • Homework may benefit some students, but definitely not all
  • Grading homework doesn’t necessarily increase motivation or accurately reflect understanding
  • If you’re required to assign homework, assign meaningful and relevant homework
  • Direct feedback (not the actual grade) on formative assessments/homework continues to play an ever important role in the learning process

photo credit: bgilliard via photopin cc

%d bloggers like this: