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NYC Helpline: How To: Get Started
View Instructional Videos for Teachers about Classroom Management

Classroom Management (Secondary)

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NYC Helpline: Manage Your Classroom
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What Homework Controversy...?
Judi Fenton

There’s always been controversy about homework. Recently, a research synthesis of homework studies done from 1987 to 2003 was released by Harris Cooper at Duke University. The study indicates that homework--except for reading--in the elementary grades has only a weak correlation to student learning. Alfie Kohn fuels the controversy with his new book The Homework Myth :Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (Da Capo Books, 2006). He argues that the practice of giving homework is widely accepted despite the lack of evidence that it is effective in supporting learning. Sara Bennet and Nancy Kalish also argue that there is little to no evidence that homework increases achievement for elementary school students. (The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It, Crown, 2006).

This controversy among researchers does not play out as a simple disagreement with families wanting less homework and schools wanting more. Many teachers would love to give less homework, though some are constrained by school restrictions and/or parent expectations. It would be much easier to not have to check the additional work and worry about how to assess students on work that is clearly often completed by parents. Parent and guardian complaints run the gamut from insisting on home life being free of school to demands for more homework and more rigorous assignments.

The fact is, it is unlikely that homework will be eliminated any time soon. While the debate continues, families, teachers, and administration should definitely scrutinize the value and content of what is worked on at home.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when assigning homework:

  • How long does it take students to complete? The US Department of Education suggests in its guidelines that students in kindergarten to 2nd grade should be given 10-20 minutes of homework each day. For grades 3 to 6, the guidelines suggest from 30 minutes for 3rd graders to 60 minutes for 6th graders. These timeframes are exclusive of reading time, since reading definitely helps students become better readers. If it takes your students significantly longer to complete, you probably want to reassess the homework you are assigning.
  • More important to ask is whether or not the homework is purposeful.

Do you have a clear purpose in mind, something specific you want the students to get out of the homework? What are your goals in assigning the work? One way to ensure that the work you are assigning is purposeful is to notice whether or not you use the homework in class discussions, review, or as part of a school study or project.

  • Do you give students feedback? If yes, how? Do you write comments, or check to see whether the “practice” homework was practiced correctly? The last thing we want our students to spend time on is meaningless busy work that we’re not even going to look at.

If you find that you don’t have meaningful, purposeful homework to give, don’t give any for that night. Though the homework controversy will likely continue for a while, there are some things I think we can all agree on: homework should be assigned because it is meaningful and purposeful and not just to keep our students busy.

Do you have a comment about this article? E-mail me!



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