Homework: A Tool For Student Success

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Homework has never been loved by children. After spending 6-8 hours in school learning, children come home just to have to do more work. The debate over the true benefits of homework has gone on for years. Parents and teachers have strong opinions landing on both sides of the argument. What teachers should assign for homework and how much homework is the right amount, makes the question more complicated. Even though the benefits of homework have been debated throughout the years, today's teacher will find that homework can be an essential tool in the learning process.

Over the last century, the United States has seen big changes in the beliefs about homework by both parents and teachers. In the early part of the century, society was a lot different than it is now. Children did not go to school every day and the older children needed to work after school to help support their family. Homework was not considered important (Vatterott, 2009, p. 3). In the 1930's, there was even a movement created against homework. The Society for the Abolishment of Homework was formed and school districts across the country voted against homework for its students (Vatterott, 2009, p.4). Homework was seen as child labor. The view point would change back and forth throughout the century, falling in line with society and the norms of the times at hand.

Today, the expectations of students and teachers are much higher than they were a century ago. Every state and school district is competing to be the best in student achievement. The United States government creating "No Child Left Behind" and state governments battling for money makes the work on the teacher much harder than it once was. Teachers are feeling more pressure than ever. They feel there are not enough hours in the school day to teach what their students need to know. Giving homework provides children more opportunities to practice skills, and have more learning time (Vatterott, 2009, p.2). It is a way for teachers to extend the school day with no additional cost to the school.

Parents want a lot more from teachers today, and insist on seeing that their child is learning. Homework is a way for the teacher to show the parents what they are teaching, and how well the child is learning. Harris Cooper, a professor from Duke University, and author of "A Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents" (Corwin Press) says that homework, "can give parents an opportunity to see what's going on at school and let them express positive attitudes towards achievement" (2006). Parents can be reassured that their child is getting a good education, by seeing what they are learning in their homework assignments. It also gives parents an opportunity to work with their child, letting them spend time together and be a part of the child's learning experience.

Teachers need to be able to justify why the homework they assign is important (Schipani, 2006). Teachers need to give homework that will be seen by the parent and student as beneficial. Homework, on a topic that a child has not been taught, wastes time and can cause frustration and misunderstanding of the new skill (Marzano, Pickering & Pollock, 2001). The assignment should be a way for the child to practice a skill that was recently taught, or review an older skill that may have been forgotten. Common homework is nightly reading or math worksheets, but homework can also be a larger project that may take several days to complete. The directions and expectations of the assignment need to be clearly stated, so the child can complete the assignment the way the teacher wanted it done. This insures that the purpose of the homework is understood and the child gains the information or practice that was intended.

Homework offers more benefits than extra practice on newly acquired skills and knowledge. It can teach a child lifelong skills that are needed to be successful throughout school years and beyond. Janine Bempechat, a developmental psychologist who researched the homework debate believes, "Homework assignments provide the time and experience students need to develop study habits that support learning. They experience the results of their effort as well as the ability to cope with mistakes and difficulty ("Homework and Practice," 2005)". Homework teaches children that deadlines are important. They learn how to budget their time; a skill that will be used throughout school years and into adult life. A child learns responsibility and organization through homework. The child must remember to bring the assignment home, finish it and return it by the due date (Vatterott, 2009, p.126).

A teacher may find using homework as an assessment can also be useful, allowing it to provide feedback about a newly acquired skill that the student can practice at home (Christopher, 2007). When a child turns in their homework, it is important for the teacher to review it. A teacher will not know if a child has mastered a skill unless their work is checked for accuracy Vatterott, 2009, p.97). It is important for the teacher to assign work that is beneficial to each student. A classroom can be made up of many different skill levels and learners, and the work given needs to reflect the child's ability. Gerald LeTendre, the head of Penn State's Education Policy Studies Department believes that, "it is important to assign homework in a specific area that a child needs skill-building in and then review it to see if progress has been made" (Stevenson, 2009). A child will gain more from the homework if it is something that they need practice in or a skill they need to work on. It can also show the parents what their child needs help with, helping to keep them updated about what their child is struggling with at school. A teacher needs to take the time to decide what homework is needed by which child. That insures that the work being sent home is something that the child needs to be completing in order to improve on skills being taught during the school day.

How much work to give is another hurdle teachers must face when assigning homework to their students. Children are participating in many activities outside of school, which can make finding time to do homework difficult. A parent wants a child to do well in school, but they also want their child to have enough time during the day, to have free time to play outside and be able to participate in other activities like sports. A teacher wants a child to complete their homework, but too much can cause both student and parent stress and frustration. This many make them view homework as not worth the headache. There are only so many hours in a day and a child that has too much homework may miss out on other activities or even sleep. The National Sleep Foundation believes that children aged 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep and a teenager needs between 8 ½ and over 9 hours (Ponte, 2009). Children with busy schedules and too much homework may miss out on needed sleep trying to accomplish it all.

Research has been done, to decide what the correct amount of homework is each night for different age groups. According to a national study performed by MetLife, 85% of parents feel that their child is assigned the right amount of homework by their teacher (Halevy, 2008). What is that amount? The National PTA states that children homework amounts should be 10-20 minutes in grades K-2, 30-60 minutes in grades 3-6, and high school students can average 30 minutes per subject (Cooper, 2006). It is a common belief among educators that the amount of homework should be 10 minutes per grade level per night. Using that formula, a child in second grade would need to do 20 minutes of homework on average a night. Cooper believes "children have a limit as to how much a child can learn through self- study. At some point the benefits diminish and the costs rise (Davis, 2000)." The right amount of homework being assigned can be one of the most important factors for it to have the most benefit.

The only way homework will be any benefit to the child is if it is done. There are reasons a child may not be doing the homework. The teacher may be assigning too much homework each night, or the child is bored by its repetitiveness. These reasons can cause the student to resent it and not complete the assignment. A teacher should try to provide different types of activities, especially in younger grades, so the child will want to complete it. This variety can allow the child to use their creativity, and expand on topics that were taught in the classroom that week. Teachers can also use other strategies such as giving only 1 subject of homework a night, giving weekly packets instead of daily assignments, setting time limits on the assignments, or giving the assignments in advance with longer due dates (Vatterott, 2009, p.134). It is also important for teachers to have support from the parents. In order to have positive results with homework, teachers, students and parents need to use a team effort (Hong & Milgram, 2000, p.113). A parent is the tool at home, which will help encourage the child to do their work so they can do well in school. They can be the ones to provide the support the child needs to be successful.

A parent can make doing homework at home easier for their child. Other than providing positive reinforcement, a parent can help develop a homework system that can help the child complete their daily assignments with ease. An after school routine with a predictable schedule can make homework time less stressful. The child will know when they need to focus on getting their schoolwork done, and when they will have free time for other activities. An organized work space can make the homework process easier too. If a child has a quiet space with all the supplies they need to do the work, less time will be needed to finish their homework each day.

There are still many people who believe that homework does more harm than good. Children do not enjoy doing homework so it becomes a chore. People believe that homework causes stress and frustration for children and their parents. Parents do not enjoy having conflicts with their children over having to do homework (Wallis, 2006). People think that teachers assign homework because they feel they have to. Alfie Kohn, a researcher of the benefits of homework, believes that there is no evidence that homework increases student achievement. He claims, "No study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits (Kohn, 2007)." There are many arguments to support both sides of the homework debate. Studies done can substantiate either side, but parents tend to support the nightly task.

Homework has been a topic that people have disagreed about throughout the history of education. Viewpoints have changed many times through the years, depending on society's influence. Children may not enjoy doing homework, but parents insist on it. Parents expect their children to have homework each night, giving them the assurance that their child is learning what they need to know. Homework provides the opportunity a child may need to practice skills learned during the school day. It reinforces new material that needs to be mastered. It helps teachers assess a child's understanding of specific concepts that they have taught. When teachers take the time to tailor the assignments to the specific needs of the individual child, academic gains are inevitable. Homework truly is an essential tool that a teacher can use in the learning process.