The hard work of homework.

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Too much Homework


A few years back, I wrote this post on my developing perspectives towards homework. Between then and now, Mike Horsley and Richard Walker have  published ‘Reforming homework: practices, learning and policies’, a comprehensive and research-supported look at the pedagogy, practice and assessment of homework.

Now, having changed classes/subjects, changed roles within schools and even moved schools, I am still reflecting on what I call the ‘Hard work of Home work’. In my flipped classroom, the skills that I am trying to develop in my students can challenge both them and their parents’ pre-conceived ideas of what homework ‘looks’ like. In re-reading Horsley and Walkers’ findings, I have listed here just a few of the main reasons why I find traditional homework to be a real challenge to some students:

1. It’s isolating – which is unfamiliar.

Isn’t it ironic that the technological advances of the past twenty years and the demands of globalized workplaces have created a greater focus on developing collaborative skills in our students and yet homework, with a few exceptions, has managed to remain an isolating experience? Students are asked to sit down and complete tasks that, beyond some of the tools being used, would be eerily familiar to their grandparents.

For students that spend so much of their time connected – to each other, through their devices, to society – the homework act requires high levels of self-regulation (setting goals, selecting and using strategies, monitoring performance, and repeatedly reflecting on learning outcomes over a lengthy period of
time) and self-efficacy (belief about one’s capability to learn or perform effectively). These are skills that are oftentimes overlooked by teachers – content taking preference – when homework tasks are being planned and set.

2. There’s too much that is irrelevant.

Leading on from point 1, when tasks are given to students that they have no sense of ownership over, there forms a significant barrier to their effective goal setting. Homework that is merely ‘busy-work’ can be more detrimental to a students’ self efficacy than it will be beneficial to their learning and development.

This is not to say that some ‘skill and drill’ exercises at home are of no value – particularly in subjects like Mathematics and Science. The challenge for educators is taking the time in class to discuss with students the purpose of such activities and helping them to identify what the learning goals of them are.

3. It is deemed more significant to parents and teachers than to students.

School (particularly the Middle School years) is a psychologically and emotionally draining environment. Merely attending and participating consumes a significant amount of students’ energy and focused attention. Being asked to follow this exertion with additional ‘work’ at home – particularly if it irrelevant and isolates the student – can be resented by students.

Parents on the other hand, are oftentimes blinded by their perspective of their students schooling. That is, because most parents do not see the daily exertion in classroom – and students can’t/won’t/don’t communicate this home – parents see homework as being evidence of their investment in education. The saying, “If some is good, more must be better”, comes to mind. If only I had a dollar for every parent that said that their student ‘needed to do more homework’!

The perpetuation of the “busy-work” homework model is, in my opinion, a lazy pedagogy that has had its day and needs to be put out to pasture. Teachers and School Administrators need to be more proactive in tailoring homework tasks and communicating a new vision of what is expected so that everyone can be on the same page with what can, and should, be a useful activity in a students’ learning journey.

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