Homework Headache

5th November 2014

Homework is always a touchy subject. Everyone has an opinion and many feel quite strongly about it. Do schools set too much? Is it a useful tool for teachers? Or is it just a waste of time for all concerned?

There are many arguments which support the use of homework to supplement schooling. To begin with, homework is a great way to reinforce what has been learnt that day. When students revisit what they have studied in school, they are starting the process of transferring that information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory. This means that they are more likely to retain that information which will help them in the long run.

Homework is also a good way for teachers to check that students have understood the work done in class. If they haven’t, then the teacher can provide students with extra support to help them with the work.

Research homework in particular has numerous benefits. It encourages independent thought before ideas are discussed in class so that students can decide what they think before they are told what to think by their teacher or classmates. It also means that class time is not wasted on preparation which can be done at home. Moreover, it develops their researching skills which can be critical when they get to higher levels of study, or even in the work place where they might have to think critically about sources of information and make judgements based on other people’s work.

All homework, though, helps students to develop important skills which will not only help them in their future studies, but in also in the world of employment. They learn time-management skills in that they know they have to get something done before a deadline. They gain a sense of responsibility where they are given a task which must be completed. They are also prepared for when they have exams and need to revise in that they will already be used to doing work outside of school.

So, what about the arguments against? They mostly centre on how students have enough stress in life without it and need time to be children and to play, rather than spending all their time either in school or doing school work. Many feel that the amount of homework students are set is far too much and that it not only puts students under pressure, but also parents.

Indeed, it is very often the case that parents will help their children with their homework. This is not necessarily a bad thing and schools aren’t always against it in theory, however, it does mean that the point that homework helps teachers to identify struggling students is void as a teacher can only identify those whose parents did not help them.

Even when parents don’t help, for this generation at least, there is always help at hand. The internet is a wealth of knowledge which can provide students with all they can want and does not necessarily require them to understand what they are writing. The internet is an amazing tool which, when used appropriately, can impart great knowledge to all who seek it. When used inappropriately, however, the internet is nothing more than a quick way to do your homework using “copy and paste”. How can homework be useful when, at times, students haven’t even read what they submit to their teacher? Furthermore, it is clear that research skills are very useful things to have, so shouldn’t mean they need to be honed and developed in school, rather than relegating it to a homework task?

Homework may also prevent students from pursuing other interests and learning things outside of the academic environment. Extra-curricular activities are easily as important as school work, although, perhaps, for different reasons. Without time to discover what they want, what they enjoy and are good at outside of school, how can students develop a strong sense of self or know what kind of life they want for themselves?

Moreover, many teachers are not in favour of it, not least for the reasons above, but also because of how much it adds to their workload in devising and marking it. Their already heavy timetable means that, sometimes, some teachers will go for the easiest option of setting something that won’t mean they spend hours writing and marking it. How useful can that be for students’ educational development? Wouldn’t it be better to just scrap it altogether?

From the most extreme side of the argument, can homework be blamed for the current culture where the boundaries between home and work are blurred so that even at home you are thinking about work or brining work back from the office with you and that seems normal to us?

Perhaps it should be left to the teacher to decide whether or not to set homework. This would, in theory, mean that homework is only set when needed and only if it is useful to both the student (in learning the material) and the teacher (in assessing the understanding of the student). But even could be a potential minefield where one teacher might tend towards setting homework whereas another tends not to, so that two students studying at the same level at the same school would have different experiences of the subject. Which would you rather for your child?

The arguments for both sides are compelling, and with our children’s best interests at heart, who can say which is best without worrying about the potential consequences of that decision?

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