When talking about homework, it is no surprise that students would rather their teachers forget about it all together. They complain that it is time consuming, redundant, and/or stressful. As an educator, I do not necessarily disagree with my students’ qualms concerning homework. However, there are undoubtedly going to be positives and negatives attributed to the whole concept of homework. As teachers, we should be acutely aware of the purpose of the homework that we are assigning.
Here are some things to consider when planning and assigning homework:
- How does the homework relate to the classwork and instruction? This is arguably the most important thing to consider, since a major purpose of homework is to further solidify the learning in the classroom and gauge the instruction that you have provided to students. So ask yourself, does the homework assignment reiterate, expand upon, or enrich the learning? If the concept is new or complex, you may want the initial homework assignment to simply reiterate or reteach the complicated material in a way that mimics the lesson. This will help to familiarize students with the concept or skills.
- After students have mastered the basics, move on to: How can this assignment expand and enrich the learning? This shows students that the assignment is more than just “busy work.” Instead, they are looking at the concept from an alternative viewpoint, thus gaining a greater or deeper understanding. For example, introduce the concept of imagery through definitions and examples. Have students practice identifying imagery in sample texts. Then, to enrich the learning, have students practice embedding imagery into their own writing. Begin by having them focus on one specific sense, then expand on that using the student’s homework assignments for discussion next class.
- How long should this assignment take for students to complete? This is a simple, yet critical question for teachers to consider before assigning homework. The key is to provide frequent, brief opportunities to practice the skills outside of the classroom. The assignments should be just lengthy enough to provide adequate practice, but not so long that students see the activity as redundant. Depending on age and ability, assignment times may vary, but for the most part, a 20-30 minute task a couple times a week should suffice.
When should we ditch the homework assignment? Of course, our students would like us to say “every day” to this question. But, here are some common rules of thumb when deciding not issue homework. If holidays or religious observances are occurring over the weekend, it is in your best interest to set the homework aside. Either that, or set the due date for later the following week so that students are not forced to complete it over the holiday. When you have already assigned a major project or exam, you may want to reconsider adding another homework assignment to the list. If students feel overwhelmed with the workload, they are likely to submit more mediocre work. Instead of providing more assignments, give students the opportunity to perfect the project or paper that they are working on. Perhaps this means giving optional study guides, practices, or peer reviews.