• Tue, Sep 25 2012

Grade Expectations: In Defense Of Homework — Lots Of It

homeworkGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between. 

It’s the bane of every student’s existence. It’s the most eye-roll inducing part of high school. Of course I’m talking about homework. No one likes it. All that pointless busy work sucks up a students time. All the hours spent in the evenings when kids should be outside playing or involved in extra curriculars is obviously unfair. Even parents think that the intense level of homework has gotten completely out of hand, right? Actually, I don’t think that at all. I think homework is important. And I’m not talking about a single research paper every grading period, I’m talking about lots of homework.

During class time, teachers focus on instructing their students. They teach lessons. They give lectures. They work on explaining a concept so that their students understand it. Homework is how teachers check to make sure that students comprehended the lesson and can utilize the skills taught on their own. It’s how teachers can make sure that kids are ready to move to a different lesson, or a more advanced part of the initial lesson. Homework has a purpose, and those who think that their child is just so smart that they don’t need any practice is setting their kid up for a big shock when they encounter something that’s actually difficult. By the way, that time will come sooner or later.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my American History/English block assigned groups of students different books. They were important pieces of literature, but they were also representative of time in American History. We looked at things like The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Each group prepared a three hour presentation on their book, its influence and the time period it represented. That’s right, a three hour presentation, complete with class handout and activities. At the end of the presentations there was a test for the whole class about the books, so that the audience needed to learn and understand the pieces that were being presented.

Myself and three other students were assigned Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. That’s right, we had to read and report on a book that was over a thousand pages long. We ended up lecturing on our work, as well as the other works by Rand, for three class sessions. It was an eight-hour presentation, discussion and debate. Between reading and preparing for that single assignment, I probably spent at least 30 hours. Does that seem like an excessive amount of time? Yes, it does. Did I gain knowledge and understanding that I never would have had without reading the book on my own and analyzing my own thoughts about the philosophy? Absolutely.

Those big projects taught me how to tackle a tough problem. My group and I spent weekends sitting around kitchen tables with discussion points and activity ideas. We had to work together to divide up the work, trust each other to complete our personal projects and come together for the final presentation.

Big, overreaching assignments like that are easy to defend. It makes sense for students to learn how to research and analyse. They take an enormous amount of time, but most will agree that the sacrifice is worth it. Parents and students get more frustrated by math worksheets and chemistry memorization. They refer to that as busy work. They think they’re assignments just for the sake of assignments.

Personally, I think that type of homework has its place too. I used to spend hours in the office of my calculus teacher, going over problem after problem. I needed that repetition to understand complex math work. I needed to memorize those equations in chemistry to get through an experiment. Those countless problems and hours repeating the same skill prepared me to actually utilize those concepts without hesitation.

And even more than the specific assignment, homework teaches work ethic. It helps students learn about working on their own. It forces kids to work through their problems without help or instruction. These are skills that shouldn’t be overlooked or under-appreciated. These things are necessary.

Homework isn’t just there to annoy student athletes, confuse parents or take time away from other, more enjoyable activities. It’s important. It’s necessary for a student’s education. And I don’t want my daughter going to a school that doesn’t understand that.

(Photo: Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock)

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  • ipsedixit010

    I agree! Today parents seem to take a “kids should be allowed to be kids” stance when it comes to school work….and it’s starting to show in the global marketplace.

    As an aside, my friend is an 8th grade science teacher. She rarely assigns homework so long as the class is actively participating and understanding what the lesson is on. If she feels they need more work, she will assign homework. It is a month into the school year and she has assigned homework once (15 questions, 1-2 sentence essay). A parent called the principal to complain. Not the teacher, not her “team leader,” the principal. She said she sat there with her mouth open when he asked her to explain *why* she had assigned “so much” homework.

    • Lindsay Cross

      That is completely insane! I can only hope that the principal stood up for their teacher!

    • Sara

      Your friend is an awesome teacher. That parent was a total douchecanoe.

  • anika1618

    It’s unfair to act like students don’t have anything better to do than homework, that it just takes “time away from other, more enjoyable activities.”. I’ve had to work at least 5 days a week since I was 16, and although I did very well in school and managed to complete most homework assignments, my grades would suffer when I was assigned huge time-consuming projects because I didn’t have the time required to do my best work on them. I had a friend who was the oldest of 8, and after school was responsible for caring for his siblings while his mom worked. He often couldn’t complete all his homework either.

    Homework is important for all the reasons you mentioned, but assigning too much homework punishes those who have other important obligations, who are often the less advantaged students who have to spend their time supporting themselves or their families.

  • Daisy

    When I was in high school, I would sit at the kitchen table for 8 hours a night, every night, crying over my math and chemistry problems. 4pm to midnight, eating supper on the side. Weekends were just more time to do the bigger projects. I often had to miss my ballet classes, never got a chance to practice my piano, and I definitely did not have friends.
    I know I needed all that repetition to learn–math and science were not my strong suits. (In English, French, and social, I spent all those hours by choice, because I WANTED everything to be perfect and had fun doing it, but math and science were tears every night.) And I know I wouldn’t have got my 96′s and 99′s and 100′s without it.
    But it burnt me right out. Now that I’m in university, I despise every second of school, every minute spent doing homework, and nobody gives a crap that I had a 98% average in high school. They just see my mediocre B+ GPA. Meanwhile, the well-rounded kids that got mediocre 80s in high school are now thriving at university, and going on to grad school, while all I want is to graduate and never see a classroom again.
    If I had it to do over, I would’ve definitely eased up on the homework back then. There has to be a happy medium between “no zeros, no homework, endless test re-writes” and “eight hours a night, every night, until you’re sobbing over your geometry.”

  • Lacy

    No, I’m sorry I disagree. A few projects here and there, a few quick worksheets to keep the skills sharp is fine by me. But coming home from a 6 hour day at school and spending several more hours doing homework is ridiculous. People get burned out. There has to be a balance between work and play, especially for kids. I’m not anti-homework by any means I just think it gets out of hand sometimes. If students aren’t absorbing the information in class then the teacher should be looking at different ways to get the information across.

    • Lawcat

      And this apathy towards being average is why America is falling behind other countries academically. It’s also why I put my kids in private school.

      Not every student can absorb information in class, process it, and understand it. That is why the repetition of homework is important. If you understand what is going on, it should be a piece of cake. If you don’t, you probably need help. Additionally, especially in high school, it helps prepare kids for college level assignments.

      If a student needs help, then the teacher and *parents* should be working together to help the student. I hate when parents think because a student isn’t catching on that the problem is the teacher’s style. Take some responsibility for your kid and get them the help they need. Be proactive with the teacher and ask what they can be doing different, if there are additional books that can help, tutoring, etc. However, that may require less play time, a little more work, and some effort by Mom and Dad.

    • Justme

      Let’s look at the average middle school math class period which on average is 45 minutes long.

      7 minutes: students settling down, sharpening pencils, getting out supplies while teacher is checking and inputting role while also answering general questions (38 minutes remaining)

      10 minutes: reviewing homework from the night before, answering questions and working out commonly missed problems (28 minutes remaining)

      2 minutes: collection of homework, handing out notes and transitioning to lecture portion of class (26 minutes remaining)

      15 – 20 minutes depending on the lesson: introducing new concept, providing examples, walking through step-by-step instructions, answering questions and clarifying instructions, allowing time for teacher-monitored individual practice of a few problems (6 – 11 minutes remaining)

      Final minutes of class: assigning individual activity for practice….which becomes homework

      When you have a state mandated test in March that you must prepare your students for, yet only essentially from August to March to teach a whole year’s worth of curriculum there is no time to lecture one day and practice the next. The practice is essential to student understanding of the concept so it must be done at home.

  • CW

    Practice *IS* important, but 90% of homework assigned is just a waste of time. I’d much rather my kid complete 10 really challenging word problems than the typical problem set of 50 easy-peasy straightforward equations. This is one reason why I homeschool my kids.