I have asked myself the question, “Is homework helpful?” many times since I started teaching in 1997. I have stood at the copy machine and reloaded reams of paper time and time again. Sometimes when I was making homework packets, I was almost asleep it was such a part of my muscle memory routine as a teacher. About 5 years into it, I began to really challenge the idea of homework. Was it doing any good? Was it doing any harm?
Homework is perceived by most parents as a worksheet or packet their child is to do in a straight-backed chair at the kitchen table. Rarely in low socio-economic settings is there home tutoring. Parents are usually disengaged from this event and rarely assist their children when they do it. My son’s homework has usually been “disconnected” from the lessons he had that day. Math is usually most closely aligned but even still he always has questions when he does his homework. He is lucky I am a teacher and even more that I am a caring, involved parent with time to help.
I hate to say it but most kids I teach aren’t guaranteed homework help. Moreover, teachers sometimes give homework in haste to appease parents. They don’t always select it as material they’ve already taught. What is the result? Kids work in homework packets and on worksheets they often do not understand and make mistakes over and over that never get corrected. With the demands of instructional minutes, well-meaning teachers often don’t get to correct the homework and kids never see what they did wrong, or right. There is an option of online tutoring but in families where paying the gas bill is a luxury, it’s not very realistic.
I assign 30 minutes silent reading as homework. This is help with spelling and reading comprehension. I also applaud and assign practicing times tables on index cards. I recognize that many parents will “demand” homework from the teacher because it has been a traditionally automatic thing expected of teachers. To some extent I share with parents my feeling on homework but if they still have a problem with a “no homework” policy, or a “low homework” policy as I have, I will have a sheet or two for their child that is material they already know how to do. If tutoring is available, then homework becomes much more helpful.
New material should never be given as homework for reasons I have already stated. The buzz word in education in the 60’s and 70’s was “practice makes perfect.” This is true in a certain light. We should also consider the student who does homework or any work incorrectly over and over. In that case, the phrase should not be “practice makes perfect” because incorrect is the converse of perfect. In that case the phrase should be adjusted to say: “Practice makes Permanent.” As we explore this concept in a new generation, I invite your comments on homework and homework tutoring.