Homework is the bane of our existence in many households. After a long day of school for the kids, outside activities, and our own work, the last thing we want to do is fight with our kids at the end of the day. And yet… there’s homework. Is it even worth it? Many studies say no, but still the homework keeps on coming. So, how can we figure out whether it’s worthwhile?
Whether you’re a parent, teacher, principal, or policy maker in your local school or district, this article aims to give you the questions to ask to help decide whether it is worthwhile. Future articles will explore what to do when it turns out it’s not.
A Checklist for Parents and Teachers
by Chip Woods
It’s the end of September and homework is beginning to come home in earnest. Teachers and schools have sent home letters about their homework policies, usually touting its value in teaching study habits and skills, and recommending that children spend a certain amount of time on homework each night (and increase that time as they move up in grade). Parents have also been given ideas for setting up a quiet place at home where children can practice those skills and review content they’re learning in class. Often, this practice involves filling out a certain number of worksheets, especially in language arts and math.
But how important is homework? The value and positive impact of homework on student achievement in the elementary grades has not been shown to be significant in most research studies on the matter. I have provided links to three of the myriad of such studies at the bottom of the page and you can, of course, do your own Internet search.
To measure whether homework is going to make a positive difference in a child’s educational experience, I made the checklist below. If you’re a parent, this checklist can also let you gauge whether homework will have a positive impact on learning in the home environment. If you’re a teacher, it can also enable you to reflect on and perhaps improve your educational practices in the classroom. This checklist is based on my more than forty-five years of experience as a classroom teacher, principal, and student of child development—as well as my many nights and weekends spent dealing with homework as a parent and grandparent.
I hope the checklist below will be helpful to you, whether you’re a parent, teacher, principal, or policy maker in your local school or district.
- Have children practiced doing homework in the classroom before homework comes home? (What Responsive Classroom calls “Interactive Modeling” can be used to teach this.)
- Has the teacher developed a rubric for acceptable homework completion, so children know what is expected of them on each homework assignment? (The directions on a worksheet page are not a substitute for clear teacher expectations!)
- Is homework connected to the teacher’s lesson plans? Does it help students reach a deeper understanding of the subject at hand? That is, does it motivate and interest students?
- When homework is turned in, is it reviewed with students in the classroom and used in that day’s lesson? Or, is it just turned in, corrected, and passed back without comment?
- Most importantly—does every child get the same homework every night, or is homework determined according to the skill levels and needs of students based on the teacher’s assessment of how a homework assignment will reinforce or stretch their learning?Homework is a lot of work for teachers as well as students (not to mention parents, grandparents, and other caregivers). When homework is thoughtful and differentiated, it can enhance the learning that goes on in the classroom and truly be a productive joint venture between home and school. Otherwise,it can often have a counterproductive impact on children’s elementary school experiences and negatively influence their attitudes about necessary and meaningful homework when they reach middle and high school.
Is your child’s homework useful? Why or why not?
Chip Woods is the author of Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. Early on in 40 year career, he made developmentally based teaching the center of his educational practice. His core belief: Knowing what children at each age are developmentally capable of doing physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively enables respectful, successful teaching of all children.
Thank you Chip for giving us permission to republish your article. I feel grateful for your insight and your willingness to contribute because it meets my need for knowledge, competence, and community.