Homework has come under fire the last few years as data surfaced that seemed to support the conclusion that homework is a waste of time. The traditional goals — that homework reinforces school work, provides additional practice on difficult topics, and involves the family — seemed to fall away under the onslaught of naysayers and their numbers.
To many, the shortfalls mean homework should be excised from the education experience. To me, it simply means we teachers must update it — not eliminate it.
If you are committed to the value of homework, here are six suggestions for how to make it more aligned with student education goals:
Make homework relevant
Duke University Professor Harris M. Cooper, says (paraphrased in parts):
Really good homework assignments in subjects such as math and science … highlight skills children use in other areas of their life — sports, games, and everyday tasks like grocery shopping with their parents. A really good teacher is one that takes the skills that [their students] are learning … and uses homework to show them these are the skills they need to enjoy things they do even more
As a teacher, own that. Make homework tie into other parts of a student’s life. After all, isn’t that exactly what education is supposed to do — prepare students for life?
Provide help sites
Give students a list of curated websites they can go to when they hit a wall with homework. Post it to your class website or as part of the assigned homework. This gives them places to get help when you’re not there. For example, here’s a list of physics websites that cover common problems high schoolers have with physics concepts:
Show students how to remove ads from websites
Website ads are distracting to assigned work. You may have installed apps to your classroom devices that remove these. Show students (and their parents) how to add them at home so the learning experience there is similarly distraction-free. The most popular option is AdBlock but there are many others.
Help students troubleshoot tech problems
Teachers aren’t the only ones with a phobia against technology. Students suffer this also, worrying that technology requirements will defeat their homework efforts. You can mitigate the effects of this fear by providing students with simple solutions to common technology problems. These will probably include:
- The Wifi doesn’t work (unplug, replug)
- The browser doesn’t work (try a different one)
- The website doesn’t work (reload)
- The monitor doesn’t work (is it getting power)
- The computer is frozen (is a dialogue box open waiting for an answer)
When students know how to solve these, they not only can keep working but are proud of their problem-solving skills.
Find out if students have access to Wifi, computers
This is the elephant in the classroom-home connection. Homework increasingly involves the Internet and many students still don’t have that at home. There are solutions to this, ones we can discuss at another time, but for this article, it’s enough that you find out who doesn’t have Internet access and address this by opening your classroom to their work, letting them know other locations in the school (like the library) with Internet for them, or provide other options that might include printed sheets, PDFs that open without the Internet, or downloading web-based materials to work offline.
Make parents your partner
Here’s what ChildTrends says about parental involvement in school:
Students with parents who are involved in their school tend to have fewer behavioral problems, better academic performance, and are more likely to complete high school than students whose parents are not involved in their school.
In fact, almost all studies of successful educational programs reinforce the idea that students do better if parents are involved. But when students are at school, parents are at work. It’s only when students go home that parents have a chance to be involved in their child’s learning. They might ask how the day went or if they learned anything, but most parents self-report that they get nonresponsive answers. With homework, parents have an opportunity to help exactly where students need them.
Is this your mental image of students doing their homework:
If it is, it’s no wonder neither you nor they want this experience. At the beginning of the school year, explain to students why they do homework. It’s not make-work; it’s about a love of learning. Discuss what they don’t like about homework and fix as many of these as you can. I know few teachers who explain the purpose of schoolwork done at home. Most assume students know what it is and will hate it. Don’t do that! Assume that doing academic work at home is about extending the love of learning.
It’s important to remember that many students love learning. When homework becomes an extension of that passion, it is a favorite choice instead of TV, video games, or social media.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.