To Give Homework or Not to Give Homework?

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The question above is one almost as old as the notion of teaching itself, and the pendulum continues to swing back and forth about the answer.  Homework is detrimental to kids’ development proclaims one recent study, while another, released only a week later, states homework has shown to bolster student achievement.  Who is to believe?  

Here are my two cents based on my experience and those of my teacher friends.

Homework can be useful.  Notice that operative word here is can.  If it isn’t done right, it can be equally as useless.  Here are some tips to actually make homework a useful endeavor that promotes student learning.

Make it Meaningful

Don’t give homework just to give homework.  Homework is a great way to reinforce a concept, to lay a foundation for an activity for the next class, or to have the students explore something in greater depth that they did not have the time to fully explore.  Students will see if you are using homework for one of those purposes.  They (and their parents) will also see if you are giving pointless homework that doesn’t stimulate thinking.  In order to increase student buy-in, make sure that what the students are doing for homework is worthwhile, and not busy-work.

Make it the ‘Just Right’ Amount

It is crucial to tailor the amount of homework that you give based on your students’ ages, processing speeds, and current level of mastery.  Homework can also be differentiated based on different levels or interests for your class, as long as it is all supporting the same learning objective.  So be the Goldilocks of homework, and find the amount that is just right for your students.

Make it the Right Level

Homework should be something that extends learning, but also something feasible for a student to complete independently.  For this reason, don’t assign anything that is radically new as homework, where students have to teach themselves entirely new concepts.  To avoid student frustration, and to ensure that homework is independently achievable, write clear instructions printed on the homework and go over it verbally with students when previewing it in class.  For accelerated students, it is also important to make sure that there are options for challenge or enrichment to keep engagement levels high.

Make It Exciting and Active

While homework is good skill practice and reinforcement, making it repetitive and lifeless makes it less joyful for your students to do.  They will be less likely to do it, and less likely to come back the next day energized for your class.  So avoid “drill and kill” worksheets, and make it an active learning opportunity.  Another suggestion is to tie in real-world applications when you can.

If you were going to go home and continue to work on something, what would you want it to be like?  Take that into consideration when designing a learning experience for your students.

Teachers, any other good tips for making homework meaningful?

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