On Homework

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Jackie Chan and ended with a throwaway reference to parents who complain about too much homework (you’d have to read it to get the connection).  Anyway, that one remark prompted a couple of critical comments from readers who are clearly fine, decent, normal people.  I’d like to briefly, respectfully address those concerns.

First of all, there is a groundswell of thought out there that would be happy to do away with homework altogether, perhaps best shown by the popular book, The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children And What Parents Can Do About It.  I understand.  I’ve heard plenty of parents say that their children have too much homework.  Of course, I’ve also heard plenty of parents say that their children don’t get enough.

First, let’s ask ourselves this: why do teachers give homework?  It can’t just be busywork: it doesn’t “kill” any class time, and it gives the teacher more to grade.  The path of least resistance here would be to give less, or none at all.  Simply assigning homework should be a sign of pretty decent teaching.

Of course, just because homework is given, doesn’t mean it’s good, or couldn’t be better.  It’s perfectly possible for homework to be confusing, unrelated to class material, or simply trivial.  Such problems certainly do exist and should be corrected when encountered.

So what is good homework?  And, really, how much is just the right amount? 

Of all the many “staff development days” and “teacher inservices” I’ve had to attend over the years, only one has ever truly made a positive difference in my classroom: a day of training based on Robert J. Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies For Increasing Student Achievement.  This is, simply put, the best book on teaching I’ve ever read.  Every education major in college needs to be given a copy on their first day and should be required to memorize and recite it daily.  Every staff meeting in every school everywhere should be based on this book and this book only.  So much of what we get shoved down our throats in education these days is trendy claptrap; this little book just summarizes the aggregate research on effective educational practices and explains how to apply them in the classroom.

And there’s a chapter on homework.  What does it say?  In lieu of butchering it with my own poor paraphrasing, I’ll link to “The Case For And Against Homework,” an article Marzano wrote for Educational Leadership, which is short and accessible and devastatingly obvious in its implications.  I’ll direct interested parties there.

I just found out that Marzano has some other books, such as one on classroom management.  I’ll be picking those up at my earliest opportunity.  I’ve no doubt they might make the coming year even more successful than previous years have been.

2 comments on “On Homework

  1. In that previous thread I said that all the schools my kids have gone to gave too much homework. I just went back to re-read my comment, and someone called me on that, but I didn’t see his comment till just now. He seems to think I meant all schools give too much homework. I meant all the schools my kids have gone to give too much homework.

    When I was a kid, in 6th grade, my math teacher told us she was giving us a lot of homework because that’s what we could expect in junior high. In junior high, our teachers told us they were giving us a lot of homework because that’s what we could expect in high school. In high school, because that’s what we could expect in college. I was in the “gifted” program, too, so you know they loaded us up with all kinds of stuff. You know what happened in college? I was doing the same work kids in the non-“gifted” program were doing in JUNIOR HIGH.

    I know there are a lot of great schools and great teachers out there. I’ve been taught at/by many. My kids have been taught at/by many. But for the most part, our educational system sucks. And your sentence right here proves it:

    Of all the many “staff development days” and “teacher inservices” I’ve had to attend over the years, only one has ever truly made a positive difference in my classroom.

  2. A few points:

    1) I don’t have kids that have real homework yet. I will be interested to see how my opinion changes when that changes.
    2) That’s a pretty big endorsement on Marzano.
    3) Staff development days are the biggest wastes of time. Ever.

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