The Necessity of Homework
In his 1949 book Principles and Methods of Guidance for Teachers, American educator Leonard M. Miller states the generally accepted wisdom regarding the dreaded subject of homework: “We seem to be pretty much agreed that homework is necessary and our only plea seems to be for reasonable assignments and distribution of the work. …” You'll probably agree that as the year progresses daily homework — also called home learning — is vitally necessary for several important reasons.
First, given the sheer volume of academic work that must be completed during the year, time constraints will force you to assign some work to be completed at home. If every day had thirty hours and if you could spend fifteen of them with your students, you could probably complete everything in class; but since there are only twenty-four hours in a day, homework becomes an indispensable fact of academic life.
Second, homework provides reinforcement for subjects taught by providing students with additional exercises and additional practice at home. Without this extra practice, your students may not learn a concept as thoroughly as you might like. Like sports, if a young basketball player practices fifty free throws from the line, he may learn quite a bit about hitting his shots. But if he stays behind after practice and shoots fifty more free throws, he'll learn considerably more about ball control, and he'll almost certainly shoot better than kids who merely complete a standard amount of practice.
Third, homework can introduce new concepts to students so they'll feel more comfortable discussing the new concepts during subsequent lessons. Such advance preparation can also help students comprehend material better and assuage fears about the material so kids will perform better on subsequent assignments and tests.
Fourth, daily homework completion helps students become more self-directed so they can learn how to study, research, and compile information on their own. Homework helps students learn to appreciate, and perhaps even enjoy, intellectual challenges and problem solving.
Fifth, homework gives moms and dads a chance to keep track of the material their kids are learning and assist them in any way they feel is necessary or desirable. Parents can reinforce what you're teaching and even add their own personal knowledge to the mix.
Don't forget that as with any professional, you'll have to depend on your “clients” — your students — to do some requisite work at home. For example, a doctor will examine a patient and write out a prescription for medication. Would you expect the doctor to then drive home with the patient and spoon feed him the medication every four hours? Of course not; the patient will have to do some of the work at home.
As the noted American educator Marilee Sprenger observes in her book Learning and Memory: The Brain in Action, people understand and retain new material only if the information is repeated; a single exposure is seldom sufficient. Homework enhances this process because it provides students with abundant supplemental enrichment.
Some of your colleagues may complain that homework is merely busywork that doesn't really teach anything. The decision is yours, but remember, most districts, administrators, students, and parents expect you to assign homework to reinforce your lessons.
Of course, where homework is concerned, you never want to unfairly overload your kids; but you don't want to just blow off the benefits of homework, either. As with all things in life, keep a balance. Calculate the amount of time students will probably need to complete each assignment and hand out work accordingly.
This is particularly important for secondary teachers, who comprise an entire slate of six or seven classroom teachers, all giving homework. Keep a balance; keep the homework load neither poor nor extravagant, but just enough to accomplish its purpose.