Part of lesson planning for most teachers is designing the homework assignments. To avoid creating ineffective assignments, you need to begin by defining your beliefs about the purpose of homework. Assignments should reinforce central ideas and provide students with methods for exhibiting knowledge in unique ways.
Whenever possible, make homework connect to real life. Give students the opportunity to practice using the information that you have taught them, so that they can learn to make connections between what they learn and current events or skills that they will use throughout their lives.
When creating homework assignments, give further consideration to the amount of time and effort you wish to put into grading student work. Remember, you will need to grade all the homework you assign. This does not mean that you should avoid important assignments like essays or laboratory reports. However, it does mean that you might think about placing easier-to-grade (not necessarily easier-to-complete) assignments in between those that are more time-consuming.
Is homework necessary at all? This question is actually being debated among some educational experts today. Some experts argue that because of students' busy schedules, homework should be seriously reduced or eliminated. Further, numerous studies have shown that, at least in elementary school, there is not much correlation between achievement and the amount of homework that a student completes.
Most educators, however, believe that effective, challenging homework assignments are a necessary part of education. By eliminating homework, students eliminate reinforcement. How can you possibly learn your multiplication tables without a lot of outside study?
What is Bloom's taxonomy?
Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy categorizes educational questions according to their level of abstraction: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Many teachers do not move much beyond knowledge and comprehension. Effective teachers spend some time moving further along the taxonomy with their students.
Despite the common belief that homework is necessary, when you look at who is actually giving homework, the results can be surprising. Elementary educators appear to give their students the most homework. Middle school teachers also give homework, though often in lesser amounts than elementary school teachers. And high school teachers seem to give the least amount of homework. Teachers of college preparatory/honors classes are the exception to this rule.
The reasons for this trend are varied. First, elementary educators might assign a lot to complete at home, but they are usually assignments on the lower level of Bloom's taxonomy, meant to reinforce important concepts that were taught in class. On the other hand, high school educators should be covering material that challenges students to move up Bloom's taxonomy toward higher-order thinking. Therefore, the quantity of homework should be lessened, but the quality should be increased. Of course, there are some questions about whether the majority of teachers actually do this.
Why else might high school teachers assign less homework? One reason would be pressure from some parents and students. Students today often have jobs and participate in numerous extracurricular activities. They complain that they do not have the time to complete homework every night. Even though teachers might question their priorities, some decide that it is easier to avoid having numerous kids ignore or turn in subpar homework. They shun homework altogether or give assignments that can be completed in class.
One other reason high school students may appear to have less homework is that there seems to be more time in the school day for students to complete work. Students who do have busy lives will take advantage of down moments to complete other assignments. Elementary school children often have their days filled moving from subject to subject. They do not have as much study time or free time at their disposal.
How Much Is Enough?
So how much homework should you give? You should strive to have enough to reinforce and teach the core ideas, but not so much that students have time for little more than homework. This is a fine line to walk.
If you are an elementary school teacher, you know exactly what homework your students have because you are in charge of assigning all work. You can control exactly how long students are working each evening. You decide what your students need and assign accordingly. However, if you have a lot of students with learning disabilities, you will need to adjust the quantity of homework slightly, because an assignment that might take a student without disabilities 30 minutes, could take a student with learning disabilities two hours.
Middle school teachers often work on teams and can join together to control the amount of homework students are assigned. For example, each class could be assigned a homework day. On Mondays, the social studies teacher might give out homework, on Tuesdays, it's the English teacher's turn, and so on. The team could also decide that all teachers give out 15-minute assignments each day. The team would schedule any major assignments together.
The real problem lies with high school teachers who do not work in coherent teams and therefore cannot consult with other teachers to control homework for each student. Generally, this does not cause major issues in average classes. However, when students are participating in honors and advanced placement courses, they can run into a real problem with exorbitant amounts of homework.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, national organizations suggest that students in grades kindergarten to two should receive 10 to 20 minutes of homework each school day. In grades three to six, children should spend 30 to 60 minutes a day on homework. In grades seven to nine, students would benefit from more homework time.
If students have to work five or more hours every evening to complete their assignments, then they probably are not getting enough exercise or sleep to be healthy. At the very least, it would be useful for high school teachers to discuss with each other the big assignments they are planning each term to space them out.
However, as a new teacher, you will probably find resistance from some veterans to any attempts to alter homework assignments. You will most likely be the one doing the bending and changing.