We all hate homework, but is it really important that we do it? Is doing homework good for us or is it simply a waste of time? This debate sets out the arguments on both sides.
Homework is an assignment that students are given to do at home. It might be a continuation of classwork or a new piece of work. It may also be preparation for the next class. The amount of homework school students get varies a lot not only from country to country, or from school to school, but often from day to day. For most the amount of time spent on homework gets longer as we go through our school lives. At the start of primary school we get almost no homework but it is often several hours a day by the time we finish secondary school.
The most important thing in this debate is not so much how much time is spent on homework but whether that time is wasted. If it is time well spent then having a lot of homework to do may not be a bad thing. The debate should therefore consider what else school children would do with that time. Another angle would be to look at whether school could replace homework with something that makes better use of time. For example in Britain the education secretary (the member of the government who controls education across the whole country) wants schools to scrap homework and instead have longer days in school.
When out of school we should have time to ourselves
Time is valuable. We all need some time to ourselves. School already takes up a lot of time and it is necessary to have time which does not involve concentrating on learning. Education is not the only important activity in everyone’s day; physical activity, play, and time with family are just as important as all teach life skills just in different ways. The internet makes it possible to be learning at home, there are even many computer games that help with learning. Homework clashes with these other activities. It can damage family relationships as it means parents have to try and make their children do their homework.
We should expect to get a certain amount of homework per day and build other activities around the homework. Homework can be a useful part of time with family as it provides a chance for parents and other relatives to take part in schooling.
Homework takes up class time
Homework does not only take up time doing the homework at home but also takes up time in class. First there is the time that the teacher takes when explaining the task. Then more time is taken going through the homework when it is done and marked. This time could be better spent engaging with the class to find out what they do and don’t understand. The answer to this is to have more time in class rather than boring homework.
When homework does take up time in class it is helpful for learning. And when it does not then it does not harm the classwork. Homework aids classwork by providing a space for those who have not finished the work to catch up and by helping us to remember what we did in class.
Homework wastes teachers time
We are not the only ones who take a lot of time on homework, our teachers do as well. The teacher needs to design the homework, explain it, mark each piece individually, and tell everyone what they got right and wrong. If all this is not done then the homework loses its value as we need to be told individually what our mistakes are to be able to learn from homework. Teachers could as easily use the classwork to find out who knows what they are doing and who are making mistakes and it would save them time.
Teachers will need to mark and go through work whether it is classwork or homework. It is better that the teacher should spend their time in class teaching so leaving practising the methods taught to homework.
Homework puts students off learning
Especially if we get too much homework it can take the enjoyment out of learning. No matter how engaging the teacher is in class homework will almost certainly be stressful, boring and tiring. It is simply much harder to make homework engaging and interesting as it is often done on our own. We know that there is no direct link between how much homework is set and grades. Studies done on this come to different conclusions so teachers should only set homework when they are sure it is needed. When we only get homework occasionally we will consider that piece more important and a better use of time.
Whether homework puts us off learning will always depend on what the homework we are given is. Tasks that involve no interaction, or are not engaging will discourage learning. But homework could also mean reading an interesting book, having to find something out, create something, or doing a task with family. Homework can be as varied as classwork and just as interesting.
Homework teaches us to learn on our own
The main aim of education is to prepare us for the rest of lives. Homework is teaching us a key skill that we will need in the future. When we do homework we are learning to work on our own, the discipline to get the work done without the teacher’s prompting, and when we come up against difficulties we learn how to overcome them without our teacher’s help. Millions of people work for themselves (self-employed), or work from home, they are using exactly the same skills doing homework teaches us. This is not a waste of time.
Most homework is simply fulfilling a task that has already been explained so not truly teaching you to work on your own. Working on your own means setting your own targets, and working out how to overcome obstacles.
Questions to think about and discuss: Do your parents ever work at home, is your homework similar? Have you found learning on your own to be helpful, or is it better when the teacher is there?
Doing our homework means we are taking responsibility for ourselves
We are the ones who gain from learning so we should take responsibility for some of our own learning. We can take responsibility by doing homework. When we don’t do our homework we are the ones who suffer; we don’t get good marks and don’t learn as much. We also lose out in other ways as taking responsibility means learning how to manage our time and how to do the things that are most important first rather than the things we most enjoy like playing. Homework then does not waste time; it is part of managing it.
The same kind of responsibility is given to us no matter the kind of work. When given classwork we are responsible for completing it rather than playing around. The only difference at home is that it is our parents telling us to work not our teachers.
Questions to think about and discuss: Does doing your homework make you feel more responsible? Do you put doing your homework before taking part in other activities?
Homework is needed to finish classwork.
We should think of homework as being a continuation of our classwork. Not everyone in the class works at the same rate so it is necessary for teachers to give anyone who is falling behind the chance to catch up. If this was done in class those who are faster would have nothing to do during this time, which would be a real waste of time. Homework then allows those who are behind to take as long as they need to catch up with the rest of the class.
Teachers should not set classwork expecting that the class will have to finish that classwork as homework. Students who are falling behind should receive more attention from the teacher during class to make sure that all the members of the class can move at the same speed.
Questions to think about and discuss: Is finishing classwork the best use for homework?
Homework makes sure we remember what we have learnt
One way we learn is by repetition, another is by doing things, when doing homework we learn in both of these ways. When we are taught a method at school, such as how to do a type of sum, then we need to practice using that method to make sure we know how to so that we can remember it. If we just learn the method and don’t practice it we will soon forget how we do it.
We don’t spend all of class time learning new methods so there should be time in class to practice any new method that is taught. Once some repetition has been done in class how much more do we really need at home? If we have not successfully learnt the method in the class then we will be simply repeating the mistake.
Questions to think about and discuss: Can you remember a method you were taught last year? Are there other methods you were taught but you can no longer remember how to do? Why do you think you can remember one but not the other?
Claudia Vulliamy, Year 9 pupil
When I was younger, as soon I was old enough to hold a paintbrush, I used to do pictures every day. I used to lose myself in a sketch and explore different painting techniques. It's just what I did. I've recently come to realise that I now hardly ever paint unless I'm in an art lesson. Nor do I do much reading, baking or any of the other things I used to enjoy. There's just too much homework.
Studies show that there is little or no correlation between whether children and younger teens do homework (or how much they do) and a meaningful measure of achievement. In the words of one US education expert: "Most small children and early adolescents have not yet developed the self-reflection and self-monitoring skills to get the benefit of either homework or self study." Isn't it time we questioned why hours and hours of a young person's week is taken up by something few enjoy and which, it seems, doesn't even enhance their education?
Professor Susan Hallam, of the Institute of Education, University of London, investigated all studies on homework for the past 75 years and came to a conclusion that homework accounts for less than 4 per cent of the differences in teen students' scores. Professor Hallam found that while homework can enhance examination results (a tiny bit), its impact is relatively small compared with students' prior knowledge in a particular subject.
Professor Hallam also points out that homework can lead to family friction, especially when families are pressuring children to succeed. Children or teenagers can be badly mentally affected by extreme pressure put on them, which adults are sometimes unaware of and is counterproductive as well as horrible for the student.
If it seems that the idea of abolishing homework belongs in some trendy, hippie school, the head teacher of Tiffin School, one of the top grammar schools in the country, would disagree. He has reduced homework to a maximum of 40 minutes per night – and says he wishes he could get rid of it altogether. I wish my London comprehensive school would do the same.
Homework causes anxiety and stress, it leaves the student very little time to spend with family and other things (Tiffin students are encouraged to use their extra time to watch documentaries or do sport or music). It can sometimes make students actively less enthusiastic about learning because it is being forced upon them and it closes students' minds and timetables in such ways that make them less creative.
People say that young people should not take their youth for granted and should seize the advantages of a youthful mind while they have one. Homework limits a young person's ability to do this.
Children are more creative than adults. Many people dislike how the creativity of childhood fades away with age, so children's ideas and activities should be encouraged. Perhaps if they are, then adults in the future will be more open-minded and more likely to follow their own ideas and ambitions in life. Learning is not just about exam results.
Homework gives children with stable homes and plenty of support an unfair advantage. In school hours, pupils have the same opportunities and circumstances. But setting homework is asking a student to complete a task, whatever conditions they live in, whatever the attitude of their family and how much help they they can expect to get, or their economic situation. An alternative to setting homework would be setting the work to be done independently at school, where everyone is in the same environment. Homework can cause a child to work for extremely long time in a day, in addition to their time at school. A labour rights movement in 1833 caused a law to be passed that children aged 9 to 13 could not work more than eight hours a day. Of course, students work for education and not to be paid, but a student's school day with several pieces of homework can add up to at least eight hours of work.
It can be argued that homework increases a student's ability to work independently, but there is just as much of a chance that a student will complete a piece of work without help at school as there is at home.
"Teachers and schools should make a judgement about whether it's important in relation to the learning needs of particular groups of students," Professor Susan Hallam says.
Professor Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the Institute of Education, says: "Getting pupils to do homework is an incredibly expensive and generally unproductive public relations exercise. Schools push homework because they think parents like it, but most schools don't plan homework well enough for it to be worth doing. This is not to say that homework cannot be good, just that most of it currently isn't."
The little proven positive impact homework has on someone's life is outweighed by the negative impact and has a lot less meaning in a student's education that many people may think. I would like to see a world where children and adolescents are happy and appreciate the precious period of youth. People say that youth is wasted on the young. I think young people are wasted on homework.
Kieran Larkin, principal of ARK Kings Academy, Birmingham
The argument about whether homework is worthwhile has raged since I was at school. It's true that homework given without a clear purpose can be confusing and sometimes demotivating for students. I remember one of my own children in Year 3 being given a piece of homework which was "write a story". His first reaction was to ask my wife and I what he should write about.
Of course, we wanted him to come up with something and despite several attempts to link it back to what he had been doing in class he (and we!) remained unsure whether that was what the teacher wanted. He duly spent a good chunk of a Sunday afternoon doing it and handed it in.
Being interested in whether he (or we!) had done it right we asked a few days later how it had been received. It turned out the teacher had not commented on it and it was never marked, so none of us were any the wiser and my son's faith in the utility of homework slipped down several notches.
That's not to say, however, that homework does not have a place or a purpose, but if it is given it needs to be done with purpose and teachers need to make clear to the students what that purpose is. This is never going to be a popular topic with students and so teachers need to be clear why it is issued and why it is important.
So what can homework achieve that can't be achieved in the classroom? First, it's important to create an independent work ethic. Success at and beyond school requires students to get used to problem solving and persevering with extended pieces of work without support from their teachers. There is a huge difference between solving an equation, doing a translation or writing or deconstructing a piece of prose in a lesson after you have just discussed it, and doing it alone in the library or your room a day or a week later using your own knowledge and skills.
Homework is a way to learn practical research skills: using the library, devising questionnaires or interviews and conducting online searches. (Not just accepting the first Google hit as a universal truth.) Whether students intend to study beyond school or not these are essential – and enriching – skills for later life.
Third, homework provides challenge. Having to solve a problem to bring to the next lesson enables students to demonstrate understanding and teachers to assess its depth or identify any gaps. It also provides time to practise. Homework provides time to embed the things that are useful to learn by rote, such as timestables, vocabulary, spelling, irregular verbs and handwriting.
Lastly, well thought-through homework provides uninterrupted time for a student to make sense of their own understanding at their own pace.
So what should schools and students do to make it worthwhile? It's not about the length of time spent on it. It's about using the time spent on it for a reason.
Ensure variety. If you want to maintain interest in your subject it needs to be engaging in the first place. Avoid homework that is "finishing off class work" – that rather implies it should have been better managed in the class by the teacher. The teacher should indicate the length, content and presentational style required – so that students know how it will be assessed. Collect homework in on time and use it as part of the lesson or as soon as possible, so that you value its completion and demonstrate its importance.
Schools should communicate a clear timetable to staff, students and parents and stick to it so students are not overly burdened on any particular day. Staff forgetting its homework is disruptive and a bad example to students. Issue homework planners and post them on the web so that parents can see them.
Ensure that the school has a consistent response to logging the completion of homework and any sanctions for not completing it. At ARK Kings Academy it is a part of the home-school agreement that students, parents and I, as principal, sign at the start of the year.
When setting homework, the teacher should create time in the lesson to record it and clarify what needs to be done. A hurriedly set assignment at the end of the lesson is more likely to be undone or done badly.
Lastly – always show that you value the work you are asking students to do. Collect it at the agreed time, mark it quickly and thoroughly. Use the work to provide feedback to the student and the class what has been done well. Shape the next lesson to plug gaps, address any misconceptions or extend the standard/ challenge of the work for students.Reuse content