The Homework Quandry

Whether you teach elementary school or graduate school, the effectiveness and purpose of homework has long been debated. Should you ask, most people would probably tell you that homework is important and promotes learning and mastery of course material and in fact, research can be cited to support this intuitive assertion. For example, a study at Penn State noted that students who complete a 30-90 minutes of homework each night outperform students who do no homework (Penn State. “Benefits Of More Homework Vary Across Nations, Grades.” ScienceDaily, 27 Feb. 2007. Web. 22 Feb. 2012).

Unfortunately, there is a confusing lack of consensus regarding the effectiveness of giving students work to do at home. The above Penn State study also concludes that more study time does not translate into higher academic achievement. Studies such as one conducted at Boston College report that the correlation between homework and academic achievement is not strong. (Ina V.S. Millis, Michael O. Martin, Albert E. Newton, Eugenio J. Gonzalez, Dana L. Kelly, and Theresa A. Smith. Mathematics and Science Achievement in the Final Years of Secondary School: IES’S Third International Mathematics and Science Report, Boston: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement,  Lynch School of Education,  Boston College, 1998). A national survey (University of Michigan) discovered that studying at home is not as valuable a contributor to success as family meal time (Bennett, Sara and Nancy Kalish. “The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It”. Crown Publishers New York: 2006).

As a community college professor of management, my understanding of the role of homework in my classes comes from my experiences and observations of my students. I began, as many do, under the assumption that homework was an expectation. I quickly realized, however, that for my students, homework was low on the list of priorities. They work, go to school, take care of families, and deal with life’s ups and downs. There are often more important issues in their lives than turning in an assignment: Getting to work, feeding their families, taking care of a sick child, etc. Homework seemed to be a burden more than a benefit for them, and I did not see a relationship between completed assignments and attained grades. Consequently, I changed my approach.

Rather than expect students to toil night after night with additional assignments, I fill my classes with interactive, stimulating activities which offer students opportunities to engage with the course material. My support and guidance is a key component in helping students learn the environment of business, and to apply critical thinking skills as they examine and solve real business problems. I see a clear relationship between engagement in class and achievement.

Of course, there is still work for students to do beyond the classroom. Reading course materials, completing a capstone project or paper, and reviewing for exams contains a helpful and reasonable quantity of work for students to do at home. A Southern Illinois University study supports this position, concluding that homework turned in for points did not significantly raise quiz grades (Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, Brooke Walker, Yors Garcia, Sadie Lovette, and Stephen Filipiak, “A Point contingency for Homework Submission in the Graduate School Classroom”, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 34, 2010,, 499-502).

Whether to require homework or not merely scratches the surface of the debate. Other concerns include determining quantity, and deciding what constitutes a meaningful assignment rather than “busy work”. At the end of the day, teachers are required to resolve the homework quandary and its myriad issues without clear guidance from the literature or policy and of course, in the spirit of academic freedom. What is the role of homework in your classroom?

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