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Is Homework Really Necessary?

The vast majority of students hate it.  Teachers find it overwhelming to keep homework assignments relevant and updated.  Parents find it difficult to fit homework into an already stuffed after-school/evening schedule.  In some schools, homework has actually been eliminated.  So, is homework really necessary?  Are the benefits worth the difficulty?

While homework can be difficult and painful for most involved, it actually has great benefits that can benefit students for life.  Some of those benefits include better retention of material, taking advantage of alternate strengths of learning, helping students develop a sense of responsibility, teaching students how to learn independently, and teaching students how to rise up to challenges.

Let’s take a deeper look at what all of these points look like in real life (as well as some of the disadvantages of homework)!

Benefits of Homework

Homework, while difficult, does present plenty of benefits that will actually stay with students throughout their lifetime, whether at work, at home, or even future academic pursuits.  It is great training for everybody’s future! Let’s take a look at some of those benefits.

Homework Provides Better Retention of Material

In the immediate realm, assigning beneficial homework to students allows them to better retain the material they are learning.  Many times, I would totally forget things my teachers talked about if those points weren’t included in some future review or homework.  When students have homework assignments that reinforce the major points of what they are learning, it allows them to better remember what they have learned just by sheer repetition of the material.  Another benefit to this repetition of material is that while doing homework, students are working at their own pace.  This also allows them to better retain the material because they don’t feel the pressure to remember things before the teacher moves on to the next item.

Is Homework Really Necessary?

Homework Takes Advantage of Alternate Strengths of Learning

Students have many different styles of learning (to read more about that, check out my article here).  While differentiated learning has made great strides in catering to the varied learning styles of the whole class, it can’t be everything to everyone. But when students are able to use their homework time to use their strengths of learning, it will take the benefits of homework to a whole new level.

One of the best ways I found to do this was to give students a list of 3-5 different homework assignments that they could choose their favorite one.  Each of the assignments would be on the same material, but would be either a reading or writing assignment, a craft, a video recording, a poem, or one of many different things that would allow students to gravitate toward the one that they would prefer to do.  In getting a choice of what they want to do, you are first of all removing the tedium from homework assignments.  But even more importantly, you are allowing the student to retain the material so much better because they are taking advantage of their preferences and strengths of learning.

Homework Helps Students Develop a Sense of Responsibility

One of the long-term advantages of assigning homework on a regular basis is that students learn to take their work seriously.  They learn that setting aside that time to improve their studies pays off in the long run.  And more importantly, they learn to apply that same principle to other important aspects of life.

As homework becomes a routine part of their after-school life, it helps students learn to budget their time, yet another life skill that will be critical to their success as an adult.

And finally, while they may not see the benefit of homework early on in their school years, over time they will  most certainly see the value of those extra hours spent when they look back at the effects that beneficial homework had on their grades.

Homework Teaches Students How to Learn More Independently

Sometimes just being in a classroom makes many students less independent.  If the teacher can spoon feed them the material, why bother to dig for it themselves?  While there are certainly plenty of students that are excellent independent learners, there will always be students that prefer to be taught directly by the teacher.  That is fine, especially as students are younger.  But assigning homework forces students to work independently (as long as parents aren’t doing it for them!) and the more they complete at home, the more adept they will become at independent studies.

The more teachers are assigning work that feels relevant and interesting to their students, the more willing students will be to learn independently.  What this DOES NOT mean, however, is that students need to keep their students constantly entertained and only assign work that is fun for them.  There are times that we all have to do things we don’t love doing.  And that in itself is a good lesson for students.  Teaching them to push through the hard stuff is one of the best life lessons!

At the end of the day, though, we need to remember that students have already been in school all day.  So assigning homework that feels tedious and torturous will not help them to love what they are learning in school.

Homework Teaches Students to Rise up to Challenges

I remember times that I would get home, get a snack, and sit down to do my homework, only to become very frustrated quickly after realizing that I was over my head with my homework assignment.  Being a normal teenager, I would start mumbling under my breath, thinking about how unfair it was that I would have to do such a difficult assignment–IF I could even figure it out! How dare that teacher assign me something that was going to be difficult and time consuming!

What I now realize is that because I was so protective of my good grades, I would do almost anything to make sure that those homework assignments got done–and got done well.  That determination has also served me well as an adult in college, work, home, marriage, and parenting as well as many other aspects of life.

I learned that I could determine to rise above any challenge laid before me.

On the flip side of this experience, I realize that I was one of the few students in my school that was that concerned about my grades.  So, how do you motivate students to rise up to homework challenges when they don’t really care about their grades or if they even finish their homework?

One of the best ways is to foster a love of what they are studying in the classroom.  I know it is hard (actually impossible) to get all of the students interested in all of the subjects/lessons that you teach.  But you can also foster a love of learning in general that will help students to be able to work through just about anything.

Make sure you are present with students in such a way that they feel they can approach you with their struggles, fears, or even lack of motivation.  Be emotionally encouraging to them without being permissive of bad habits, but instead helping them to get through it successfully and with satisfaction of a job well done.

This is one case where the relationships you develop in the classroom with your students will carry you farther than the lessons themselves can!

Is Homework Really Necessary?

The Necessity of Quality Homework

A couple of times in this article I have talked about homework being beneficial.  This is absolutely necessary if homework is assigned on a regular basis.

Many programs don’t come with homework built in, especially when teachers are creating classroom content on their own based on their school district’s standards and requirements and not from the books they are using.

Taking the time to create homework that is making good use of students’ time, resources and abilities will benefit them way more than just the completion of the assignment and resulting grade.  It can literally shape their future as an adult as they learn to make good educational/work decisions, as well as learning to research and engineer projects.

But in spite of the case for good, beneficial homework, teachers are already overwhelmed.  Many times the temptation is to throw in generic worksheets or other less than stellar homework just to check off the box rather than taking the time to create or find homework that will really benefit the students.

The problem with this is that with only 24 hours in a day, there are only so many things a teacher can do for her class.  And with that thought, I will move on to some of the disadvantages of homework.

Is Homework Really Necessary?

Disadvantages of Homework

So now that we have seen all of the great benefits of homework, let’s take a look at some of the drawbacks to that homework along with some possible solutions to make homework more pleasing for the students, teachers AND parents.

Good Quality Homework is Time Consuming to Create

Since this was the thought that launched this section of my article, let’s go ahead and work through it first.

Teachers have to cut corners somewhere–there is no way to get everything done for all subjects all the time.  Every day a teacher must decide what things she will allow to drop off the agenda.  So, is homework one of those things?  Or is there some way to make it less time consuming for the best product?

Of course, once a teacher has been teaching for many years, her homework assignments will be perfected more over time.  (S)he will know what has worked well and what hasn’t.  She will know which assignments the students were able to complete and which ones she had to improve on already.  And she will know which homework assignments helped students to master the material and do better, not only on the test, but on mastering the material as a whole.

So, is there a way to get there without having to put in the many years of experience first?

One of the best ways is to talk about it with other teachers who do have that experience.  If you don’t have teachers that you are comfortable talking about it with in your school district, you can always look at the many teachers’ forums, Facebook groups, and various other social networks online.  There has never been such a wealth of information online as there is now.  But unfortunately, there is also a wealth of bad information online as well!  It could be time consuming to sort through the good and the bad, especially if you aren’t exactly sure what your classes need.  But just to not have to reinvent the wheel could be more than worth it!

Too Much Homework is Assigned

There can definitely be too much of a good thing.  And that does apply very well to homework.  You could be assigning your students the absolutely best homework assignments ever, but if they are spending three hours a night on homework, only to have to go to bed and immediately get up the next morning to start the whole process again, we are definitely not doing it right!

I frequently think about how much I would love to learn but how fleeting life is.  There will never be enough time to learn everything.  So I have had to be careful not to try to teach my students “everything” as well.

It is difficult these days when teacher must teach to standards that have little to no flexibility.  But still, there is only so much that can be done in a day.  Expecting our students to finish what we couldn’t once they get home is tempting, but over time can become harmful.  It can be discouraging to the students as well as frustrating to the parents who are supervising homework and feel that their child has little to no freedom to be a child at the end of the day.

One of the hardest things for me was being willing to let the rest of a lesson go.   Over time I learned to judge class time better.  When I realized I was short on the time I needed (more often than not), I would just bring up the main points that I knew they needed to know and not worry about the details that they weren’t going to be tested on.

Believe it or not, for the students that are truly interested, they will go find a book or information online that will satiate their need to know more.  And for the students who aren’t that interested, they probably wouldn’t have remembered all of those details even if you had the time to cover them all!

Some Parents Are Not Able or Willing to Help Their Children

There is not a classroom anywhere in the world that does not run into this problem.  There are many reasons why parents are unable or unwilling to help their children get through their homework.  Regardless of whether the reasons are solid or not, it doesn’t matter.  At the end of the day, teachers have to try to find a way to prevent those students from falling through the cracks.  Further, in spite of all a teacher may try to do to prevent those students from falling behind, they may very well not be able to save every student.  It is a hard and heartbreaking scenario that all teachers face.

This is one more instance of trying to relate to those students in a way that can  help them to see a different side of life than the difficult one they are living.  You may be the only positive and kind influence that child has for the entire year you are with him/her.  And that will supersede any lesson you can try to make sure they don’t miss and perfectly comprehend.

Conclusion:  Is it Okay Not to do Homework?

So, if you and your students are feeling that homework is just too much, is it okay not to bother to assign it?  It is most likely not the end of the world if they don’t do it.  But in the end, there are so many more lost opportunities if homework is not a part of students’ lives.  While it is a good teaching/learning tool, it is even more a better life skills tool.  So yes, it is absolutely okay to skip homework assignments here or there, but to eliminate it entirely would be a huge disadvantage to kids who are growing up and soon to be out making their way in the world.

In conclusion, I must recommend this very tongue-in-cheek homework planner for students since it treats a subject that none of us especially love in a light-hearted way.  I found it on Amazon.  Enjoy!

All The Ways My Teachers Torment Me

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If you liked this article, I think you will really like the following articles as well:

How Much Homework Should a 4th Grader Have?

10 Great Tips to Make Homework Fun for 4th Graders

Are Open-book Exams a Closed Case?  The Pros and Cons

Encouragement for Those Who Will be Homeschooling Through Covid-19

Unique Classroom Ideas:  Get Your Students Published!

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