How Can Homework be Made Effective?

A teacher from Texas, who teaches second grade, announced that she would not be giving out homework to students. This was back in 2016. There have been many such instances where schools have been trying to eliminate homework as it doesn’t seem to be boosting learning and on the contrary, has been a sour spot for children and parents alike. 

However, the question that comes to mind is “ Shouldn’t schools or teachers be thinking differently about homework to enable it to boost learning, rather than eliminating it?” This is what happened in Florida. The school district that was serving around 42,000 students announced that it was replacing homework with 20-minutes of reading every night for all its elementary students. 

While many elementary schools have adopted such policies, critics have maintained that homework is reinforced learning as it provided students the opportunity to recollect what was taught in class. In addition to this, homework provides a window for parents to get to know what their children are learning and how they are progressing academically.

The critics seem to a point but why doesn’t homework boost learning? If a child wants to play the guitar, it is obvious that the child has to practice playing the guitar at home between the classes. There is a wide range of strategies that psychologists have identified that could be used for homework. One such strategy that helps in recalling information and is called Retrieval Practice. The principle behind this strategy is that you don’t use this immediately after acquiring any information but after it has been forgotten. This is the optimal time suggested by the strategy and could well be implemented in the homework assignment. If the homework contains questions to which students have to recollect what was taught in school, without any additional research or looking at school notes, then homework will be powerful as it uses retrieval practice. Many teachers may not be aware of these and it should be the school’s responsibility to make them aware of these strategies.

It is important to note that, though the studies have been carried out in isolation, the results could vary according to the demographic settings of each region. These factors come into play when you look at other elements like a quiet place to study, well-educated parents helping their children, children with access to the internet, etc. This argument ends up claiming that homework can be effective for those privileged children.

The above argument need not mean that homework should be eliminated. Rather it should allow schools to explore ways as to how these social inequities could be bridged. For example, schools can set up quiet places to study or do homework, organize small groups that can volunteer to spread knowledge as well as provide homework that doesn’t need access to the internet or a PC at home.

The other argument against homework has been the amount of stress and anxiety that students go through to complete their homework. Some parents argue that children need to go out and play, socialize, etc. rather than sitting with homework once they return from school. Schools could look at providing homework that can be completed in short sessions, say, 10 or 20 minutes. 

Schools must ensure that teachers are knowledgeable about the different strategies and what kind of homework assignments will help gain knowledge etc. This is the best way to make homework truly effective.