Updated: Dec 15, 2022
“Homework! Oh, Homework! I hate you, you stink
These are the first two lines of my favorite poem, “Homework! Oh, Homework!” by Jack Prelutsky, I can still recite the entire poem from memory. My relationship with homework has changed over the years. As a child I would rather be playing than doing homework. As a teacher, homework was often an extension of the day’s lesson. Now, as a researcher, I see the benefits and limitations of research situated in what research tells us about homework. Rather than asking if homework is “good” or “bad”, the better question may be, “How can homework be improved to be doable and effective?” In this blog, I ask you to suspend your current perceptions of homework and consider the following:
Students’ perception of homework matters.
Research suggests that students’ perceptions of homework quality is important. Essentially, students who believe that their teachers carefully select and prepare appropriate practice that reinforces classroom learning” value homework. This is important because homework behaviors are likely related to achievement. I recommend teachers talk to students about the purpose of homework in ways that are personal and authentic.
Homework can be used to support maintenance and retention.
Homework provides opportunities for distributed practice aimed to support maintenance and retention. In order for this to be effective, homework should be individualized and connect to classroom learning by having students practice skills that they can do independently. As Kathy Ruhl and Charlie Hughes share, “The best use of homework is to build proficiency in recently acquired skills or to maintain skills previously mastered.”
Students should be able to do homework successfully and independently.
Homework is more efficient when it reviews material from previous lessons (think past few weeks) than when it requires students to solve problems from that day’s lesson. Novice learners are more likely to make mistakes, practice, and reinforce these mistakes if they do not receive immediate feedback. When students practice errors, teacher may have to spend more time reteaching misunderstood concepts and misapplied skills.
Homework can be a valuable learning tool when purposefully planned. In addition to the suggestions above (e.g., discuss the purpose for homework with students, individualize, support maintenance and retention by providing homework on previously learned skills, be sure students can do homework independently), I recommend teachers use self-correcting materials, (e.g., cover-copy-compare), work on developing fact fluency (e.g., taped problems), have students work with solved problems (e.g., interleaved solved-solutions). And most importantly, continue to evaluate if your current homework system is meeting your purpose and the needs of your students within an MTSS system.