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Homework – what’s the point of it?

The best place for homework? In the classroom www.shutterstock.com.au

A middle school student I know came home from school with the task to recreate a medieval fort out of cake. I expect the History teacher thought this was a creative and engaging activity. This particular student, from a refugee background living with his single uncle, first had to figure out how to make a cake and spend scarce money on cake tins and ingredients.

Even putting aside the cultural and economic challenges the task presented to this boy, what was the point of that homework?

What is the point of any homework?

Who likes homework?

It’s a question I pose my preservice teachers and the responses always fall into three categories, which I suspect are also reflective of the broader community.

There are the righteous supporters – they tend to be swats whose memories of gold stars give them warm feelings to this day. Who wouldn’t want to do homework, they wonder?

There are the vocal opponents – they tend to be parents who have wasted too many evenings trying to figure out how long division is taught these days, and too much money on sheets of coloured cardboard.

Then there’s the rest – they think you should do homework, because well, they had to do homework at school. They are the status quo majority. For some of them, the idea of setting and marking homework is inextricably tied up with the vision they have of themselves ‘doing’ teaching – but they’ve not really thought much about what homework achieves.

Does homework improve learning outcomes?

Research finds that homework doesn’t improve learning outcomes in primary school, and has a weak link to improved outcomes in junior high school. Those improvements are connected to parental involvement – but parents who are keen supporters of homework may be disappointed to hear that their positive contribution is largely just ensuring their children hand in their homework.

Parental involvement in the homework itself can actually reduce the child’s success at school. Parents rarely have the expertise to fill in gaps in their children’s understandings of concepts, and the predilection of some parents to take over the homework reduces the autonomy of the children, leaving them less able to work independently at school, and less confident of their own abilities.

There are many parents, dedicated and desperately interested in their children’s education, who cannot involve themselves in their children’s homework. They may not have had schooling opportunities themselves, they may speak English as an additional language, they may work long hours or shifts, or they may just be like most of us, and simply can’t remember what a quadratic equation is.

Those with spare cash buy the homework support, in the form of after hours tutoring. In high school, where homework tasks contribute substantially to the course grade, homework is the great unequaliser, contributing to the achievement gap.

Busy work

Homework generally falls into two categories: practising or catching up on work done in the classroom, and creative extensions of work being done in the classroom. The latter – like making a fort out of cake – is really just busy work.

There are children who enjoy this busy out of school project work, but they don’t need a teacher to set a project for them. Kids find projects everywhere: they build the birdhouse they saw on the lifestyle channel, they create complicated archives for their card collections, they make shields out of paint can lids and they create secret languages for their secret clubs. Or they would, if they weren’t busy trying to make a fort out of cake.

Homework that involves practising or catching up on what was missed in class simply exacerbates the challenges those trailing students are already facing. If there is a child who is behind in classwork, an untrained parent is not going to achieve what a teacher is failing to. If success at school is dependent upon the work being sent home, then the work should be done at school.

There are enough hours in a school day to teach the curriculum. If a school thinks there aren’t, they should audit their use of the school day and teacher expertise. Colouring in, show and tell, roll call, whole school assemblies and assigning and marking homework during class are all examples of ineffective use of teachers’ skills and student learning time.

Homework does not enhance connections between home and the school

Perhaps the most beguiling of contemporary arguments for homework is that it provides the connection between home and school.

The raised voices and tears around the homework table suggest this particular home-school connection is rarely a productive one. Tired and emotional parents, feeling inadequate about their knowledge of improper fractions, helping tired and emotional children, feeling inadequate that they can’t understand what their parent is saying – and anyway it’s not what Ms J said in class today.

A recent photo story of a young child crying as she struggles with her homework makes a compelling case for how damaging homework can be for some.

Better connections between school and home are important, but homework seems more likely to kill the connection than build the connection.

So what should parents do?

Spend those precious after school hours talking to your children about anything and everything, reading to them and with them, loving them and being interested in them. It’s not work, but it is what home is for.

Join the conversation

77 Comments sorted by

  1. Arnd Liebenberg

    self-employed carpenter and joiner; exploring the possibilities of post-capitalist society

    Thank you, Misty.

    Actually, may I re-phrase this?

    THAAANK YOOUU, Misty!!!!

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  2. Dale Steinhardt

    Research Fellow at Queensland University of Technology

    Surely this is a little one-sided though? Certain tasks like maths, arts, music (theory and practice) and any topic requiring a certain degree of assumed knowledge (chemistry's periodic table, times tables, musical scales etc.) benefit from reinforcing, repetitive practice and allow a student to eventually move to more advanced considerations (e.g. formation of chemical compounds, algebra, music composition).
    Why is a child crying over their homework painted as only 'damaging'? I cried, got frustrated…

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    1. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Dale Steinhardt

      I don't think it's one sided. There have been debates about the worth of homework for a long time, but most people have assumed that it's a "no brainer". From memory, France has banned it!

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    2. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to Dale Steinhardt

      I'd like to add to your comment by saying that one of the most important aspects of homework at the lower school levels (i.e. pre senior secondary) is to instill a good, independent work ethic so that they have the fortitude to do the necessary and beneficial homework in years 11 and 12.

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    3. john davies
      john davies is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired engineer

      In reply to Sean Manning

      Agree, wholeheartedly Sean, particularly when I think about some of the things kids would be doing nowadays if they didn't have "homework." (The reason for the quotation marks is that I have never liked the term "work" in regard to learning. Learning is a good thing and shouldn't be considered that way.)

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    4. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to john davies

      As a tutor, one of the most common problems I encounter is students simply not doing the required home learning and this is primarily because they never developed good work habits early on.
      Maths in particular requires quite a bit of repetitive practice to become proficient, fast and exam ready.
      I almost always get an immediate increase in performance out of the kids simply because once a week someone is sitting down with them and making them do home learning.

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    5. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Sean Manning

      Should those habits be developed while at high school or at primary school, Sean?

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    6. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Dale Steinhardt

      Couldn't agree more Dale. Still, I think in primary school, there should be absolute max of 30 minutes, and only 3 or 4 days a week; except when that homework is merely completing work that was suppose to be finished in class, except your kid spent all their time gossipping and giggling.
      I have young kids who recently (or are about to) entered a Year, when the school officially starts homework. I generally support their policy so far, with a couple of exceptions (such as homework on anything to…

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    7. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to John Perry

      I'd say that they should be normalised from the earliest age while taking care to not overload children too soon. Provided the home learning is useful and appropriate.
      For example:
      Junior Primary home learning could be reading and talking about what they learned that day.
      Senior primary could include more repetitious tasks like maths problems as well as reading and talking about what they learned that day.

      You just step up the complexity and duration as they get older.

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    8. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Dale Steinhardt

      "times tables"

      I did not learn times table at home at all. I learnt them (extremely well) at school. As Misty says:

      "If there is a child who is behind in classwork, an untrained parent is not going to achieve what a teacher is failing to. If success at school is dependent upon the work being sent home, then the work should be done at school."

      Maybe the teaching of times tables at school is considered to be politically incorrect these days and so they think it's appropriate to fob it off onto parents. I think this situation is just appalling.

      "Pointing to pointless exercises like baking a medieval fort cake is a strawman argument"

      Maybe you didn't learn the difference between a strawman argument and an example at school or in homework.

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    9. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Dale Steinhardt

      "Surely this is a little one-sided though? Certain tasks like maths, arts, music (theory and practice) and any topic requiring a certain degree of assumed knowledge (chemistry's periodic table, times tables, musical scales etc.) "

      In the real world of serious professional practice, or industry or research, etc, do we actually use that kind of rote-learning, though? Do adults typically actually possess that kind of rote-learned mental photo, of, say, the multiplication tables? Do they need it…

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    10. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Luke Weston

      There is a lot of crap they cut out of primary school, including History, Civics and Citizenhip, Economics and Business.

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    11. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Sean Manning

      Shhhhh, … not so loud, Sean, It's the secret to excellence … i.e. good habits, disciplined approach to setting aside time for school work/revision/preparation, etc. Good habits need to start from young ….. but if some parents and teachers want to deny this …. yeah …good for the rest of us belivers and our children ….. less competition for the march towards excellence. … and the rest may well keep twiddling their thump.

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    12. David Hornsby

      Education Consultant

      In reply to Sean Manning

      Sean, as a physicist, you will know how important it is to look at research. You need to know the research on homework before you make these comments.

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    13. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to David Hornsby

      Research? For every research there are counter research findings, David. By the time we complete our analysis of the multitudes of research available and their counter findings, children would have left school.
      Personally we should worry less about what is out there and as parents focus on lovingly nurturing our brood and inculcating in the the desire for 'wanting to know'. Different children approach schooling (and homework) in different ways …. surely that should be ok. There are a diversity of schools and parents need to choose a school that aligns with their value. We as parents need to worry less and focus more on loving and gently guiding our own, remembering at all times that education is a life-long process.

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    14. Sean Manning

      Physicist

      In reply to David Hornsby

      I've done my own research on the 100+ students I've tutored over the years as well as on myself and my successful colleagues.

      Does that count?

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    15. Matthew Tucker

      IT

      In reply to Luke Weston

      yes and no

      helping my own kids who are now in early primary school ive realised just how much stuff needs to be learned by heart. Without knowing quite a large amount of basic stuff it just takes too long and is too frustrating to do more complex tasks. For example, basic facts like 3 +8 =11. A 5 year old will do this by counting on fingers. You and I just know the answer, we dont calculate it or look it up. Kids that dont learn enough by rote find it increasingly difficult to keep up when harder concepts are introduced

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    16. Matthew Tucker

      IT

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      How much is habit, or learned behaviour and how much is just the personality a child is born with (which doesnt change all that much from birth to grave)?

      It is all very well saying hard work is the secret, but the difficult problem that teachers and parents face is getting kids to do it. It is obvious when you have some experience with a range of children that some take very easily to doing practice, at home or school, and others do not.

      So at what point does cajoling a reluctant child into doing homework become counterproductive? It certainly reduces the quality of life for the parent and the rest of the family if you are having battles over homework every day

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  3. Mark Horner

    logged in via Facebook

    It's about having opportunities to learn, things to be interested in, things to get a handle on, things to master.

    If your environment at home, or school, is monotonous, drab, unsettling, frustrating, violent or unstable, you're not going to have time and mental space to learn, no matter what's in front of you that's *required* for you to do. Poor environments, poor time structure = poor experiences, poor knowledge.

    Taylorism is dead: let's stop trying to inflict it on kids. They don't learn like that, never have, never will: mountains of work destroying family lives at home are inherited from younger selves. What do you need to learn to be happy? How to master knowledge when you need it - not front-loading growing minds with unwarranted chunks of busywork.

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    1. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mark Horner

      Couldn't agree more Mark.

      Homework is great if you have a nice "Brady Bunch" upbringing. But a lot of kids simply don't have the time or space to do it.

      I grew up in a household that was relatively dysfunctional. I had a violent, alcoholic step father who was asking me: "why don't I have a job yet?" from the age of 16. Having homework to do with nowhere safe to do it just ended up with me repeating year 10. Many kids I went to high school with had it worse, with only 10-20% at the school making it from year 9 to year 12.

      I would have loved to have gone to uni to do either media, photography, or computer science. But by the time I finished year 12, I'd had a stomach full of home and school. I got a job (in a factory) ASAP and left home.

      It wasn't until years later that I took on some further education and began my real career as a software developer.

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  4. Mathieu Landry

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Perhaps the research shows no link between learning improvements...perhaps also there is a deeper flaw in some education systems worldwide than just homework...perhaps we need to dig deeper and looking at homework is barely scratching the surface...

    I think homework is not so much about learning as it is about responsibility, which is a valuable skill to develop IMO. Would you rather have your kid cry in school over silly problems or cry as a grown-up in University because the work ethics were…

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    1. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Mathieu Landry

      "Would you rather have your kid cry in school over silly problems ..." etc.

      Are you familiar with the work of Piaget? His findings are exactly the reason why we don't always treat children as miniature adults.

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    2. Mathieu Landry

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to John Perry

      Thanks John! I was indeed not familiar with the work of Piaget. Lots of insights and interesting viewpoints. A little vintage, but still interesting. With a very brief sample of his work, I would initially fall in the camp that considered the approach to his research flawed. It is somewhat circular to study your own children when you are the one teaching them (to some degree). As a young parent, and from my own observations, I have found the work of emotional intelligence psychologists to be more…

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    3. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Mathieu Landry

      I think my point is that I feel you were drawing a long bow with your "don't cry now so you don't cry later" analogy, and that your comment about "silly problems" appeared somewhat dismissive. Most times these problems are not "silly" to the children themselves, and it is important as adults to see things from their point of view - i.e. that the children don't yet have their worldview formed the way that adults do. Babies, to use another era of childhood, cry a lot because it's actually good for them. Children like to be "silly" because it's a part of how they are. Denying them these opportunities is damaging for them, and that's the point Piaget was trying to make.

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    4. Mathieu Landry

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Mathieu Landry

      I concede my initial choice of words was poor in order to express my thoughts. But my point was more "Cry now, because this is important, so you don't cry later, when it's more important". of course you don't tell the child that. I'm a firm believer that any emotion a child has is as important as any emotion at any other time (from that frame of reference). But taking an objective overview, the overall impact can be compounded to learn something at a later age that should've ideally been learned and internalized at an earlier age...in this sense, I'm expressing a 'what' that is exclusive of the 'how'.

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  5. Lydia Isokangas

    Australian

    Homework is a terrible thing for families - I would love to see it banned (especially from primary school).

    For all those people who say it instills discipline and without it the kids would just be playing computer games etc - think back to your own childhoods! When I was a kid I don't believe I had homework most days because my memory is filled with hours playing naughty tricks on the neighbours, watching afternoon TV and just generally wasting time. Despite all my time wasting ways (which…

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  6. Michelle Smith

    Research Fellow, Centre for Memory, Imagination and Invention at Deakin University

    As one of the "swats", who is "swotty" enough to know that the spelling is actually "swot", I think homework is valuable. It's not necessarily about the content, but about learning to work independently, without someone hovering over the top of you, and to be self-motivated. I think this is especially relevant with long-term projects that are given out in primary school where a topic must be researched over a course of time, illustrations drawn, the project text written or typed out etc. The ability…

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    1. Lydia Isokangas

      Australian

      In reply to Michelle Smith

      In primary school a 'long term' project should be no bigger than reading a longer book Michelle. In past generations children didn't get massive projects in primary school (or indeed in early high school)-they spent their free time in front of the TV.

      As a parent I strongly object to my 8 year old child getting a project that takes several days and hours to complete at home. Those kinds of projects are often done by other parents, so my child who has completed a wonky looking cardboard construction…

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    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Lydia Isokangas

      "As a parent I strongly object to my 8 year old child getting a project that takes several days and hours to complete at home."
      We haven't experienced this yet, but if it does happen, the teacher will be made aware that it is not on.

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    3. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Pity that your 8 yo has not been given written guidelines on the procedure of completing his project. Or he may have misplaced the instruction sheet. Projects are a way of getting students to research, to team work, to seek input from other sources (school library, parents, neighbours, uncles, etc) and incorporate them in creative ways. Project work is supposed to be completed progressively and sequentially (not more than 15-20 mins per day). Projects facilitate "learning by doing'. Teachers are also to monitor and guide student project work progressively in class. The effectiveness of any learning program is dependant on the initial introductory instructions and the continuos/progressive feedback by the subject teacher prior to the final product being assessed.

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    4. Lydia Isokangas

      Australian

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      My 8yr old child came home with the instruction sheet. She had to construct a model of a historical flying craft out of household items. She was lucky that we weren't preparing to move countries that year so we had a few toilet rolls, scrap paper and other bits and bobs lying about. Normally we keep a very minimalist household because we never know when we're upping sticks to go somewhere else in the world and now it just feels normal to not have a lot of stuff.

      For an 8yr old child this is…

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    5. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Lydia Isokangas

      I empathise with your frustration and irritation with schools that do not follow through with teaching-learning principles both re class work and homework.
      But … ahhh … no such relief re high school either, Lydia. One of my son's year 11 project was about the causes and impact of pollution in a particular river (his choice of topic) and we (his parents) had to cart him 2 hrs one way to get him to the that river location and back. This was on Sundays (Saturdays being devoted entirely to sport…

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    6. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      One would think so, eh. But it is normal practice in some schools. My tongue in cheek reference to his report as "theses" is to imply just that.
      Some parents shudder at the thought of grades 1 & 2 engaging in play activities that include notions of force, magnets, sound, light, and card games with names of elements (from the periodic table), or the reciting (sing along) of times tables and alphabets. It all depends on how age appropriate these activities are. Play activities are a powerful learning…

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    7. Lydia Isokangas

      Australian

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      My eldest son is in yr11 and there doesn't seem to be any huge projects like your son's on the horizon. The kind of support he needs from us is limited to providing a quiet place to study, the occasional drive to school and regular reminders to keep his study/computer gaming balance in order (i.e. a bit less gaming and a bit more studying :)) I hope that his school work support needs remains at this reasonable level as one of my children has special needs and as much as I want to help my Yr11 son…

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    8. Gayle Dallaston

      logged in via email @gayledallaston.com

      In reply to John Perry

      John, it's an interesting article especially with the claim that it is the poorer children who benefit from homework while it's the rich who don't want it.

      If the benefit of homework is that the parents see what their children are doing and can help fill gaps if necessary, why not set the homework for parents? Don't set "work", just require a signature to say that they've looked at and discussed what the children brought home to show them.

      I used to sign to say my children had read the readers from school which were years below their reading levels - but no way I was going to insist they read them. It was a useful exercise because it showed me why they found school so mind-numbing. Without the homework I might have assumed they were getting somewhere near an appropriate curriculum.

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    9. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Lydia Isokangas

      Bravo and good luck … all parents need some support … because what we do is actually nation building … simply priceless!!

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    10. Kay Harkness

      Secretary

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      What about the 'or not' kids "I can remember my homework 'or not'; I can make a good effort 'or not'; I can have my school work organised 'or not'; I can achieve good marks and glory 'or not'; I am interested in what the teacher wants me to know - NOT". Sometimes there's a reason for this attitude, often learning difficulties, often undiagnosed learning difficulties or learning difficulties that don't attract the attention of the education department. From my experience teachers don't encourage these kids, but let them drift down and out.

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  7. Sophie Chapman

    Teacher

    It's interesting that at least three of your examples about parents being unable to help their kids with their homework were to do with maths questions.

    I agree with you in some ways and disagree in others. I agree that sometimes homework is often given out for its own sake, which can be a waste of time, but there are other circumstances in which it is valid and can reinforce the learning done in the class previously. Sometimes students do just need to practice a skill.

    I also disagree that…

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  8. Jane Cresswell

    logged in via Facebook

    the only good thing homework achieved in this household was to identify my second son's learning differences...to me, his mother. how? through 3 school suspensions in 6 months in year one. as soon as school was out, the battle was on. shoes would be hurled at me from the back seat of the car as we headed home, hair pulled, seat kicked. arriving home and in an attempt to get the homework out of the way and establish a 'good routine', all hell would break loose, pages ripped from books, pencils snapped…

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  9. Debbie Williams

    Mother, Grandmother, Student

    Homework has always been a controversial issue with me.
    I know the hours that I had to spend doing it in high school and remember wishing that I could be doing something else.
    When my children went to school I encouraged them to do their homework and would help when I could.
    They never liked when their father helped as he would turn it into a lecture worthy of a professor.
    Now with my eldest grandson at school and seeing the language delay he had I see him not quite being up to speed. Getting…

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  10. Andrew Taylor

    Music Teacher

    Thank You Ms Adoniou! I agree completely and second your motion!

    Isn't it funny reading these BTL peoples' comments which are often completely untested assumptions. Please read about the Dunning Kruger Effect! Just because you can see the sun moving while you sit in your chair does not mean we have a flat-earth centred solar system (earthlar system anyone?). Just because one thinks homework is "good" doesn't mean it works. We even have a researcher here who implies that the research which Ms Adoniou…

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  11. Tim Comber

    Lecturer at Southern Cross University

    If homework is so good why not make the school day longer? Schools have proper study areas and could employ teaching aides. That way all kids would have the same conditions to do their work in and none of the distractions of home. Mind you I mostly never did homework. Got the cane and detention but that just reinforced my opinion that teachers were lazy, vicious and stupid.

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    1. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Tim Comber

      Excellent idea. Bravo! But are parents willing or prepared for the extra cost?
      Whoops … "teachers are lazy, vicious and stupid"… and now you are one of those lazy, vicious, stupid ones, Mr Lecturer? Welcome to the club! Most amusing!!! I love it.

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    2. Tim Comber

      Lecturer at Southern Cross University

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Past tense. Maybe I should have made myself more clear. As a school boy after being caned for not doing my homework I believed teachers were vicious. I also thought that they were stupid because they thought that caning and detention would encourage me to do homework. Finally I thought that they were lazy because I believed that they went home without homework to do whereas I was supposed to do homework, i.e. I thought that they worked a 6 hour day whereas I was expected to work 2 hours longer. My thoughts may have been wrong but it tainted my opinions of teachers for the rest of my school days. My point is that as teachers we have to be careful that what we are doing is actually having the desired result and not the complete opposite.

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    3. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Tim Comber

      Naaah, I'd still like to buy into your original claim … it was really hilarious and I laughed till it hurt. This actually can be an original joke, Tim. I shall remember this for a very looooong time to come, especially when I need something to lighten up m'day.
      Seriously, thanks for clarifying …. makes sense.

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  12. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Thanks Misty. People should follow the link to the RESEARCH. Some of the comments to Dale S's post remind me of arguments for teaching creation science or the curent version intelligent design: they sound good, reasonable even, but they are simply not supported by the RESEARCH. What amazes me is purported scientists who think their OPINION is more correct than the RESEARCH. Laboratories are not the only place where RESEARCH occurs. (so many exasperated expletives deleted I lost count).

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  13. Michael Mihajlovic

    Retired

    I believe that the purpose of homework, amongst other things such as motivation, is primarily to:
    1. Practice and reinforce what you have been taught in class.
    2. Have items that you have not understood, or fully understood, explained by your parent or tutor. This is most important to prevent you falling behind in class. Falling behind can have disasterous consequences. Often a simple problem (not only in maths concepts) can be explained to you in a moment that may take you hours to ponder and ultimately without success.

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    1. Troy Howard

      Mechanic at -

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      Michael you make the assumption that outside the hours of school the student has access to someone who can properly explain what they didn't grasp fully in class. Not always the case.

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  14. Katherine Lyall-Watson

    Doctor of Creative Writing, University of Queensland

    Thank you, Misty.

    I couldn't agree more. I have two children in high school and have battled teachers and schools over excessive homework - especially in primary school.

    For me, the issue is that homework is inequitable. Children who have space to themselves, desks in their rooms, computers at home and parents who can assist or pay for tutors, will always have an unfair advantage.

    The child who comes home to look after younger siblings and help cook dinner can't compete. And for children who are learning English as a second language and have non-English speaking parents, the challenges are immense.

    If the homework is essential learning, then it should be taught in school hours. If it's reinforcing what has already been learnt in class, then make it shorter so that children can still play and be children.

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  15. Mathieu Landry

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    I still think 'homework' is an easy and cheap scapegoat for deeper underlying social and educational problems. WYSIWYG. That being said, I clearly agree with the 'research' and think a reform needs to happen. This reform however should come from teachers and parents and not from some detached ivory-tower education government unit.

    I also agree that homework is not a good term. Lessons maybe? Students don't need more 'work', they've been 'working' all day in class. I think these reformed lessons should be aimed at fostering curiosity, self-learning and creativity. These lessons shouldn't take too much time and they should be simple enough to allow individual tailoring to foster a deeper sense of self and attachment to the community/collectivity. You grow knowledge by learning, you develop skills through practice. There should be a happy balance somewhere...but what do I know, I'm from Canada ;-)

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  16. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    "Parents rarely have the expertise to fill in gaps in their children’s understandings of concepts...If there is a child who is behind in classwork, an untrained parent is not going to achieve what a teacher is failing to...Tired and emotional parents, feeling inadequate about their knowledge of improper fractions..."
    The problem is Misty, over the past 30 years, the education levels, and training, of school teachers, especially primary school teachers, have fallen so far, while university enrolments have sky-rocketed. I can assure you there are millions of parents out there filling in the gaps of their kid's teacher's knowledge, whether its long division, grammar, history, or world geography.

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    1. Liam J

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Ditto re 'filling in gaps'. Long division simply isn't taught, math in general isn't practiced enough to be properly remembered, & natural sciences are barely mentioned. Makes daily homework mandatory by yr8, imho, but yes limit its duration.

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    2. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Liam J

      The thing we were always so worried about in returning to Australia was that our kid's primary school teachers would be all women, never taught English Literature, let alone grammar, and mathphobic. So the missus and I took turns staying home when they were babies, making sure they had mastered enough reading and numeracy so they could still cruise through their first two years of school, even with the least educated/skilled teacher. Fortunately things have turned out much better than we feared…

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    3. Liam J

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Interesting Andy, hope your dilligence & faith is rewarded! I'm more of a cynic and so conciously chose jobs that have allowed more time at home to coach kid in math & natural sciences, with history & literature getting frequent fleshing out. Perhaps as a consequence she does too often find school boring, but we're well aware of importance of social skills and so will keep her in (rural state high) school regardless.

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  17. Matthew Tucker

    IT

    Good quality practice will result in better learning outcomes.

    So it isnt really a question of homework, or no homework

    but what type and how much

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  18. Jill Sampson

    visual artist

    Homework, ARGH! We have tears and frustrations far too often. Instead of building on their skills of working with and riding horses, instead of the teaching studio of the natural environment, instead of being involved in the regular work of the family vege garden, instead of participating in the home tasks that must be learned to become an independent adult, my children are doing the must do homework tasks and often making it into a very long winded and pointless exercise because they would rather…

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  19. Gayle Dallaston

    logged in via email @gayledallaston.com

    The one useful thing that homework does is provide an indicator of how the child feels about school.

    If they are enjoying school and find the work interesting and useful, they probably won't mind doing it and might even enjoy it. If they are having issues at school, for whatever reason, once the school day is over they'll want to forget about school and enjoy life. Homework then becomes an invasion into their home and destructive to family life.

    If schools are doing their job well, children…

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  20. Morag Gaherty

    logged in via Facebook

    So far (I've 'only' read about 60 comments), I haven't seen John Holt's name mentioned. He was a great believer in trusting children to learn for themselves. Which means parental enthusiasm for learning, not lots of homework. When my two boys started school (they are now 15 and 13), I made itclear to them that I would not be checking any homework or spellings, and that I was only interested in them learning how to read and how to think. Also, on the walk to school, I used to pick an arbitrary number…

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  21. Teresa L Reinhart

    retired teacher

    I have a copy of a homework report card from 1918 when my grandmother was teaching in a one room school house. The homework tasks listed were daily chores such as
    feeding and watering chickens, gathering eggs, currying a horse, scrubbing the floor
    or healthy habits like
    sleeping with the window open, clean hands and nails (teacher to judge)
    practicing a musical instrument was on the list - this was seen as a social skill
    Each child had to have so many homework points each week.

    Endless math…

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  22. Marley Howards

    logged in via Facebook

    Homework, no matter how much we justify its existence or its non-existence, will always be a part of school life. I say we make the best of it by not stressing too much and not make it a measure of how good a students has become. Marl of Homework-desk.com

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  23. Tony Sarno

    Editor

    Thank god more people are starting to question homework. My conclusion is that homework is the lazy teacher's way of teaching. Rather than engaging and inspiring kids to learn in class, it's so much easier just to outsource the work to the kids (and exasperated parents) at home.

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  24. Obi Stardust

    Assistant Principal

    Well crafted Misty - you covered the topic beautifully.
    To my way of thinking homework should never be compulsory.
    In a 24/7/365 learning environment that technology has afforded us, self directed learners can follow their own paths.
    Teachers should act as homework guides rather than policers of irrelevance.
    A castle made of cake? Give me strength!
    Just hope the twit specified surrounding it with gingerbread peasants slaving away at shoring up the fortifications.

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  25. john davies
    john davies is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired engineer

    So after all that, as in so many things, one lesson is you can't generalise on important subjects such as this, as the article did.

    "Homework" - some is good, some isn't. What's good for some isn't good (even bad) for others. As in all aspects of education so much depends on parental involvement and sufficient/adequate teaching resources.

    A good conversation!

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  26. John Kling

    Project Manager

    Thank you, Misty. It will make it much easier for myself and my children to rise above the people who will not do homework, who will not practice and refine their skills.

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  27. Boo Long

    logged in via Facebook

    "Swats" Is the act of flattening a wasp. The act of intense revision is "swots".
    Good to know educational journalists have such high standards of spelling.

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  28. Boo Long

    logged in via Facebook

    The O level days were great. I worked out, age 14 or so, that the one hour of detention every Thursday was a great deal compared to the two hours of homework we were set each night, and never did any at all for those last two years. I passed seven O levels by listening in class and turning up for the exam at the end of the year.
    I felt sorry for the kids a couple of years later when Thatcher's government had introduced GCSEs which tested work ethic (coursework) as well as intelligence.

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  29. Lesley Stace

    school administrator

    Perhaps consider reading the research that indicates that it is parental involvement in children's lives and education that makes the biggest differences to their educational outcomes. Perhaps let go of petty resentments from your own educational experiences instead of allowing yourself to quickly jump to assumptions because that's what school was like for you and to guide your decision making about how you interact with schools and your children's teachers. I agree about the busy work and the entirely…

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