This article explores some of the history of homework and also a few homework alternatives.
If you end your class with homework and you hear groans, it may be time to stop and ask why. Of course, this is nothing new and it knows no boundaries, geographically at least, from what I hear from colleagues. Homework and a collective groan following its announcement have been around for many years now, since formal schooling began.
If you are surprised to hear this because your students always respond enthusiastically to assignments, I’d like to buy you coffee and grill you! I am sure everyone would like to know how you do it.
I was reading about the pros and cons of homework, and I want to talk about that, and address these questions: Why do we give homework? Why should it be scrapped (or not scrapped) from schools? And what are its alternatives?
The Purpose of Homework
Homework, as far as I know, has no known creator but it is believed to have been around since formal schooling began. Its purpose was and continues to be knowledge acquisition and practice. Depending on the type of assignment, we use this as a way for students to learn through repetitive activities and practice, or to expand their understanding with further research and hands-on learning that projects and experiments enable. They can also be used to get students to prepare for a new lesson.
Students seem to regard it as a form of punishment and ‘I hate homework’ is a common reaction. If you have ever taught a class, you know how creative students can get with their excuses for not doing their homework. Umm…the dog ate my homework, anyone?
Should We Scrap Homework?
Some educators and parents feel homework is stressful. They feel too much time spent on academics takes away the time kids need to play and engage in leisure activities. So where does that leave us? We can’t deny that homework has its merits, and that it may go beyond knowledge acquisition. It encourages students to practice discipline, learn responsibility, work independently (well, almost), manage their time, and engage in the process of learning outside the school environment in their own space.
So, homework has its benefits, students seem to have an inherent dislike toward homework, a set of parents think it is a pain, and not all educators agree that it actually leads to academic success. Again, I find myself standing at the crossroads with a thought bubble hovering over my head, asking, “To give homework or not to give homework?”
Alternatives to Traditional Homework
Perhaps the answer is not to give homework the boot but to instead give it a makeover. Maybe this is just about new ways to do it, and a lot of us are already doing it. A couple of my own rules sound like this:
- Never ever use homework as punishment
- Ask students how they want to do the assignment – some of them have great suggestions
- Avoid the usual drills and instead suggest alternatives like watching a video, making a collage, taking a quiz on a mobile app and comparing scores in class etc
- Keep it to 15-20 minutes.
I am trying to change the way they view homework, make them a part of the homework process by coming up with ideas, and find new ways for them to practice and prepare without turning it into an overwhelming task.
I’d love to know an alternative to traditional homework that you use in the classrooms, and the kind of response you get from students.