homework debate

The Never Ending Homework Debate

“How much homework do you have?” What parent hasn’t asked that question when picking up carpool or when their child enters the house after school? It might not be the first question a mom or dad asks their child, but it definitely follows after something like, “How was your day?” And it is the last question a child wants to hear at the end of the school day, unless, of course, the answer is “nothing.” In that case, “NOTHING” might be boldly proclaimed.

Horace Mann — The Father of Homework

Homework has a long history dating back to ancient Rome. The invention of homework did not involve any written work as it is generally defined today. Supposedly, the first homework assignment was in the form of public speaking practice. In an attempt to build confidence and fluency in their speeches, Pliny the Younger (an oratory teacher) asked students to practice public speaking at home. Following this at-home oratory practice, the idea of written homework took hold starting with Horace Mann. A politician and educational reformer, Mann started in Germany to promote mandatory at-home assignments for students. This idea spread across Europe and eventually made its way to America.

Homework soon became a daily activity for students here.

The concept of homework has endured a turbulent roller-coaster-ride history. Over the years, anti-homework sentiments have been expressed and bans have been imposed by those opposed to the concept of homework. However, on the other side, proponents of homework argue that it enhances the quality of education and gives American students a competitive edge over other nations, especially in the fields of science and math. Universal agreement has never been reached and most likely never will be.

The Pandemic Halts Homework

The pandemic forced a lull in the homework load. Responding to the COVID-19 crisis and being sensitive to the issues every family was experiencing, teachers made a conscious decision to go easy on the homework load. In some schools, administrators told their faculty not to assign homework until we could move beyond the pandemic phase and into a more “normal” state. Teachers were also experiencing a myriad of emotions — dealing with their own school-age children, worrying about aging parents or simply being consumed by all the what-ifs circulating around COVID. Life was physically and emotionally exhausting on many levels, so everyone welcomed a break from homework.

The Year of the Comeback

The vaccine rollout along with booster shots has helped to build a greater sense of confidence and security. With anxiety decreasing and fear diminishing, the 2021-22 school year might well be dubbed, “The year of the comeback.” A comeback to the classroom watching students interact with each other and faculty has been our hope. In-person learning again raises questions surrounding the dilemma over homework. There are never any easy answers to this dilemma, but perhaps there are some important questions for educators to ponder before assigning homework.

Five Questions

One expert in curriculum development has been studying homework for years even before the pandemic. Denise Pope, along with a team of colleagues from Stanford University, offers five questions for teachers to contemplate prior to assigning homework. The questions are intended to help educators assign homework that is interesting and engaging.

  1. Do students understand the value and purpose of the assignment?
  2. Will all students be able to do the task independently?
  3. Is this assignment better done in class?
  4. How much time should this assignment take?
  5. What kind of feedback should I provide?

Designing homework assignments with these questions in mind might yield more positive results and create less stress for students and families.

Finding an answer to the homework debate that pleases teachers, students and parents may not be possible. It is a question that has plagued generations and will most likely continue to do so. Being on a team means making practices to ensure peak performance for games; being in a band means showing up for practices to demonstrate high-quality performances at concerts and being a student means putting in effort and time beyond the classroom to reach one’s potential and meet with success. Knowing that the brain is like a muscle and needs the reinforcement that comes from practice both in school and at home motivates us to keep exploring creative options.


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