There is so much information flying around about whether homework is worthwhile or not, it's hard to know where to start. Just last week, the French president said that one of his educational reforms is to do away with homework because some students get help from parents at home, while others do not. A 2006 Duke University study, based on a review of 60 homework studies, found that homework is most beneficial for students in 7th-12th grades, especially when there's not too much of it.
Some schools assign a lot of homework while others don't give any. Some teachers within the same school give more than others. And some parents demand it while others hate it. Beliefs about what is important differ from school to school, classroom to classroom, household to household. Who is right?
I always assign homework. Beyond the debatable academic benefits, I think it teaches a life skill: responsibility. Some teachers hand out a packet on Monday that is due Thursday or Friday. I like to give homework each night so my students get used to bringing their work home, completing it and bringing it back the following day. I might assign some work on Monday that is due on Friday, but for the most part, it's an evening ritual and I stay away from weekend assignments Do I assign hours and hours of busy work? Countless pages? No. Never. As a 1st - 5th grade teacher, I never assign more than an hour, and for younger kids, just enough for them to practice a skill at home.
If I think parents or students might not understand why I have given a particular assignment, I'll include a sentence explaining why (i.e. 100 10 addition problems: "This will help make addition second nature."). I differentiate homework assigned depending upon the student's ability, so homework is not too easy or too hard.
To my mind, there are three reasons for homework.
1. Memorize facts, like subtraction problems, the states in the U.S. or the continents
2. Review something taught in class that day
3. Begin or continue work on a project
If it falls out of one of those topics, I don't assign it. Period. I am also sure to differentiate homework depending upon the ability levels of my students, so the work isn't too easy or too hard.
Reading should also be a part of homework, no less than 20 minutes per evening. Developing consistent reading habits in the home is the most important homework of all.
So, as a parent, do your homework: check and see if your kid's nightly assignments fit into one of the categories I mention or whether is it just busy work meant to keep kids occupied. That'll get you more involved in your child's school-work, which is a nightly assignment you should be completing anyway.
(Updated 3:15 p.m. to correct an editing error)