Should we ban homework or is it really a vital part of learning today?

Love it or hate it, most teachers assign homework tasks because of school policies and community expectations. BUT, should we abandon tradition and ban homework?

The YES camp

  • Insists that homework reinforces and offers opportunity to practise and perfect skills.
  • It bridges school and home, giving parents an insight and connection with what’s being taught.
  • Homework builds character, independence and organisation skills.

The NO camp

  • Believes that after a long day of lessons and confinement, children need time to relax, play and explore their interests and sporting activities.
  • Homework adds stress to an already busy family life: instead of being something positive to share, homework often explodes into tears, screaming, tantrums and frustration.
  • It doesn’t really help students develop and organisation skills, because it is the parents and/or tutors who plan, timetable and manage the tasks.

Do you belong to either of these camps?

The reality is that all families and kids are NOT the same. Obvious, I know, but this fact is ignored when it comes to homework sheets.

One child sits at a desk, surrounded by books, stationary and an interested, capable parent or tutor to help and advise. Another child struggles to find a pencil, somewhere to sit and has frazzled parents who are juggling, work, meals and survival!

In class, all teachers acknowledge and cater for difference in ability, achievements, learning styles and personalities, yet it is impossible to extend this to homework. Teachers can’t cater for the immense differences: sometimes we don’t even understand students’ home situations. I was surprised when talking to an 8 year old student, to discover that she was cooking, cleaning and caring for her younger siblings, because her parents were working many hours, saving for a home. How trivial my homework tasks seemed!

Homework already consumes teacher time and effort. Creating, printing, distributing, collecting, marking, recording and providing feedback: all takes time and commitment. And, I must admit, my commitment wavered as I struggled to make tasks meaningful.

What are your memories of homework?

I remember, as a student, becoming very adept at writing on the school bus! I anticipated every stop and turn, and wrote throughout the 20-minute trip. I’d have loved a homework ban!

As a teacher, I remember, one day, the usual groans and moans as I distributed the homework sheets. Without thinking, I offered an alternative: “either complete the sheet and hand it in, or write me a letter explaining why you couldn’t. BUT, I’ve been teaching for 100 years, and your excuse needs to be something I have never heard before.”

100% response! Wonderful, creative, imaginative letters, complete with illustrations, parent comments and even photographs. This is the challenge for teachers, to make homework meaningful and engaging, and it isn’t always possible, is it?

Recently, in my locality, there’s been a new development: schools are offering optional homework. It is no longer an obligation: parents can choose if their child will participate.

In this attempt to appease both sides of the homework debate, I think these schools have made it impossible for teachers to set meaningful tasks.

The homework can no longer include important or vital, tasks as some students aren’t involved. As a teacher, at one of these schools, what tasks would you create?

I’d like to set some STEM challenges or personal projects, with lots of freedom of choice, so students are enthusiastic, creative and forced to think, invent and succeed.

What do you think?

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