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Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Homework Debate

Winnie Hu, writing in TheNew York Times, raises the issue of homework and its importance. The general premise is that pupils are being asked to devote more and more time to out-of-class tasks and assignments, at the expense of time spent playing, socialising and interacting with parents.

Research shows that whilst homework in small doses can reinforce basic skills and help young children develop study habits, increasing the amount of homework produces ever diminishing returns. In one US school district a formula of 10 minutes per year ‘grade’ is being applied to calculate the maximum amount of homework set per day (e.g. 30 minutes for pupils in Grade 3), and weekend and holiday homework is being dropped entirely.

There is however an increasing global emphasis on exam grades and ‘high-stakes testing’ in schools, and opposition to a reduction in homework comes from teachers and parents alike - who might argue that ‘you must study more, not less, in order to succeed’.
A recent documentary on stress, disaffection and burn-out in the American school system (Race to Nowhere) has raised awareness about the issue, and film maker Vicki Abeles says “There is simply no proof that most homework as we know it improves school performance...the presence of schoolwork at home is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”
Donna Taylor, principal of a school for the gifted and talented, thinks “people confuse homework with rigour,” and goes on to suggest that homework for children under 11 primarily benefits parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom. Taylor has made homework optional in her school. Elsewhere in America teachers are replacing homework with “goal work” that is specific to individual student’s needs and that can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace.
It would seem that, whilst it is generally accepted that working hard will improve exam performance, there is a need for homework tasks to be clearly thought out, meaningful and manageable.
Thanks to Julian Girdham for alerting us to this topic.

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