Homework or no homework? This seems like a radical question to many raised in the generations where skill-and-drill worksheets were the norm and homework ruled the out-of-school hours. In many schools and educational models, such as the flipped classroom, “homework” is still very much alive. But there are also educators who are moving away from traditional models of homework, questioning its efficacy, and bringing to light disparities that exist in the levels of resources and support that different families offer their children when it comes to completing their homework. In some schools, the expectation that students will come to class with neat, carefully completed homework tasks is an unfair expectation due to conditions entirely outside of the child’s control.
Many children, when they leave the regulated environments of their classrooms, return to home environments that are unstable, perhaps even chaotic, not digitally connected, and bereft of books, to articulate just a few of a litany of sad realities. Children lead complex lives that bear little resemblance to the happy nuclear family with an adult at home able to supervise and assist their children as they complete their worksheets, do their science fair projects, and happily march to the local library for fodder for their latest book report.
In other situations, it is less of an equity issue than a teacher-load issue. Teachers just don’t have the bandwidth to provide meaningful feedback on homework on top of their already too-full plates. And there is also the question of whether homework matters—does it really reinforce learning? Or does it possibly reinforce misconceptions? Does it improve student acquisition of knowledge and skills?
The bottom line is that students outside of the classroom become just children—and children are always learning. If parents want to support this learning, they don’t need formal homework assignments to create a home environment where learning, curiosity, reading and writing are valued family activities. In fact, when not connected directly with homework, such tasks might take on the sheen of “fun” rather than responsibilities. Parents can, and should, keep connected with what is happening in the classroom and take opportunities to expand on it in creative, collaborative ways.
Research has shown that one of the best ways to reinforce learning is to model it. Read together. Write stories together about pets, imaginary friends and family members. Show your children what it looks like to be a life-long learner. Lack of formal homework assignments does not in any way mean lack of intentional, supportive learning opportunities at home. It just means more freedom, and perhaps, more fun.
Nicole Zdeb is a Senior Assessment and Design Specialist and Northwest Evaluation Association. Focusing on the interplay between assessment, teaching, and learning, Nicole Zdeb researches educational topics, analyzes ed policy.