Homework: Is it really as important as you think?

Is homework really as important as you think? Whether you’re teaching digitally, in-person, or a combination of both this article focuses on an area that has been debated for years.   

​Homework has been part of school culture for decades.  However, just because it’s always been done, it doesn’t mean it should continue.  Let’s take a look at a few questions to help us determine if homework should still have the importance it once had within your classroom.

What’s the purpose?  

Why do you give students homework?  Is it because you’ve always done it?  Or is it because your administrator tells you to give homework?  Maybe it’s because the parents in your class expect it?  Or is there a different reason?

My purpose for assigning homework is to provide students with the opportunity to practice what they’re learning at a level that works best for them.

What does the research say? 

John Hattie, one of the leading researchers in what works best for student achievement, ranks homework as not having the effective levels needed to show sufficient achievement in elementary school.  Homework ranked at 0.15 for elementary students and 0.64 for secondary students.  Anything below 0.4 has a negligible effect.

This research shows that homework for elementary students isn’t an area for teachers to spend much of their effort on.  However, secondary teachers need to spend more time on answering the next two questions since it does have an effect on their students.

Does it enhance student learning? 

If the purpose of homework is to drill and kill, then it doesn’t really enhance the student’s learning.  If students can show understanding in the first 5 responses, then why give them 30 more? This wastes valuable time that they could use for something else.  Before you assign homework, make sure it will enhance student learning instead of stifling it.

Does it include choice? 

When students have choices of how they practice, they are more invested and more willing to put effort into their own learning.  Every student is different.  By providing choices you give them a chance to show their understanding in a way that is best for them.

What have I done with my own students?

I’ve primarily taught upper elementary school.  A few years ago I changed my philosophy on homework.  I hadn’t seen much improvement in student performance by assignment homework and it was a battle to get those who needed the extra practice to actually complete the assignments.  Instead I assigned homework choice boards each week.  Students choose at least 3 activities to complete for homework.  When finished, they cut out the square and turn it in for a weekly homework drawing.  The more activities they completed, the better chances they had to win!  The choices included activities in the areas of reading, writing, vocabulary, math, typing, and physical activity. 

I also assigned a monthly reading log to encourage nightly reading.  The reading log provided students the opportunity for choices on what they read and how they responded to an end of the month paragraph writing prompt.  Since my students would be joining secondary soon I wanted to make sure they were prepared for what was coming in the future, while still enjoying the extra work. They loved the reduced work and actually challenged themself to complete more.

Three teenage girls busy with homework at desk

Updated: November 28, 2022

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