Homework or not?

back-to-school-2680730_1280.jpgHomework has been a hot issue for a number of years. The question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains controversial. I myself have tried to answer the question Homework or not (and if so, how much)? because it affects me on two levels – as a parent and a language teacher. The truth is that if you are too strict and give your students a lot of homework, some parents will inevitably accuse you of robbing their kids of a normal childhood. On the other hand, if you are a proponent of the no-homework policy, some parents might complain about a lack of academic rigour. One way or the other, it’s simply impossible to please everyone.

What does research say on the topic of homework? According to this article, academic research on the effectiveness of homework is murky; studies have shown a spectrum of results spanning from conclusions that homework is the key to academic success to those saying homework is a waste of student time that damages home life.

In The Battle Over Homework, Harris M. Cooper determined that the average correlation between the time primary children spent on homework and achievement was around zero. Professor Robert H. Tai found no significant relationship between time spent on homework and grades but did find a positive relationship between homework and performance on standardized tests. In this paper, the authors find that homework plays an important role in student learning, especially so for students who initially perform poorly in the course.

The author of this article (in Czech) argues that homework goes against the principles of psycho-hygiene. When you come back home from school or work, you should rest and/or do the things you like. Only workaholics keep working at home. She isn’t against homework completely, though. Homework should be justified and personalized, she says.

Some people support the “10-minute rule” designed by the National PTA. It suggests that 10 minutes per a grade should be assigned (e.g., 70 minutes for 7th grade). However, there is not sufficient proof that homework is helpful for students in elementary school. Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, asks: “Does homework cause achievement, or do high achievers do more homework?”

Well, my youngest son, who is in class five at primary school, usually has little homework to do when he comes home from school. He arrives at around 2 pm, gets his books ready for the next day and is free to go about his own business. On most days, however, he has some after-school activities, but otherwise, he has plenty of free time.

To be completely frank, if my son wasn’t currently preparing for a high stakes entrance exam, I would be absolutely happy with his school’s policy. So it probably all boils down to what the parents expect of education and what they want for their children.

Ambitions aside, as a parent as well as a teacher I believe that homework could and should be one of the ways to engage families in learning. After all, the word homework implies that the tasks assigned at school should be done at home, not during the breaks between classes, which, based on my experience, is often the case. The quality is more important than quantity here. In other words, less is often more. In my opinion, it’s good to give students a bit of homework regularly so that their parents get a gist of what their kids are currently working on at school. Also, students should know why they are assigned a particular assignment. If they see no point and purpose in what they are doing, they will merely copy their homework from their classmates, with absolutely no remorse. Some of the purposes of homework could be practicepreparationextension, or integration of skills and concepts.

What do you think?

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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6 Responses to Homework or not?

  1. Ah, finally an issue on which there is no ambiguity in my heart. For my context (where students are young learners come for one hour a week of English lesson and *that is all the English most of them get for the whole week*), the only possible answer is homework. The rest of the answer is communication with the parents about goals and how best to support their kids’ language learning. Also, the homework doesn’t have to be torture. We even give homework to 3-year-olds – watching YouTube playlists that the school has curated and that change every month. They watch one playlist a day, a few times a week, and parents send us videos of their kids singing songs from the playlists while doing other things, or dancing in front of their TVs, or (in one very extreme case involving a keen 4-year-old who wants to be an English teacher when he grows up) conducting family English class in the morning. Every morning.
    For myself as a student I also need homework. And it isn’t just about exposure. I live in an immersive environment, but homework helps me focus specifically on what I need to learn next to develop my language skills. Only after I learn a new pattern or words and study them for homework, I start hearing them everywhere.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      It seems that in your teaching context, homework makes perfect sense. When I think about it, in the ELT context, homework is always justifiable, simply because it’s not possible to acquire a foreign language if you have 3-4 lessons per week tops (let alone just one!). Any extra exposure is always to the good. And honestly, none of my students would be any good at English if they didn’t immerse themselves in it voluntarily after they come back home from school. Thanks for your comment, Anne!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Hana,
    I agree with Anne’s and your comments above, and I like the idea of the playlists from Anne’s school. I think that homework with language learning and other ‘skill’ subjects like music is different to ‘information’ subjects like history or chemistry, as it’s a question of habit formation. In order to successfully acquire a skill, you have to practise it regularly, and one or two lessons a week just isn’t enough. But as Anne says, it doesn’t need to be torture – it’s most effective if it’s something that students actually want to do, as that way they’re more likely to repeat it and thus form the habit that they need to.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. swisssirja says:

    Hi Hana,
    I have very mixed feelings about homework. But my feelings depend on the teaching / learning context and I guess as such make sense. I don’t approve of homework in primary school. What Anne expalined in her comment is far from the reality I have faced with my three kids. Filling in handouts and doing lists nad lists of calculations has turned quite a few of our family evenings into tear-filled dramas. Not to mention that once they get home, round 4.30, I do feel they are entitled to other things than continuing what they have been doing at school whole day long. What’s more (and I think this is a very important point to make), Switzerland is a very multi-cultural country. Kids come from extremely varied backgrounds. There are pupils whose parents barely speak French (or German, or Italian). So these kids are automatically at disadvantage when it comes to homework.
    As for my own teaching context, homework is a must as I only have two classes (and that in one day) a week with each group. However, I am still trying to find the most efficient and sensible way for homework. The problem is that many students (aged 16 to 20) simply don’t do theirs, so the beginnings of lessons can be rather frustrating AND annoying as too much time goes into ‘who hasn’t done their homeowrk’ bla-bla-bla kind of thing. Anyhow, I’m working on it and trying to find ways to make it work.
    I personally, would want my language teacher to give me homework, so that I can work at my own pace, going over my personal difficulties and taking the time to truly understand. Having said that, the amount of homeowrk should still be reasonable. My husband was put off by his German teacher who gave such amounts of homework that it simply wasn’t possible to do for an adult working person.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Hana
    Thank you for this blog post.
    With such limited exposure, it’s typical that we think our learners could do with a bit of constructive revision and language reinforcement when they are not in class- after all most learners I teach only get 3 hours contact with me a week. Some YLs and adults may have other forms of real-world contact and necessity to actually use the resource they have e.g. online computer games and work related activities, but many don’t.
    If you work from a coursebook, as I do, you may use the accompanying workbook for homework. You know asking learners to complete a few gap fills is okay but it’s torturous for some, and I’m not convinced it’s really the best use of time for someone trying to make gains in their abilities to use the language. Why do we set it? Possibly because it ‘looks’ like homework, and our learners expect it.
    A better use of time may be some constructive watching and listening, research on a topic of interest, or polling friends and family etc. At least something of that ilk, which to me appears more meaningful and engaging and possibly something many of my learners may want to do. It increases exposure to language but appears less like homework. Fundamentally, I think our learners should be doing something in English between lessons, however what that something is might need to be re-evaluated and possibly be bespoke to the learner and their group. If they are willing to play ‘Fortnite’ in English, we might be able to harness and exploit that as a medium for learning and limit the use of gap fills for homework.


  5. Ephraim Binyamin says:

    Wow, Homework is such a loaded topic! I’m not sure if we need studies to tell us of its effectiveness; doing extra work on a learned topic will almost inevitably bring about greater levels of understanding.The true crux of the matter is a psychological issue, if not sociological.
    It is my opinion that homework should only be given when students need to complete projects that can’t be fit in to class time. The idea of giving further exercises for the student to complete in every class, or every day isa damaging concept. I agree that can improve students’ performance on tests and the like, but the extra stress on the students is something that in today’s world we could really live without.

    Liked by 1 person

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