Homework can improve achievement

It should be no surprise to anyone that the right kind of homework, for the right reasons and in the right amount, can improve a student’s academic success. Yet, as I wrote yesterday, some parents are trying to stop that practice altogether.

Why? Because it seems that some parents feel that classroom teachers are simply giving out busy work, like worksheets with exercises that apparently have no purpose other than to eat up huge chunks of valuable after-school family time. However, are those exercises what we used to call drills about mastery — say of the times tables, multiplication and division? If so, they serve a very important purpose.

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Some homework important for “learning”

There seems to be a battle brewing on the homework front, possibly due to a misunderstanding by those on both sides of this debate. Here, for example, are some links to articles about parents fighting back — particularly Tom and Shelli Milley who just signed a “no homework” pact with the Calgary Catholic School District.

Yet, lost in this whole argument seems to be a misunderstanding of what “learning” is all about and what internal/cognitive strategies children and youth need to acquire skills and knowledge — technically referred to as assimilating and accommodating new learning.

So, for me, as a former learning specialist, the key point I want to make here is to explain that all students (no matter what their age) need time to learn “how to learn” strategies that many of us take for granted — like repeated readings, repetition and verbal rehearsal. And, small amounts of homework — depending on a child’s age — could accommodate that requirement.

Now, for those who are asking themselves why teachers can’t simply do all this during school hours, the answer is that it is no longer possible to do so (if it ever was). I mean, schools used to be about language arts, math, phys ed, social studies and science.

Now, however, teachers must also teach about dental hygiene, keyboarding, navigating the Internet, sex education, equity and inclusive education, world religions, and no doubt subject areas I don’t even know about.  Yet, there are still only so many hours in a school day!

So, the crux of the matter is that homework can be and, in fact, should be a very important tool for “assimilating” what is learned at school. What it shouldn’t be, however, is an either/or battle between family life and school. Because, some targeted homework can serve a very important purpose.  

Something both parents and teachers should think about because the consequences later in life could be profound. In other words, do I disagree with the Milley’s contract? You bet I do and for very important reasons.