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What Counts as Homework?

Homework Help - Homework TipsIt’s an interesting phenomenon. Ask a preschooler to name one thing that they most look forward to when they move on to grade school and you’re likely to hear “getting homework” somewhere toward the top of the list. Ask a student in middle school to list the things they like most about school and the response is likely to be “lunch, recess, and not getting homework.” Pose the question to a high school student, and homework is rarely mentioned. Why the difference in responses? What does the research tell us about homework at different times in a student’s educational career? And what should parents and educators do to ensure that homework is a positive and productive ingredient in a child’s school experience?

In Search of a Definition

Look for a definition of the word “homework” and you’re likely to find descriptions that include:

  • Preparatory school work done outside school (especially at home)
  • Work that is planned or approved by the teacher but that is to be completed by the student outside of the regular classroom
  • Work assigned to students that is to be completed while not directly supervised by the teacher

Interestingly, when I did a cursory search for definitions online, none of the sources mentioned anything about parents. Now think for a moment about the conversation that takes place in virtually every household where parents and school-age children cohabitate: “How was your day in school?” “How did you do on your test?” and “What do you have for homework?”. Why is it that parents are conspicuously omitted from this definition? Is it because they have no role in the homework process? Read on.

The Research Says...

As might be expected, there is no definitive body of knowledge about the benefits of homework, how much is enough (or too much), how frequently it should be assigned, and for which students and in what subject areas it is most helpful. There is, however, a strong literature to suggest that homework serves a number of different purposes:

  • Practice: rehearse and re-learn skills and information taught in class
  • Preparation: introduce material that will be formally taught in future lessons
  • Extension: apply already learned skills to new problems and situations
  • Integration: use many different skills to complete a single task (i.e., book report, science project)

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