Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Real Value of Homework

I've been seeing a lot of online commentary about homework in the run-up to the start of the school year. Some bloggers proudly boast that they don't assign it. Others assign it, but don't score it. At a training I attended this week, a teacher gave voice to the now common refrain that homework isn't fair because some kids have families at home who will help them and some don't. It's come to the point where those of us who do assign regular homework feel the need to defend its practice. So I will.

I assign homework for two reasons: Practice and Life Skills. Math homework is assigned weekly. That is, I give students all the homework pages on Friday that corresponds to the lessons I've taught that week. Some weeks, students take home five worksheets, one for each day of the week. The homework is due back the following Friday. I do this so that students can independently practice the skills and concepts we've worked on all week. Might some students get help from mom and dad? Of course. Might this give them an advantage over students who don't get help? Yes. And they will continue to reap the rewards of having involved parents the rest of their lives. This is how the world works. It shouldn't be an excuse to lower expectations for low-expectancy students.

The other reason a student might have homework is if they have failed to meet a class deadline and need more time to complete a project. The message this sends is that finishing is important and deadlines matter. Just because the work couldn't be completed at school doesn't mean it doesn't have to be completed. This is a life lesson and an important one. It is the real value of homework.

Homework teaches skills that transcend subject areas. Homework teaches life skills that almost every successful adult uses daily in their work and personal lives. Homework teaches students that they--not their parents, not their day care providers, not their teachers--are responsible for getting their own work done. Homework teaches that deadlines are important. That there are consequences for missing them. Homework teaches time management. It requires students to prioritize, to make choices, to plan ahead, to establish routines, and to form habits that allow them to finish what they have to do so that they have time to do what they want to do. Assigning students homework is about more than practicing multiplication or finishing an essay. It's about teaching them that others will expect things of them. It's about teaching them personal responsibility. It's about giving them a taste of how the real world will work. And assigning it, taking its completion seriously, and holding students accountable for it, is a relatively simple way for teachers to send the most important message they can ever send: I care about you and I want you to succeed in life.