A Master Teacher's Approach to Homework

Homework often evokes strong emotions among students, parents, and educators.  Although children tend to dislike it, adults have traditionally agreed that it’s a necessary – albeit unpleasant  - part of their schooling.  In recent years, the practice has been reexamined, and many studies have emerged, proving no correlation between homework and academic achievement.

Parents and educators figure prominently on both sides of the widening philosophical chasm.  Some advocate for more homework, while others think it impedes a well-rounded childhood consisting of play, exploration, and family time.  Some administrators demand daily homework for each subject, while others disallow it on weekends, or ban it altogether.

Like most educational philosophies, I think best practice varies, depending on a child’s age, parents, neighborhood, and academic competencies.  Although I’m ambivalent as to whether or not teachers give homework, I don’t think the practice should be denigrated.

In addition to their subject(s), educators have a duty to teach their students responsibility.  Homework can be a catalyst for developing this discipline.  Taking an assignment home, completing it, and returning it to school the next day is a valuable life skill, even if it’s not fun and doesn’t lead to higher academic achievement.

Master teachers, who assign homework, understand that happy children learn well, while frustrated, anxious, and intimidated students do not.  They use homework as a tool, not for increasing knowledge, but instead providing additional practice that either complements a recent lesson, or reviews important skills.

They also know that burning concepts into memory through massed practice rarely leads to skill proficiency but often alienates students.  Therefore, they create confidence-building homework that provides adequate, but not excessive practice.  In turn, their students arrive to class each day happy, confident, and motivated to learn more.

Always self-critical, the thoughtful practitioner believes If students need help with their homework, then the assignment shouldn’t have been given.  This is because the long-accepted tradition of parents helping their children with homework rarely leads to positive outcomes.  At best, the child receives instruction that conflicts with their lessons.  At worst, the assignment leads to a toxic parent/teacher relationship, and the child feels wedged between the most influential adults in their life.

Considering all of the aforementioned, the master teacher has no illusions of the planning time this requires.  Therefore, they choose between assigning thoughtful homework, or not giving it all.  Preparing it, they understand, is not nearly as time consuming, detrimental, or calamitous as working with unhappy students and parents.