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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Homework- A Necessary Evil?

As an English instructor, I often found it necessary to structure assignments that required homework to accommodate the process of prewriting, drafting, and effective revision of papers. Granted, this homework was often stressful and demanding, especially considering the daily schedule of extracurricular activities in our small (400 student body) high school. Yet very often after graduation, my ex-students have thanked me for teaching Senior Composition, claiming the class adequately prepared them for the rigors of college writing. As a teacher, time always seemed to be the resource I struggled to control. The demands of planning, teaching, and grading a large number of classes log-jammed my best intentions. I was diligent in doing my own homework and often found myself spending long hours just grading themes. Still, my students and I felt a commonality of panic just keeping up. Homework-- what is the most effective use of this painful necessity? Research from the Center for Public Education has shown that too much homework may diminish its effectiveness. While research on the optimum amount of time students should spend on homework is limited, indications are that for high school students, 1½ to 2½ hours per night is optimum. Middle school students seem to benefit from smaller amounts (less than 1 hour per night). And, when students spend more time than this on homework, the positive relationship with student achievement diminishes (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall 2006). The research shows that homework may have some non-academic benefits. Primary-level teachers may assign homework for learning the importance of responsibility, managing time, developing study habits, and staying with a task until it is completed (Cooper, Robinson and Patall 2006; Corno and Xu 2004; Johnson and Pontius 1989; Warton 2001). Though for these elementary students, no evidence shows a link between homework and student achievement (The Washington Post, "Homework, Dropouts, and More," March 119, 2007). A review by the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education, reports that students from low-income homes might not benefit as much as those from higher-income homes when homework is assigned. The possible reasons: Higher income students have more resources, including computers, and help with their work. The research, though limited, offers administrators, teachers, parents, and students a feasible way of managing time spent on homework. Without limitations, homework and other demands on afterschool time can produce negative effects. I agree with many teachers that a study hall with strictly enforced rules can be an effective tool for teenagers' study habits. The rules specify that each student bring sufficient work to be completed during the study hall time while silence comparable to that in a library is necessary so that students can concentrate on their work.
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