The Homework Riddle

Here's the riddle: If a student doesn't understand how to do his work, why send it home? If he knows how to do it and understands it, why send it home? As with most riddles, the answer is not always obvious. The real riddle is how much and what kind of homework should teachers assign?

Wait until the student understands.

It's best to send work home when the students are nearing mastery of a concept. But if work is assigned at the practice stage, the parents need to know how much to expect from their children.

Limit the amount of homework.

Homework in the lower elementary grades should review only a few skills on a regular basis. In Grades 4–6 homework can expand to preparing for tests. High school is a different consideration. Most people would agree that a couple of hours per evening during the week is not too much to expect at that level. Another possibility is to allow some in-school time for assignments to be completed.

Make it feel like home.

The best assignments allow families to complete assignments together. They can check out library books on topics being studied in class. They can discuss issues from the newspaper. They can observe plants, find bugs, and study the stars. They can keep a chart on weather developments, watch a documentary on the History Channel, or attend a concert. It's good for the school administration to work with the parents to determine reasonable expectations.

Be clear.

Regardless of the assignment, there should be no ambiguity. The directions should be clear, and the amount of work that needs to be done should be spelled out. Such clarity avoids typical concerns that develop when a student says he never has homework but his grades indicate a problem. Some may think students should be mature enough to keep track of all their assignments, both long-range and daily, and communicate it all to their parents. However, that student is rare. To prevent problems and get the support of parents, it is worth providing details.

Teach thoroughly.

Parents should not be expected to re-teach concepts that should have been taught at school. Whenever a student needs more than normal help in accomplishing assignments, the teacher should contact the parents and discuss with them the special needs and how they can help.

Coordinate the homework of various classes.

It is helpful when teachers of upper-grade levels get together and plan assignments so that everything doesn't come due for students at the same time. Some schools designate test days for each subject to avoid requiring students to prepare for several tests in a given evening.

Develop a help network.

Parents need to know what they should do if their child has great difficulty with assignments and needs more help than they are able to provide themselves. They appreciate having access to help from the school. Some schools are now developing websites that provide information about schoolwork and homework assignments. In the absence of such technology, good written information should go home to parents consistently.

Parents want their children to be successful and will usually go the extra mile to provide for that success, but they want their children to be treated fairly and reasonably. Working together, the school and the parents can set parameters and find an answer to the homework riddle that, like all good answers to riddles, seems simple indeed in the end.

 by Jim Davis. Updated October 21, 2015.

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