Some recent publications have raised issues regarding homework and the amount of stress on students in the United States. Last week I wrote about this and tried to present a broader and more balanced picture.
Clearly there are students who are overscheduled and under enormous stress. In Herricks and on Long Island, they almost certainly represent a much higher percentage of the student body than they do in the United States in general. However, the average student in the United States, according to a wide variety of studies, puts in far less time and has little reason to feel overstressed, at least as a result of too much homework.
Contrary to some of the quotes in the media, homework can play a very valuable role in the learning process. It was for me when I was a student and I found it to be so for students in my classes when I began teaching.
While the nature as well as the amount of homework obviously changes as students move from elementary to middle to high school, certain kinds of homework seem to have particular value:
Reading - Reading is best done at home, in the library or some other quiet place where one can relax and concentrate, preferably undisturbed by cell phones, instant messages or television. On the elementary level, I would prefer to see relatively little assigned reading if students would spend the time on their own, reading a variety of books. Many studies over a long period of time have shown that students who read tend to do the best in school.
On the upper elementary, middle and high schools reading in a variety of subject areas becomes an increasingly critical part of the learning process. Time in class should be spent on discussion and analysis. Students who have read and then thought about what they read at home are the ones who are in the best position to make the most of those classroom discussions.
Writing - For the vast, vast majority of people, writing takes time and effort. It also takes constant practice to develop one's skills. Accordingly, a substantial portion of homework at any level should involve writing in a variety of different formats.
Research - Knowing how to (a) identify the information one needs, (b) identify appropriate sources, (c) sift through what one has found for the most valuable and most relevant information, and (d) bring the key pieces together in a clear and coherent fashion are skills which are increasingly important. The process can be taught in class, but it is something which students must learn how to do on their own. At the elementary level the research should be simple and relatively straightforward. As the student moves through school, it should become more and more challenging.
Practice - Some skills - from doing times-tables to learning a musical instrument - require practice. This should not be "busy work" but well=designed practice which strengthens critical skills at the appropriate point in the learning curve. A student who does not understand something in the first place is no more likely to get the 20th question than the first one. Similarly, a student who has already mastered a skill will find all of them unnecessary. For the student who is still learning, however, the practice can be critical in cementing the skill.
Developing appropriate homework can be as hard as preparing a great lesson for class. Our goal is to make both valuable parts of the learning process.