For many students, coming home after a long day at school the last thing they feel like turning their minds to is homework. Indeed, homework has received such a bad rap in everything from film and television to our favourite pop songs, that we often associate it with punishment and see it as the teacher’s way of getting back at us for talking too much in class or not paying enough attention.
If we decide to take the challenge it represents and make it work for us, we can turn homework into a useful tool in preparing for exams and essays.
What follows are some very good reasons why I think, far from resenting homework, we should embrace it and see it as the useful learning aid that it is.
- Homework is the ideal way to revise the subject matter learned in class on a given day: Homework is the teacher’s way of emphasising the important topics in a subject. It helps us glean what questions may arise in an exam and serves as useful material during revision time. It provides students with the chance to do extra reading or delve into areas they may not have understood well in class.
- It is a great way to impress the teacher: When doing your homework, don’t limit yourself to answering the questions posed by your teacher. Go the extra mile and do extra research. Provide references for your assertions, so your teacher can see the extent to which you have invested your time and energy.
- It is the ideal moment to create mind maps and other visual aids: Since homework usually synthesises important information learned in class, it can be used as the basis for visual memory aids, to be used throughout the term and especially during exam time.
- It permits reflection: Some learners like to dive straight into the subject matter, learning as they go along or performing a new activity with little prior reading. The opposite may be said for reflective learners: those who like to take their time analysing material, doing further research and connecting different ideas and facts together to arrive at an interesting conclusion. Homework is a much cherished part of study for reflective learners, since it permits them the chance to learn at their own pace and allows them to consult additional resources.
- It give parents a greater insight into what their children are learning: Parents who are keen on gleaning the full extent of their children’s course content will often turn to the Internet or special guides that indicate all topics covered in given subjects. However, even these parents find homework a useful guide when it comes to helping children revise for an exam, since it reveals the areas that teachers have place most emphasis on. Parents who help children with homework can easily identify the areas which their children need more help with, and can help source more material on areas that may be posing a problem.
- It encourages teachers to plan ahead: The task of setting homework encourages teachers to structure classes strictly. In order for pre-set homework to make sense, teachers have to ensure that they cover all main points within a set time. Planning is vital if students are to understand a topic well.
- It encourages teachers to be creative: Teachers should sit back and analyse whether or not homework is truly effective for students. If it consists of boring worksheets that do not add anything relevant to what was taught in class and if it does not encourage independent study, it will have little value. Teachers have to set the type of homework tasks that will engage students and perhaps even encourage them to work together to come up with new, creative ideas. Teachers and tutors may find it useful to use the SOLO Taxonomy system to encourage students to approach a topic from a more profound perspective, and to come up with their own solutions and ideas to problems and issues which arise from that topic.
- It is an excellent reason to provide students with feedback: The way a student approaches a homework task will usually reveal their strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can use homework to tackle aspects like presentation – many students make interesting points and provide useful information in their answers, but fail to place due importance on how they present their work. Teachers can therefore use assignments to point out how bad habits can bring a student’s grade down, or make their work seem less valuable than it actually is.
- It teaches children organisational skills: Most children have a host of different homework tasks on a different day. Learning how to complete them while enjoying leisure activities such as sport and music involves good time management, which is a skill they should begin to learn as early as possible.
- Homework can be an excellent team building exercise: An important part of teaching lies in showing children the value of working as part of a team. Teachers and tutors should sometimes set group homework tasks, and discuss the different roles played by members of the group after the task is completed. An open, friendly ambience should be encouraged, in which students are free to express their opinions on how different components of their team have contributed to the success of the projects. Did some students need encouragement for others? Were other members too bossy, failing to take into account the opinions and desires of their classmates? Did some take a passive stance, preferring to let others do the work? If there were conflicts, how were they resolved? Were problems expressed clearly yet non-judgementally to those who weren’t pulling their weight, or did dissatisfied members of the team waste time bickering and complaining about inactive classmates to others? In this sense, homework can be a useful tool to learn valuable lessons, which will stand students in good stead in many years to come, in both and academic and personal sense.
Now I appreciate that you may not agree with me, and you may think that homework is a waste of time, indeed that is what the likes of Alfie Kahn has been saying for a while. The way that I look at it though, is if you have to do it at least try and make the most of it.