Why homework is important and how teachers can reframe assigning it

Homework is beneficial and has been proven to promote student success, but certain conditions apply.

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The debate about the importance and relevance of homework has been going on for decades.

There is a divide in the philosophies of schools and teachers: Some say homework is imperative for student learning and success, as it allows students to review what was learned in class and develop independence in completing tasks. Others argue that most homework is completed or greatly assisted by parents, resulting in little to no benefit on the child’s behalf.

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Homework is beneficial and has been proven to promote student success, but certain conditions apply. If you provide a child with homework that reviews a concept in class, one must consider whether the student understood the material in the first place.

Think of your work environment, your strengths and weaknesses. Imagine your employer providing you with a task completely outside your comfort zone of level of understanding. You are to complete this task by the following day, and it must be done well; otherwise, you will be fired. Would you be stressed? Most likely. Would you be eager to go to work? No.

A child experiences the same level of stress. If we assign homework that is an extension of a lesson, some children will excel, but we are not considering the abilities and understanding of each child. As a result, the child feels overloaded and afraid to get into trouble if the work is incomplete. Parents will be stressed because they must find the time to become a teacher to their children in a world where leisure time is already scarce. This causes a negative snowball for the entire family.

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When looking at the school curriculum, the system moves quickly. Children are thrown concept after concept, sometimes failing to acquire the basics of their education: reading, writing and number sense. I see students nearing graduation who still haven’t grasped basic math facts and those who can barely read. These concepts are crucial in the success of every subject at every level, no matter the child’s level of understanding. This type of homework can be flexible, fun for the whole family and have long-term benefits.

Here is how to reframe homework to keep consistency and show results.

Read daily. You can do this as an activity with your child, taking turns reading a page at a time and modeling tone and expression. You’ll notice that with practice, your child will start to improve their fluency, know when to pause and their vocabulary will expand. When the reading session is over, be it a chapter a night or a set amount of time, talk about what you’ve read: What was the chapter about? What would you change? What did you like or dislike? It’s important to have your child choose a book or graphic novel that interests them. Try out different types of literature and genres and have your child choose so they enjoy this activity.

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Keep a journal. Journaling can be done daily and is a great way of practicing vocabulary, sentence structure and story structure. They can recount their day or they can use prompts — giving options is the best engage students. One child may have something super exciting to share, while another may want to write a short story. Journaling is also a great way of expressing emotions. The child can share feelings and ideas through their writing. Journaling can include drawings, mind maps, poetry and more. It is a great way to practice creativity and penmanship sneakily.

Practice basic facts and number sense. There are plenty of games available for math practice. This is an area where you really do not want to fall behind, as it is the basis for every concept learned in math. Many students get stuck on problems because they don’t know how to execute a simple operation. Anything from math drills at home to competitions with siblings, YouTube videos, and tablet or phone apps can help improve basic math facts. You can also sneak in math by including children when budgeting for the week, grocery shopping and adding up an allowance.

Homework should not come with a feeling of doom. It should be a way to connect with your children while practicing fundamental skills, not learning new ones. Considering COVID lockdowns and teacher strikes, students have missed a lot of school, so fundamentals are what’s most important.

Bianca Ferrara is a teacher with the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board and lives in Laval. You can send her questions, anecdotes and feedback: [email protected].

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