Sunday, January 13, 2013

Homework Is a Waste of Learning Time

Homework (Photo credit: TJCoffey)
by Nicole Feledy

The horn has sounded on the controversial game of homework. The sides form up, supporters from both teams prepare to chant and the ball is thrown.

Commentators call the shots, referees attempt to maintain order and players grind toward a winning point. The hapless ball bounces at the whim of those who hold it, passing from hand to hand before it is put to boot.

Who or what represents the students in this analogy?

I am not a fan of the current homework game - neither as parent, nor teacher. It forces young minds to comply with outdated structures, sit indoors and remain sedentary long after the school bell tolls. It can also be a hopelessly inefficient use of thinking time.

Put simply, after studying all day, students are either too tired or too wired to complete homework tasks effectively - often they suffer a paradoxical mix of both.

We know students of all ages need time to burn energy and relax. However, media commentary on the subject is often contradictory. Reports compel young people to forgo TV and computer screens so they may play outside, only to quickly call them back indoors to complete an additional hour or two of homework so they may secure the required amount of content.

'Secure the required amount of content' - now there's the rub. My question is why? Why does content need to be secured? In a connected world where we have instant access to information, surely it is more important to develop skills in gathering and evaluating ideas than it is to 'remember facts'.

Supporters of homework generally assert study after school is necessary to a) consolidate learning, b) practice skills, c) promote organisation and time management, d) develop problem solving skills and in many cases to, e) cover the content not covered in class.

Yet, I wonder why this needs to occur after school hours as prescribed 'homework' (particularly in primary and lower secondary classes).

Yes, students need to learn problem solving, organisational and time management skills. Of course a student's ability to use these skills is improved by consolidation and practice. However in today's world there are fresh ways to approach the acquisition of skills without resorting to stale ideas about gaining content 'knowledge' through homework.

We need to rethink the relationship between ideas, information, knowledge and skills. We should be discussing the learning process, rather than worrying about how much work is required before a student has 'learnt' something.

Too often homework tasks lack context, they are 'busy work' or a desperate attempt to cover content in an overly crowded curriculum. However, even though I find most homework a waste of time, I am a firm believer in the rewards to be had from regular reading. We could all, not just school children, benefit from 10 - 20 minutes of reading followed by reflection and discussion.

Now before you groan 'typical English teacher', I will qualify what I say. I am not suggesting everyone needs to read novels, I am simply suggesting reading with purpose. This purpose could be gathering information about an area you are interested in or it could be entertainment or an opportunity to explore different perspectives.

To increase effectiveness, reading activities should be followed by a moment of reflection - a simple internal questioning of the material and your response to it. Social skills may also be enhanced by discussing ideas with friends and family. This process of reading, reflecting and relationships is an active cognitive process which, when practiced consciously, illuminates the learning process.

I dream of a time when 'homework' is redefined as 'consolidation' and occurs within school, during school hours. This is still a thought in process so please bear with me. If content requirements within subject areas were reduced, class time could focus on the relationship between content and skills.

In secondary schools, timetables could be structured so that each 50 minute lesson was followed by a 50 minute study period. Study periods would be an opportunity for students to reflect upon what they have learnt and to practice skills. These study sessions would be supervised by mentors - teachers who actively modelled and made the process of learning visible.

Then, once home, students would be encouraged to complete a reading ritual which involved 15 - 30 minutes of personal reading and reflecting on what they have read. Then they would chat about ideas generated, either with family (during meal time) or on an online forum with classmates. Extension activities would include blog posts and production of collaborative e-books.

The world is changing at a rapid rate and the key skills a young person needs to survive in a modern working world are flexibility, creativity, critical thinking and effective interpersonal skills. In other words they need to understand the process of learning so they may become lifelong learners who are in control of their learning.

Homework in its current form, even at senior school level, is not necessary. It is simply yet another facet of an outdated education system that has failed to keep pace with a connected technologically enhanced process of information exchange. Homework can murder a love of learning, it can forge anchors of resentment, stifle creative thought and fuel anxiety.

It is time to blow the whistle on the homework game.

Welcome to a World of Expression

If you found this article useful, please check out our website Our blog contains useful study tips and you can find out more about Is This MyStory workshops and seminars. You may even like to read Nicole's book, 'Is This MyStory'.

Article Source:

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment