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25 Myths About Homework

Last night I asked people for help with my presentation on Myths about Homework which I am presenting today at Skeptic Camp in Vancouver. Within 15 minutes, we had 20 Myths, within another 15 minutes we had a total of 26 myths about homework with one duplication. Thanks for your help, I've turned these myths into a presentation you can view below. I think that homework may still be something which has value, but which probably needs to take a much different form than what it looks like now. Here's the pretty plain version using Google Docs.

What was really neat about this experience was watching the ideas pour onto the page. I liked working with people, some of whom had other suggestions and ideas about how homework should be done. If your slide or work or idea didn't make it into this presentation it is because this presentation was about the myths of homework rather than the benefits. I'm sure if I had started a similar project on the benefits of homework I could have had as much participation and good ideas about how to best implement homework.

Edit:

I've created a Prezi version which is the one I actually ended up using. It's missing some of the myths from above but would probably look a bit nicer when it's actually being used.

About David

David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.

Comments

Great presentations raise good questions and your's did that. I think you need to write a book with the same title.

David Wees's picture

Actually someone has already written a pretty popular book on this very subject called "The Homework Myth". Check it out on Alfie Kohn's website. http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/hm.htm

Hello. I am a CA Jourist, I would share somthing here soon.

For the most part, I think students should be doing their work 'in class'. This allows for the teacher to assess student learning and provide immediate feedback if a student requires assistance. If a student is unable to grasp a concept in class it is highly unlikely that he/she will be able to understand it on his/her own for homework.
On the other hand, if a student is receiving help in class from the teacher, I think it is important that a student continue to work on these areas at home. In this sense, reinforcing learning at home is purposeful.

An area I do have concerns about is the assessment of homework. I do not believe it is fair to assign a mark to students' work until there has been an opportunity for them to have received feedback from the teacher. Too often, students complete homework, receive a poor mark and are given little to no opportunity to improve their learning.

The key to any work, whether it be in class or homework is that it must be a learning opportunity for students and should be assessed in a manner that motivates students to continue their learning!

David Wees's picture

There are two issues with the continuation of work from the class at home.

1. If a student only kind of gets it, when they get home they may practice some more and make some mistakes in their logic, and end up practicing a bunch of mistakes instead of the correct work. They don't receive feedback on their mistakes until at least the next day, or possibly the "test" at the end of the unit. What we know about learning suggests that for routine repetitive tasks, such as those you can practice with homework, you need feedback within 5 minutes. Otherwise you remember the mistake instead of the correct answer.

2. Who is doing the work when it goes home? If the student goes home and "works" on their homework, often they have copied it from a friend, got way too much help from an older sibling or parent, or copies the assignment verbatim from the Internet. Sometimes an assignment done in French for example, they may use Google translator to help them out.

Update: It's recently been pointed out to me that the research on the necessity of feedback in learning is more nuanced than I've made it seem in this comment. See the post I've linked to, which itself links to further research on feedback in learning.

I love the points you're making but, ugh, I can't believe you transformed it from an elegant ppt to a Prezi. Please. If you're going to fancy up a ppt in Prezi, keep it simple. Simple side-to-side transitions, please, not meaningless, endless twists and turns.

David Wees's picture

Point taken. Fortunately I still have both presentations. I'd actually like to convert the text presentations to photos demonstrating each point at some stage, if I ever present on this topic again.

That sounds like a good idea. Sorry about the harshness of the original comment, Prezi is sort of my one overly-sensitive pet peeve. Cool web site, by the way. Really awesome to see so much content about student inquiry and more experiential learning. Reminds me of some of my favorite teachers.

David - want to make two points.
The first is the enduring power of posts - yours was published almost a year ago and yet somehow it was Diigo-ed today. I note from the comments posted that there has been no activity in 2011, yet it was picked up by someone who thought it worthy of sharing in the Diigo group that I am in.
The second one is more serious.
You obtained the 25 myths from people who helped you and it makes an interesting list - and certainly one that can fuel discussion. As such it is worthy.
I just want to put another view which is based on research. Reading "Visible Learning - a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement" by John Hattie (2009, Routledge, London and New York). Fascinating book and particularly worthwhile reading for a mathematician like yourself.
Firstly, from p17 a quote which seems to support the myths ideas: "The typical influence after introducing homework was just below the typical effect across all possible influences. Thus, when the influence of homework is compared to the more usual zero point, those who argue that homework is effective would say "yes", but when the effects from classes without homework are compared to the typical effect across all other influences, then homework is well below an average effect - there are many more innovations that have greater effects."
However, when students age is taken into account, Hattie reports a different story. Primary (Elementary) students gain less from homework (0.15 standard deviations) but Secondary (High School) students have greater gains (0.64 sd). Hattie signals 0.4 as the "hinge" point above which these changes are significant.
So, for Secondary/High School students homework has a significant positive effect. Some would argue that the attitude to doing homework and the establishment of "good study habits at home" starts in the Primary/Elementary school - and should thus be done! But that is another study.....

David Wees's picture

I've read the same research suggesting that homework has a positive effect on the performance of high school students. I've also read research suggesting that it can have a small negative effect on elementary school students, and has essentially no impact on middle school students. However, when you look at the research on high school drop-outs, one of the common reasons students cite for leaving school is that they no longer have to do homework. This suggests that, for some students, homework can have a negative effect on high school completion rates.

I think personally that good study habits happen when one has control over one's study habits, rather than when they are enforced externally. So I'd support students working at home with much more control over what they study, rather than being assigned homework of dubious value. If the work is to be of dubious value to learning either way, perhaps having choice over the assignment will help develop self-control and personal motivation. Much of the work that is assigned today for elementary school students especially is not of value, and I don't personally believe that people learn self-reliance by following someone else's scripted homework.

I'm also deeply suspicious of the numbers thrown around in the homework debate, like the 10 minutes per grade a day rule. I've recently read that Cooper, who is widely cited when that rule is implemented in schools, essentially modelled the number after a conversation he had with a teacher at a conference. I don't think that someone's offhand remark about how much homework they assign should hold so much sway over the lives of so many children.

One of the problems we have is that we don't have a lot of comparisons to make. The homework debate usually rangers between the anti-homeworkers and the strong supporters of homework, without many people proposing alternatives. I've created a list of 15 things parents can do instead of homework, and I wonder what the relationship between success in schools and my list would be. This list offloads some of the responsibility of choosing learning activities from the teacher to the parents, and for parents who are not able to support these kinds of activities, we should provide support through the schools. My feeling is that self-directed learning opportunities abound for most kids, and that these types of activities, which are not necessarily tied directly to curriculum outcomes, would show a stronger improvement overall in the learning of children than either traditional homework, or no learning activites outside of school whatsoever.

David - what you propose could be viable and worthwhile alternatives to homework. However, all this is set in particular cultural settings and expectations.
Self-directed opportunities are great. But equally, for some students, the routine of worthwhile homework is valuable.

I believe homework holds much value in the lives of students. Without it a student would return home and no longer be pondering the ideas taught in class that day. Now, I am not saying we need to give excessive amounts of homework but at least one question for each new concept taught in class that day. I also disagree with your statement "However, when you look at the research on high school drop-outs, one of the common reasons students cite for leaving school is that they no longer have to do homework. This suggests that, for some students, homework can have a negative effect on high school completion rates." I am a high school student and under no circumstances would I leave high school based solely on the matter that I would no longer have homework to do. Those who drop out for that purpose exhibit laziness. Regarding your 15 things to do other than homework list, I have to say all of those skills are quite important for children. However, they should be taught alongside of that taught in a classroom. What happens in the classroom and how well a student performs will shape the kind of opportunity they will encounter, upon their departure from high school.

David Wees's picture

You are relying on anecdotal evidence (your own story) and generalizing that evidence to the entire student population. Research shows us that one reason commonly cited by teenagers who do drop out of school is that they received excessive amounts of homework, and that the completion of this homework seemed irrelevant to their success.

If a student goes home and chooses to do homework, and has the support to do that homework, then they should feel free to do so. It is when students do not have the capacity to do the homework (for example: they are homeless, or are required to take care of their siblings) or when this homework is excessive/meaningless in nature that I strongly feel that homework is a hindrance to student learning.

As for your 'students returning home and no longer pondering the thoughts for the day,' this is a clear problem with our system that the reflection required for learning does not generally happen during the school day. Reinforcement and reflection works best when the learner has both the time to do it, the support to learn how to do it effectively, and for many, many parents, neither of these are their strong points.

A good thing about homework is that it forces the conversation between students and parents about the work they are doing at school. There are other ways to do this though, and perhaps the homework that is assigned, if it is to have this purpose, should be built around this purpose.

I'd encourage all readers here, rather than simply *say* that these are "myths", to take it to the next level: Create 25 separate blog posts detailing the research that debunks each statement as a myth. Where no such research exists for a given statement in the presentation, turn that statement into a research topic and study it scientifically, THEN report on the research you do. If the research that exists, or the research you do, fails to debunk a statement as a myth, remove it from the list.

David Wees's picture

That is a terrific idea Robert. We'd have to find some volunteers to split up the work, but we really do need to be careful not to peddle stuff which isn't true. Would you like to volunteer to take one myth, and I'll take another one? We'd just need 23 more volunteers.

Statement #16 seems to be one of the more testable statements on the list, so I'll take that one. I'll do a lit review to see what's out there, and I might even try a simple study of my own with the two sections of Calculus II I'm doing right now, as long as people are OK with this statement being tested using students at the university and not K-12 level. (Lots of collateral questions suggest themselves -- does age matter? Does it matter if the homework is coming in a course where the student has some vested interest, like a required course in a major? Etc.)

Well, I was quite delighted to stumble upon this page today. I am developing a board game for parents for a workshop I'm doing next month on The H Word: Homework! The sentiment is quite true, that people seem to either be fervent advocators for or against homework: however, I think it has its benefits, provided it is creative, it engages the learner, and it is not overwhelming. As the mom of three pre-teen girls, all with learning disabilities, I can tell you that the hours associated with math worksheets and other such memory work did nothing for my girls--but the thrill of reading and talking about a favourite story, or the opportunity to play cards or a dice game sure did! I work for a literacy organization and spend a lot of time encouraging parents to get actively involved in their child's learning through play: your 15 ideas are great!

for a completely different reason than to learn. For most students, homework is the number one grade raiser, as they frequently do not grasp the material and do worse on tests. To complete homework one only needs a computer and access to the internet. Voila. Instant grade raiser. On any question in any test that requires understanding (there are rather few of them), students generally score lower. I am a high school student and I have observed the behaviors of both my classmates and teachers. I happen to be the one of the two people I know of to which homework is a never ending nightmare and the ultimate grade lowerer(I know there is no such word, but for the purposes of this comment...). I can tell you about almost everything done in class, as I nearly always pay attention (unlike some people), and at home I research other things, like airplanes or proof that homework is not beneficial. A friend sitting behind me in french class cannot properly conjugate etre(to be) or avoir(to have), two basic verbs that one studies as some of the first(they are the basis for many tenses and structures). She has a 96%. In French 2. God bless her though, it is not her fault.
The homework issue should be addressed from the eyes of the students, those who are awake enough to notice the pointlessness of today's 'education'.

David Wees's picture

But how does the homework raise their grades? Is this simply because their teachers are using homework as part of their grades, or because the homework helps students do better on the in-class tests?

I know that preparation by a student makes a difference, but I have rarely seen the type of homework assigned that would help a student actually learn how to prepare for an exam or other in-class assessment. Most of the time the homework that assigned is just more routine practice. I help my students learn how to prepare and study in class so that I can give them feedback on the process and help them develop better study strategies. As for developing better study habits (ie. doing more of their own independent study), I find that once students have better strategies in place for studying that they see help them, they will often choose to study on their own time independently, particularly in the higher grades.

A student who chooses to study on their own is unlikely to be demotivated by developing this habit.

Thank you very much for this post. It is excellent. I'm still very much in the middle of the homework debate, but I appreciate hearing the perspectives of the no-homework proponents. I also like alternatives to traditional homework (like independent reading!). My hope is that we can find a sensible answer that will serve students and their academic goals.

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