Homework is a Gift

Posted by

homeworkBy Rita Platt and John Wolfe

Assigning students carefully prepared homework is a gift we give them. In American schools there are a wide range of policies and practices surrounding homework. But, as a profession, we haven’t devoted enough energy to thinking about it. It is time to ignite the flame under homework, to define our own beliefs about the “what’s”, “why’s”, and “how’s” of it, and to come to thoughtful conclusions that best serve our students, schools and communities.

By “homework” I am taking about content-area work. Spelling, writing, math, science, and social studies work. I am very much in favor of homework.  As both a parent and a teacher, I know homework is important.  I’m going to try to convince you of that too!

The scholarly opinion on the pros and cons of homework as a means to enhance learning is mixed.  One side claims that the bulk of studies show that doing homework leads to greater academic achievement while the other says not only is that not the case, but homework steals precious family time and overburdens our students.

There are, however, three big ideas that most scholars agree on.

  1. Home reading is essential. It is different than other types of homework. Asking students to read at home has been shown to bolster achievement beyond any shadow of a doubt—no matter what you decide about homework in general, asking students to read a minimum of 20 minutes at home each day is essential to success.
  2. More is not better where homework is concerned. The guidelines are about 10 minutes per grade.  So, 10 minutes for 1st grade, 20 for 2nd grade, and so on.  This time is, of course, in addition to 20 minutes of home reading.
  3. Homework must be carefully planned and offered. The purpose of homework is to practice of what has already been taught and learned. It is not for students to learn new material. How the Flipped classroom concept fits in remains to be seen.

Helpful as this is, to my mind, these big ideas and academic arguments miss something. The research has largely focused on how homework impacts academic achievement. I am going to suggest that this may not be the most important factor to consider. Maybe it doesn’t matter if homework leads to greater academic achievement. Maybe the question should be: Does homework help our students to be more successful in life in general? I believe the answer to that question is yes.  But, not for the reasons you might think!

I recently read Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. The book summarizes the research on what makes a person successful in school and in later life. The findings were surprising to say the least. It turns out that it is not IQ or grades that predict success. It is something called “grit.” Psychologist, Angela Duckworth, repurposed this word to mean having the stamina and passion to achieve goals. Grit is comprised of a mix of desirable character traits including being hard-working, curious, optimistic, perseverant, and perhaps most importantly, being able to delay gratification.  To really get the feel for the theory, watch Duckworth’s TED Talk.  Then, If you’re wondering how “gritty” you are, take Duckworth’s Grit Test.

Let me say it again in even more plain terms, intelligence isn’t as important to success as we thought but working hard and having “grit” is. The best news? Grit can be nurtured.

At the elementary school where I teach, the central message that we send to students is “you are responsible for your learning.” Carefully planned homework supports that message by reminding students that the job of school is learning. It reinforces the idea that teachers believe students are power-players in their own educations and capable of hard work. Homework takes the message a step further by showing students that job of learning is so important that it can’t all be done at school—that they must take academic learning into their own hands and homes.

It also builds grit. Doing homework helps students become gritty by developing the skills and self-control to delay gratification, work hard, and persevere. With homework, it’s not as much about the “books” or the book-learning, it’s about the “hitting the books,” the act of buckling down and working hard. The practice in building self-control and “stick-to-it-ness.”  So whether or not homework directly increases academic achievement is not the question that matters most. The question should be, does homework build grit? If like me, you believe it does, then you know that ultimately, homework is a gift we can give to our children.

For more information, resources, and ideas, please visit the following links.

Chris Wondra, founder of We Teach We Learn writes about the power of “learning to wait.”

A set of quick tips for helping students build grit.

Brief explanation of why grit is so important to success and how you can help your children/students develop grit.

Image Credit

Comments are closed.