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Teachers should rethink the way they set homework

Teachers need to strike the right balance when it comes to homework, says one educator

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Someone once told me that when teachers have children of their own it makes them better educators.

This certainly rang true when my own children started to get lots of homework from their 5th Grade teacher. Around that time, my county introduced a rule that homework could only count toward a maximum of 10 percent of the overall grade.

My principal at the time also introduced his own rule that a penalty for late assignments could be no more than 20 percent. 

I accepted the 10 percent, but fought the 20 percent decision. But my principal was persistent and personable and so I tried it. Really, I went all the way. 

In three years I haven't given a late grade for an assignment. But I also went from being a teacher who could give a fair amount of – sometimes pointless – homework, such as reading notes, to, in my last year, someone who never game more than 30 minutes per advanced placement (AP) class and less for standard ones.

In fact, when I left the classroom one of my favorite notes came from a student, who thanked me for making it possible to “not hate homework” and for giving them their “life outside the school day”.

So there are a lot of things to consider. One is that it is unhealthy to have lots of homework, as the New York Times looked into recently. Research from last year even suggested that many kids are handed three times the recommended rule for homework. 

Many experts talk about the “10 minute rule”, which means suggests children should be doing 10 minutes of homework per night, with an additional 10 minutes per grade level up until high school when two hours is the maximum. That is the rule in my county, but it is rarely followed. 

In reality, research exists supporting both sides of the debate. There are those who believe setting extra homework does not correlate with higher test scores.

But many other believe the too much homework debate is a myth, and that parents, particularly of high school students feel their children are not being set enough.

Personally, I would say that AP and International Baccalaureate students have too much homework and that the lower levels have too little. While I have no actual evidence, anecdotally, I would say that could be because teachers didn't think their students would do it or because the students refused to do it so often that the teacher just gave up.

What is clear is that educators have to change the way they teach in the class and why they give homework. Other than an in English classes, setting reading is not as good an assignment as it used to be, especially since notes can readily be found online. Furthermore, class time should be used for letting students explore their learning and have the teacher facilitate that process. Whether homework is subsequently needed would then be left to the student’s individual needs or could act as an overview of the next lesson.

Either way we need to repurpose our students' learning when it comes to homework.

Ken Halla is a teacher, blogger, author and member of the TES USA teacher advisory group.

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