Back in 10th grade, I started playing golf as my spring semester sport. The three years before that I had been playing tennis but we moved to a different district, and they did not have boy’s tennis. I had only golfed a little bit before then but it was a sport that seemed like fun and I wanted to stay active. I still remember those first couple of practices when we spent a tremendous amount of time at the driving range. My inexperience showed as most of my shots were going in unpredictable directions and distances. If I had been left alone at that driving range, no matter long how I spent hitting those balls time after time, I was not going to get better. I only got better thanks to what my coach helped me learn.
My inexperience, my lack of prior knowledge, my lack of understanding how to learn from my mistakes when swinging those clubs, made it so that practice was not going to make perfect. I was a struggling learner in terms of golf. I needed a teacher to help me learn how to improve more than I needed more time hitting those balls. Once I built up some knowledge and learned how to make adjustments based upon the mistakes I was seeing, practice would help me. Until then, all practice was doing was creating frustrations and was making me feel like a failure.
This is the same for our students as we assign them homework on a daily basis. If they do not have enough background knowledge, or an understanding of how to learn from their mistakes, homework is not going to improve their learning. So many of our struggling students do not do the homework because they do not see its value, they do not get something positive out of repeated failures, or because they feel so far behind that they do not think they can make the ground up. We need to have empathy for our struggling students and should never assume a student didn’t do the homework because they were “lazy”. There are too many reasons why a student didn’t do homework, and sometimes it is because the homework itself was not good.
We owe it to our students to ensure that they are able to make use of the homework that they are assigned and that the homework is something valuable for them as learners. The research is not black or white when it comes to the impact homework has on learners. Whether you are looking at the meta-analysis done by Hattie or any of the other big research projects, there are many variables that can impact the effectiveness of homework. If you use homework to provide insight into who needs more immediate help, if students get frequent feedback on their homework, or if the homework is engaging to the learner; the effectiveness goes up. We also can’t view homework as a way to teach responsibility, unless you are actually assessing that and providing interventions. Every time a student gets a 0 because they did not get the homework done “on time”, they do not learn responsibility but instead become less likely to learn.
It is much better to have the mindset that we do not usually assign homework and then must justify the homework, than to assume that homework is the norm. Homework should be purposefully planned and not just something we do because we have always done it that way.