Academic journal article Science Scope

Building a Bridge over Homework: How to Design At-Home Assignments That Are Both Valuable and Effective

Academic journal article Science Scope

Building a Bridge over Homework: How to Design At-Home Assignments That Are Both Valuable and Effective

Article excerpt

The debate surrounding the value of assigning homework is full of research containing varying viewpoints on the matter. Some research supports the idea that students who complete homework ultimately do better in school (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall 2006). This correlation is particularly strong for students in grades 7-12 (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall 2006). For middle level teachers, this research implies that we need to be assigning some homework to help our students achieve at a higher level.

Based on the research, listening to experts speak on the topic, and on our experiences as classroom teachers, we see value in assigning homework to our students. Homework does not have to be assigned nightly, and it should not be something your students are spending hours trudging through. We have found that giving students homework communicates to them that they must take responsibility for their learning. We have also found that assigning homework requires our students to interact with what they have learned in class and to begin to evaluate their understanding of the material. We see students start to develop self-advocacy skills as a result. Students will find time to e-mail us to ask specific questions, or they make time to come find us during the day for extra help or to ask clarifying questions.

Factors to consider before assigning homework

Because homework is something we expect students to complete on their own, without teacher guidance, there are some key factors we need to consider when strategically planning homework assignments.

Assign homework all students can complete on their own with the resources they have

It is important to take students' ability levels into consideration when assigning homework, especially because many students do not have someone who can assist them at home. This may mean that your homework needs to be differentiated, just like your instruction in the classroom. For students who struggle with reading, you can require that they read two sections of the text rather than five. For students who lack focus, you can chunk the assignment visually (see Figure 1). For students without access to technology or the internet, you can provide notes that will take the place of internet research. The adaptations will vary depending on students' needs. If you are unsure of how to differentiate for the type of homework you are assigning, see Figure 1 for some ideas.

Make students aware of the homework's purpose

One of the major arguments of those who oppose homework is that it is busywork and does not serve any real purpose. Before giving an assignment, ensure that you have a clear objective in mind, whether it be for students to practice a skill, see content learned in class reinforced, or gain background knowledge for the next day's lesson. Then, make sure you tell your students what the purpose is! It is challenging to find motivation to complete an assignment if you do not know the reasoning behind why you are doing it (Catapano 2018; DuFour 2009; Sailors 2018; Thompson 2018).

FIGURE 1: Ideas for differentiating homework assignments
(Center for Parent Information and Resources 2010)

Type of assignment         Differentiation options

Reading the textbook or  * Strategically choose text sections or
an assigned article        articles for students based on reading level
                           and length
                         * Provide students with a purpose for reading
                           (e.g., provide them with three questions
                           they should expect to see answered in the
                         * Provide access to an audio recording of the
Content practice         * Word questions so that they are less complex
worksheets               * Give students fewer questions to complete
Writing an article       * Strategically choose articles for students
summary                    based on reading level and length
                         * Provide a graphic organizer
Practice problems        * Allow students to use resources, such as a
that involve math          calculator or multiplication chart
                         * Use whole numbers (when possible)
                         * Give students fewer problems to complete
                         * Provide the answers and require the student
                           to show the work to complete the problem
Long-term projects       * Create a timeline with dates that specify by
                           when portions of the project should be
                         * Check with the student periodically to
                           ensure he or she is on track
                         * Provide graphic organizers when appropriate
Any assignment           * Visual chunking (limit the number of
                           problems or the amount of text and
                           information on the page)
                         * Consider how students are able to complete
                         * Completing assignments electronically
                           instead of using paper and pencil
                         * Giving oral responses instead of written
                         * Provide the student with extra time to
                           complete the assignment
                         * Reminders to highlight key parts of the text
                           or problem

Ensure students have a clear understanding of the homework requirements

Too often we assume that students did not complete an assignment because they were indifferent about it or did not manage their time well. …

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