Unfortunately, when it comes to content, instead of encouraging reflection on the topic covered in class, or curiosity-led research into further facets of the subject, homework tasks often constitute new material that could not be covered in class.Not only does this mean that we’re unable to tailor homework to the student’s specific academic needs, but it also means that the homework material has often not been pre-taught – something that makes the more conscientious in our profession feel incredibly guilty as we feel we’re letting our students down.
In a recent tutorial, a 16 year-old Italian student of mine had to write a two-page critique in English of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s – a poem so archaic that even I as a mother-tongue English speaker struggle in parts.
I’m not for one moment questioning the value of studying literature, but writing an essay on Romantic English literature when your spoken English is too elementary to accurately verbally communicate seems like a waste of time. In another tutorial, a student’s homework was to translate a page of dense grammatical explanations (meant for advanced adults) about the third-conditional into Italian; an exercise that astounded me not only because of the dastardly difficulty and pointlessness of the task, but also because my students English-comprehension was so low that it soon became apparent that the nervous boy sitting before me had absolutely no idea what he was reading.
As we’ll see later, work that doesn’t get done at school – often through no fault of the child’s – is set as homework.
The idea that it is the child’s responsibility to make up for this, however, is one that parents have to feel comfortable with before they can preach to their children about doing it.
It favors the children of the wealthy and educated not by educating their children, but by ensuring they tick boxes, achieve grades and are taught competition.
There will always be parents who’ll ask for more homework to be assigned and who’ll rally against attempts to curtail the already almost impossible workload, confident in the belief that stunts to their children’s development, their short-term suffering, will be compensated by their future prosperity. Without wanting to be completely utilitarian, it’s our duty as educators, parents and general enforcers of homework to question the merit of what we’re asking our children to do.This, in part, must be explained by the more experienced teachers’ ability to condense their lessons to fit the curriculum – a good working-system for achieving grades, but one not suitable for education in its own right.Short of introducing an outright ban, a more effective system at least would be for us to invest more time coordinating amongst ourselves to make sure that we’re neither setting too much homework at the same time nor overlapping on test dates.The prevalence of this practice is confirmed by data, which shows that the amount of homework set by teachers is relative to their level of experience.Indeed, as revealed in a 2007 Met Life study into US schools, only fourteen percent of teachers with over 21 years experience assign more than an hour’s homework a night compared to 14 percent of teachers with between zero and five years experience.Homework encourages competition, and parents will pay to get the edge with private tutors. Homework is about memorization not education, and there is a case to be made that if you were able to do the homework it never needed to be done, whereas if you weren’t able to do it, you haven’t learnt anything so the whole exercise was pointless.Here are a few such examples of pointless homework.Working in Italy, I am obliged to set (and of course grade) increasingly large amounts of homework: most of which is completed by my female students, little of which is even attempted by my male students.While the dynamic has changed, however, my view has not. Instead of contributing to learning, it only threatens to blacken the association young people have with education. The sheer fact that the Internet is abound with websites trying to resolve homework-related conflicts and advising parents on how to get their children to do sit down and do it clearly highlights its inherent dislike by children.Not only does it put children off learning through the boring nature of the work, but it also has the potential to create negative cognitive associations between learning and conflict in general – especially where there are family arguments over the amount of time and effort spent doing it.Speaking at Paris’ Sorbonne University in 2012, the incumbent French president François Hollande suggested banning homework outright; the place for learning, he suggested, should be in the classroom and not at home.