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Is Homework Helpful Or Harmful Research

A viral social media post has once again sparked the debate surrounding homework and whether or not it's healthy or detrimental to a child's learning.

In Texas, a Grade 2 teacher Samantha Gallagher posted a new homework policy she plans on implementing this year. In her post she said after spending the summer researching, Gallagher said she's unable to prove homework improves student performance. Therefore, students in her class will be delighted to know she won't be assigning any homework this year and homework will only consist of work that students don't finish during the school day.

A memo from a Grade 2 teacher in Texas to parents outlining her policy on assigning homework. (Samantha Gallagher/Facebook)

Callers into CBC Radio's BlueSky rallied support behind this Texas teacher's strategy saying homework has become too disruptive and interferes with family time in the evening.

One caller who said she grew up in Finland said homework is unnecessary and it's actually banned in her country. The caller added the Finnish education system also has shorter school days than Canada's.

Michael Riest is an educational consultant, author and former teacher. He told CBC News he could argue for both sides of the homework debate. On one hand, he said he's fine with a teacher going to a homework-free policy, but he said no homework means kids will likely end up watching television and being generally unproductive at home.

My main message to parents is don't let homework ruin your family evenings and don't let homework ruin your relationships with your children.- Michael Riest, education consultant

When he grew up, Riest said he and his peers only had television as a distraction. Today kids have tablets and video games, too.

On the other hand, Riest said homework can be a big turn-off for students, leaving them uninterested in the subject matter and uninterested in learning.

"I specialize in working with boys and for a lot of boys they figure they put in their six or seven hours [in at school] and when they come home and they have to do more, it turns them off school fundamentally, it turns them off literacy … and that's the negative side effect of too much homework," Riest said.

Another Bluesky caller said when homework is assigned, certain assumptions are made about the child's life at home, according to a former teacher. 

"In my experience we really need to keep the playing field level and there's a lot of research that shows if we sent children home with homework we're making all kinds of privileged assumption of who is home to help them," the caller said. "The gap that exists because of poverty is wider and we really need to realize it's not acceptable."

Riest added that homework can also be a bonding and relationship-building experience for kids and their parents. But it might also hinder a child's relationship with parents.

"My main message to parents is don't let homework ruin your family evenings and don't let homework ruin your relationships with your children," Riest said. 

He contends homework also helps keep parents in the loop about lessons.

"Without homework it's easy to lose sight of what children are learning in school and what parents know they are learning in school so homework helps bridge that gap."

Keeping a reputation as a firm teacher

Riest added assigning homework could be a symptom of teachers trying to maintain the reputation of being a hard teacher or an easy teacher— likening the practice of assigning homework as a sort of Public Relations exercise for educators.

"They are seen as tougher teachers if they give homework and they're seen as weaker teachers if they don't give homework so part of it is a PR thing too and we all need to have a discussion about it," Riest said. "Let's give kids a break and let's leave kids to be kids."

With files from CBC Radio's BlueSky

Is Homework Harmful or Helpful?

Pros & cons of homework

By Terri Akman

(page 1 of 2)

The value of homework has been debated for ages, oftentimes with kids and parents taking opposing sides. Policies differ among schools and even individual teachers about the amount of time kids should spend on homework each night, whether or not to grade at-home output and if parents should be encouraged to help. 

Why homework is helpful

“Homework is important because it’s an opportunity for students to review materials that are covered in the classroom. You need to practice in order to become proficient,” says Sharon R. Stallings, principal of Signal Hill School in Voorhees, NJ. When students are unable to complete the homework, “that lets the teacher know they need more help in the classroom.”

“If teaching and learning is effective, the opportunity for application of classroom learning should happen outside of school hours as much as in school,” says Jean Wallace, CEO of Philadelphia’s Green Woods Charter School. Green Woods mom Megan Keel is all in favor of her kids getting homework: “It’s never too much and it reinforces what they learned during the day.”

Keel has seen both of her sons, 7th-grader Grady and 4th-grader Otis, struggle at times with homework, but she’s also witnessed “aha” moments. “When they’re just learning to read, homework can be a challenge,” she says. “But once the kids are confident in their schoolwork, they can do it more independently.”

When homework is harmful

Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, is an outspoken critic of at-home assignments. “Homework is frequently the source of frustration, exhaustion, family conflicts, a lack of time for kids to pursue other interests and, perhaps most disturbingly, less excitement about learning,” he insists. “It may be the greatest single extinguisher of children's curiosity.”

Kohn points out that no research has ever found any advantage to assigning homework — of any kind or in any amount — in elementary school. “It's truly all pain and no gain,” he believes. “There is little reason to believe that homework is necessary and no support for the assumption that it promotes good work habits, independence or self-discipline.”

Wallace disagrees. “A gradual increase in the amount of homework over the K-through-8 or K-through-12 years can better prepare students for building necessary skills of time management and the responsibility for their own learning,” she says.

NEXT PAGE: Steps to take when homework loads start to overwhelm.

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