Taming the Homework Monster

I vividly recall my first grade daughter rushing into my classroom and telling me:  “I love everything about school – except the homework!”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her what I was thinking:  “Honey, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

© 2011 Matthew Ragan. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#21).

© 2011 Matthew Ragan. Creative Commons. Click here for full citation (#21).

Homework is a monster faced by teachers and parents alike.  How can it be tamed?  In this three-part blog series, we’ll discuss what we as teachers can do to tame this monster by considering three questions:

  1. Why do we give homework?
  2. How do we give homework?
  3. How can we help students and parents think about homework?

Most of the current research on this controversial topic suggests two things:  1) homework is not as beneficial to either grades or achievement as previously thought and 2) all homework is not created equal.  The studies are numerous and results have been documented in major newspapers (e.g. The Washington Post, November 2012) and in books by respected educational researchers (e.g. The Homework Myth:  Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn).  While it might be tempting to join the bandwagon and forego homework, it seems more prudent to give homework assignments that have been chosen thoughtfully and intentionally.

Why should teachers give homework?

Review – As information enters the frontal lobe of the brain, dendrites begin to form to move that information to the long-term memory.  If the information is not re-accessed within 24 hours, the brain assumes that the information is no longer needed and “prunes” the dendrites.  Material not reviewed within this time frame must be re-introduced.  Homework provides an opportunity for students to interact with material learned in class in a timely fashion, increasing the likelihood of long term retention.   Meaningful review homework might include returning to class with a summary notecard, an outline of lecture notes, or a “big idea” extracted from the previous lesson.

Reinforcement – Students also need to interact with material outside of class in order to reinforce concepts learned within class.  Math problem sets allow students to revisit a concept independently to reinforce that the concept was learned thoroughly.  Nightly practice in both math and reading enhances automaticity and fluency.

Responsibility – One of the often overlooked benefits of homework is the development of age-appropriate responsibility.  In an entertainment-based society, students often lose sight of their responsibility as a student.  Being a student is their God-given job at this point in their life.  It is their responsibility to pursue knowledge in this endeavor.  Actively engaging independently with homework assignments allows students to take ownership of their education and helps them to recognize it as just that – their education.  Fostering this responsibility is an important factor in creating lifelong learners.  Assignments that require students to prepare for an upcoming class fall into this category:  reading material in preparation for a class discussion, researching a topic for use in class group work, developing questions related to class discussions.

Examine the homework you give.  Is it meaningful or just “busy work” so you can say you’ve given homework?

How are you taming the homework monster in your class?  

You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Marty Reed teaches at Veritas School, a classical Christian school in Richmond, Virginia. Her twenty years of teaching, coupled with her duties as pastor's wife and mother of two, provide her with excellent insights to share with FOCUS readers.

Please note: we reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Linda Shortt

    Great article Mrs. Reed. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. God Bless you as you continue training young people for their place in society.

    • Matt Ticzkus

      Hi Linda! Thanks for reading the FOCUS Blog and thanks for commenting!

    • Edward Earwood

      Thanks for reading the blog, Linda. I agree with you! These were some very good thoughts concerning homework.

  • Marcia McConnell

    Homework…students dread it, and even parents are vocal about how it creeps into their child’s other activities. We teachers continue to give it, knowing the great benefits, wishing our little angels in our room would gratefully grasp the assignment as the helpful tool we know it to be. Thank you for your reassuring blog.

  • Martha Earwood Reed

    Don’t give up on giving meaningful homework!