Although homework loads vary, students almost unanimously begrudge homework for the effort and time it demands of them. Student responses to the question “What would you consider a reasonable nightly homework load?” ranged from 30 minutes to 3 hours, including the response, “An hour seems reasonable, but none whatsoever is preferable.” Homework can make learning seem tedious or burdensome, especially when homework fails to contribute to learning. In fact, student responses to a survey posing the question, “How much of your homework load contributes to your learning” averaged a mere 50%! One student remarked, “The earlier I think back to, the more busy work I remember.”
Part of the problem may be that some teachers use homework as a means of covering class material. Learning specialist Susan Schwartz from New York University, in an article titled “The Homework Load: Is it time for reform?” described a “frequent scenario” in which “a teacher knows [he or she is] not going to get to something in class and thinks… ‘I’m not going to be able to teach them this, so I’ll give them some extra homework and they’ll figure it out, because they have to know it for the standardized test coming up.’ ” But students should rarely have to spend extra time at home doing work for a class because of poor teaching, poor planning, or poor class time management.
Some teachers also assign homework out of a perceived obligation rather than an actual intent to extend or solidify concepts learned in class. Schwartz remarked, “Homework in most schools isn’t limited to those occasions when it seems appropriate and important. Rather, the point of departure seems to be: ‘We’ve decided ahead of time that children will have to do something every night (or several times a week). Later on we’ll figure out what to make them do.’ ” Rethinking Homework author Alfie Kohn adds that “teachers who have long harbored doubts about the value of homework feel pressured by those parents who mistakenly believe that a lack of after-school assignments reflects an insufficient commitment to academic achievement.” These points are worth emphasizing to educators. Homework should not be assigned out of some perceived obligation to put something into the grade book, but rather when assignments are actually worth students’ time and contribute to their learning. This perceived obligation may in part contribute the piles of busy work assignment that many students feel burdened with. Teachers should make sure they feel obligated to help their students learn, not to use up their time.