Guide: Is homework a good idea or not?
The Christmas holidays are over and it's back to school!
That means lessons, assembly, seeing your friends and - for a lot of you - time to do homework again!
While giving homework to pupils in secondary schools is generally seen as a good idea, some don't think that kids in primary schools should have to do it.
For the last 100 years or so, experts have been trying to work out if it is beneficial to give homework to kids in primary schools.
In the UK, the government says it's up to the head teacher to decide whether or not their school will set extra work like this.
Find out more about both sides of the argument with Newsround's guide, and then let us know what you think of doing homework when you're in primary school.
What is homework?
Homework: A timeline
- 1997: Just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework
- 1998: Government publishes advice for schools in England and Wales about setting homework (e.g. pupils aged 5 to 7 should do 10 minutes of homework a night)
- 1999: Around 9 in 10 primary schools are setting homework
- 2012: Government gets rid of its guidelines, saying that schools should get to decide for themselves
Homework generally means work that is set by teachers for you to do outside of your normal school hours.
When you're younger, your parents might help you to do it.
But as you get older, you will generally take more responsibility for doing your homework on your own.
Professor Sue Hallam from the Institute of Education - who is one of the most experienced researchers into homework in the UK - says that in 1997, just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework.
Just two years later, this had risen to around nine in ten primary schools and the majority still set homework now.
Why do people think homework is a good idea?
Many think that giving homework to primary school children is an important part of their learning.
They believe it helps them to practice what that they have learnt in lessons, in order to get better at things like spelling and handwriting.
They say it helps to teach children how to work on their own and be disciplined with themselves - both skills that are useful later in life.
It can also allow parents or guardians to get involved in their children's learning.
To find out more about why people think homework is a good idea, Jenny spoke to Chris from the campaign for Real Education, which is a group of teachers and parents who care about how well schools are doing.
Members of the organisation believe that traditional homework is important.
Chris told Newsround: "If you like learning, homework helps to support your learning. It's really important to go back afterwards and think about what you're learning in class. Practice makes perfect."
"In parts of the world, children are doing much better in school than children in the UK. In most cases, they are doing much more homework.
"That doesn't mean you should be doing home work all the time.
"But a little bit of homework to support what you're doing in the classroom, involving your parents and guardians, is really good because it allows you to do as well as everybody else in the world."
Chris added that it is important to have a balance between homework and other activities.
"Homework shouldn't be overdone. Let's do some homework and some play."
Why do people think homework is a bad idea?
Some people think that giving homework to children at primary school is not necessary.
They think it puts too much pressure on them and that the time spent doing homework could be used to do other activities.
Jenny also spoke to Nansi Ellis - assistant general secretary of one of the biggest teacher's unions in England, made up of teachers and heads - who doesn't believe that giving homework to primary school children is needed.
She told Newsround: "There is other good stuff you can do at home, like reading, playing sport or a musical instrument, or helping with the cooking, shopping or with your siblings. You might be a Guide or a Scout.
"Those things are really helpful for you to learn to work in a team, to learn to be creative, to ask questions and to help other people. These are really important skills.
"The trouble with homework is that it gets in the way of all of those good things that you could be doing and it doesn't necessarily help you with your school work."
Sometimes parents or guardians try to help with homework and, if they have been taught differently, it can end up being confusing for the child doing the homework. They can also end up doing too much of the work themselves!
Nansi added: "Some children live in really busy houses with lots of people coming and going, and they don't have a quiet space to do homework, so they can't use it to help them to get better at studying on their own, which doesn't seem fair.
"Teachers set homework for you to get better at your learning - that seems like a really good reason. But actually, the evidence isn't clear that even that's true."
Another expert Rosamund McNeil, from a teachers' organisation called the NUT, said: "Pupils in Finland are assigned very little homework yet they remain one of the most educationally successful countries in the world."
Why is this issue being talked about?
People have been trying to find out if homework is a good thing or a bad thing for many years.
Recently, a report was done by an organisation called the Teaching Schools Council, which works with the government and schools in England.
It says: "Homework [in primary schools] should have a clear purpose."
The report explains that if there isn't a clear reason for the homework and the pupils won't necessarily gain something from doing it, then it should not be set.
Dame Reena Keeble, an ex-primary school head teacher who led the report, told Newsround: "What we are saying in our report is that if schools are setting homework for you, they need to explain to you - and your mums and dads - why they're setting it, and your teachers need to let you know how you've done in your homework.
"We found homework can really help with your learning, as long as your school makes sure that what you're doing for your homework is making a difference."
So is homework a good idea or a bad idea?
Many people have different opinions. However, the truth is it's hard to know.
Professor Hallam explains that part of the problem is that it is difficult to accurately work out how useful homework is.
Generally, people agree that homework is good idea for children in secondary school.
But for primary school, it isn't clear if there's a right or wrong answer to this question.
And you've been having your say too.
Nearly 900 of you took part in an online vote about the amount of homework you get: whether it is not enough, just right or too much.
It's just a quick snapshot of what some of you think. Here's the results:
We’ve come a long way from the 1930s, when the American Child Health Association put homework next to child labor as a leading cause of child deaths from tuberculosis and heart disease.
Yet the value — or lack thereof — of homework never seems to go away. The issue has been raised anew by a story on the front page of the New York Times about a number of school systems around the country that are either reevaluating their homework policies or have already found new, less stressful ways of giving kids work to do after school.
Some of the impetus for the change comes from a movie — “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary film showing students who are burned out from the stress of school. Added to that is the research that shows that too much homework is often counterproductive and that in the early grades, the homework that actually helps kids learn is reading. Just reading.
There has never been any agreement in the education world about exactly what homework should be or even what its basic purpose is. Should it be about review or about learning new concepts? Should it be graded or not?
Harris Cooper, professor of education and psychology at Duke University, who is probably the best known researcher on the subject, has concluded that:
• Up until fifth grade, homework should be very limited.
• Middle-school students should not spend more than 90 minutes a day on homework
• Two hours should be the limit in high school.
Beyond those time limits, he has said, research shows that homework has no impact on student performance.
Kids often complain about homework assignments for good reason: Many consist of mindless tasks, or else are time wasters that have nothing to do with the lesson at hand.
In 2009, I asked some students to tell me their favorite and least favorite homework assignments. Here, in an encore performance, are the still informative answers.
Meanwhile, what were your or your children’s most useful and useless assignments this past year? Write them in the comments or e-mail me at email@example.com, and I’ll publish the best of them.
Attended George Washington University, Horace Mann School in New York
The best homework assignment I can remember was a project on music that corresponded with a civil rights class. Using different time periods (slavery corresponded with Robert Johnson, the civil rights movement with the song “A Change Is Gonna Come”), we analyzed current music for gospel and blues influences and wrote about how they developed from specific points in history. It was pretty much the only time I’ve seen an entire high school class excited about a project.
Lousy homework assignments are uninspired ones — the ones that get assigned only to prove that the student completed the reading or opened the textbook.
Attended McLean High School
The most useless homework assignment I’ve ever had was where I had to write about the history of a cultural festival, and when the day came to turn in the assignment, the teacher didn’t even touch upon that subject. The teacher went straight into another subject that was completely irrelevant to what was in the curriculum and had nothing to do with what would be relevant to the final exam, the tests, quizzes, and midterm.
The best homework assignment I’ve ever had was for my math class, where the homework assignment covered literally everything that was on a huge test. I learned more than I had expected to because of all the critical thinking that the homework required.
What I feel makes a homework assignment good is if it is relevant, challenges the student doing it, and is not too time-consuming. A bad homework assignment is one that has absolutely no relevance to what is being taught or anything that is learned or part of the curriculum.
If it is meaningless AND time-consuming, then it is quite possibly the worst of the worst in terms of homework assignments.
Graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School
The most useless homework is always those study questions that we get after we read a text in a class. The questions are always something along the lines of “What is the main idea of the passage?” I’m not going to be able to answer this type of question right away.
And even if I were able to, the answer would not stick with me unless I knew why it was the answer. I get the most out of these passages and essays by discussing them in class.
The best homework assignment I received was ... in English.
After a long year in which we all worked hard and definitely improved our reading and writing skills, my teacher simply told us to write a journal entry in which we tell her something. Anything (well, anything school appropriate).
I wrote about how my family moved from Pakistan to the United States when I was very young. This assignment gave me the opportunity to use my refined writing skills and also allowed me to reflect on my life.
A good homework assignment is one where you and the classmate sitting next to you do not necessarily have the same answer. It allows you to be creative in the way you put to use what you learn in class.
Bad homework assignments are those tedious, monotonous pieces of work that you get each time you finish a section of lessons in class. They are a series of repetitions that are supposed to polish your skills in a particular subject, but do not effectively do this.
I think that the most useless homework assignment was ... when I got homework on a lesson that I learned a week earlier, and when I had learned something completely different that day.
The best homework assignment I ever had was when ... I had to write a persuasive essay on the Japanese Internment [during World War II], and whether it was for America’s own good or not. It was fun. Even though I had to read various parts of the Constitution, and had to read many different articles and readings on people debating the same topic, it was still fun.
Attended Mt. Hebron High School
Ellicott City, Md.
The best homework I had was not something that made me learn something unexpected.
Homework should be something expected that will have problems and challenging ideas that will hone the skills we acquired that day of the lesson or before and shouldn’t go further than that.
I generally like my Calculus homework because my teacher gives problems that we learned from a long time ago along with newly learned ones but never something we will learn or totally unexpected. Especially when it comes to math, many students give up tackling “difficult or unexpected” problems.
Atended George Washington University,
Salem High School, N.H.
A great homework assignment from high school was given in a Comprehensive American Studies and Literature course taught by two completely opposite personalities (one had a fetish for legendarily difficult pop quizzes and the other enjoyed taking us on walks in the woods to ponder transcendentalism).
We were asked to illustrate a quote from Thoreau on a poster for the course and write a paper on the quote, and what it meant to us. The posters were displayed in the classroom and the papers shared with the class. The assignment was great because our work was appreciated and displayed and my classmates chose a variety of quotes, with even those picking the same one interpreting them in wildly different ways.
The worst homework assignment was all of the ones given in Statistics. The teacher assigned almost every problem of every chapter (making for horribly repetitive and time-consuming work). If we got through the lesson plan for the day, it would always be “okay, start your homework for chapters three, four and five!”
Feeling like you were doing work simply for the sake of doing work ... was the worst part of the assignment — and high school.
Attended George Washington University, Columbia High School
I have two memorable homework assignments, both for good reasons.
When I was in 5th grade, we were assigned a project to come up with a plan to spend $1 million. “The Million Dollar Project,” as it was called, was supposed to teach us the value of money. We had to spend every last cent of the million, however we could spend it any way we liked. The assignment was a fun and easy way to learn the value of money and to see what $1 million could really buy.
[At college in 2008], I took a class called U.S. Political Participation during the fall semester. Thus, the presidential election was taking place over the course of the semester. We were given a project to predict the final Electoral College result. We had to analyze polling data and research past voting records of each state. We then had to determine the main issue voters would base their decision off of, and look at that in historical context to see whether those issues lead to the election of a Democrat or Republican. It was also an engaging assignment that forced me to pay more attention to election coverage.
Overall, assignments that allow me to be hands-on usually turn out to be my favorite.
Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page. Bookmark it!