Nathalie Peron Column: To Homework or Not To Homework

Nathalie Peron Column: To Homework or Not To Homework

mag_dec2016_coverThis column first appeared in the December 2016 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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By Nathalie Peron

I must confess – I was prepared to deliver a 750-word rant on why homework is such an exasperating, draining, mind-numbing and aggravating burden. Probably not very productive, I agree, but a small release nonetheless. However, while reading up on the subject, I discovered that the debate over homework has periodically resurfaced since the late 19th century (more recently in Québec with the rise of a no-homework movement in some schools), putting pressure on researchers in education and psychology to try to resolve the big question once and for all: to homework or not to homework.

Before we start, what is homework precisely? Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at Duke University and author of The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents, defines it as “tasks assigned to students by school teachers that are meant to be carried out during non-school hours.”

Now, let’s start with the easy part: arguments against homework. Cooper lists many adverse effects: loss of appetite for learning due to overexposure, physical and mental fatigue, reduced playtime and family time, reduced time for chores or other learning experiences around the house (like learning how to cook something other than boxed mac and cheese, for example) and parental interference. This last one is a doozy. Is there too much parental interference or not enough? Some parents, who might or might not understand the assignment themselves, put pressure on the child to get top grades, and others, particularly single or working parents, just aren’t available to help out with said homework; these are two of many examples of how parental involvement can be problematic.

What about the pro-homework side of the argument? Homework has been shown to have an immediate positive impact on students’ understanding of material learned in school, and lead to improved study skills. The non-academic side effects may be even more important: homework helps students develop independence and a sense of responsibility, in addition to perseverance, self-discipline and organizational skills, which students will need in their future personal and professional lives.

Although researchers don’t all agree about the benefits of homework, many seem to conclude that homework achieves better results as students get older. In fact, studies show no clear positive effects of homework on children in elementary school, who respond better to in-class supervised study. Essentially, research has shown that homework at elementary school level should focus on establishing good study habits (for the parents as well), reinforcing skills that were introduced in class and promoting a positive attitude toward school. In high school, however, research does demonstrate a clear link between out-of-class assignments and academic achievement.

Ultimately, teachers should assign appropriate homework. This means assigning tasks that can be completed within a reasonable amount of time, that students can do themselves, that are stimulating without being too complex, that review material seen in class and that take into account homework given by other teachers, reinforcing skills learned in other classes as part of an overall strategy.

Sooner or later, the question of homework is one we will have to figure out as a society, for the good of generations to come. Whether you have children or not, you are part of the collective “we,” and we all impact future generations through our own actions, inactions, attitudes and intentions, which guide those following in our footsteps as they decide what to do – or what not to do. Yes, I know, I can hear you now: “Weren’t you supposed to be ranting against homework?” Indeed, I was. But while writing these lines, I started thinking of those evenings I spent with homework I really didn’t want to do, and how things might have been different if someone (or many someones – I was a bit stubborn) had taken the time to explain what it was all for. Mea culpa.



About Author

Nathalie Peron

Naturalized Quebec City citizen, Nathalie has studied in literature and as a paralegal, the latter stemming a career she has strived in for the past 10 years, notably in workers’ compensation cases. Artistically inclined, she has acted in amateur theatre for 25 years and has lately added singing to her amateur CV. She now stretches her professional wings to writing, both corporate and creative texts, hoping to meld both her artistic and legal personalities.

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