Homework Tasks for Students

November 27, 2016

Over the years there have been multiple debates on whether home-work should be given at all; how much homework should be given; Should homework be graded/marked et al.

I remember enjoying doing my home-work as a child. It gave me a sense of achievement and I seldom needed help. I loved the ‘stars’ I got on the pages of my note books! But I am talking of the 60s and 70s when life was slower and maybe easier.

As a young teacher of English in a public school, I admit giving home-work but it was never too much for I wanted students to do original work which, I felt, was best done under my eagle eye. Nevertheless, a portion was given as home-work but only as much as I could check and return within time.

As an administrator, first as a Vice Principal, and now as a Principal, I feel some home-work should be given to keep the concepts ‘alive’ in the student’s mind, but too much may end up landing on the parent, elder sibling, or a tutor’s plate, thereby losing out on the initial idea of helping the child learn better. A home-work schedule needs to be made so that every day’s amount of work can be monitored and a student does not spend his/her entire evening, filling reams of paper. The date of the submission of home-work also needs to be made clear so that a student knows how much time is required to complete and submit the work.

Further, home-work should be assigned because it will encourage good study habits, and let students know that studying takes place at school as well as at home. Moreover, the home-work assigned in any subject should be seen to be beneficial to the students and not given just for the sake of giving. Teachers have to be trained to use home-work effectively.

In any case home-work should be assigned appropriate to the age group it is being given to. An age old thumb rule is that an assignment should be of 10 minutes multiplied by the grade the student is in. So naturally higher classes will get more home-work to do than lower classes.

In the lower classes, home-work should be given essentially to encourage reinforcement of concepts and simple skills taken up or introduced in the class. In higher grades, home-work should be aimed at improving school achievement.

Parents are very often terrorized by home-work and consider it a personal ordeal to handle the study hours of their children at home. Thus the mushrooming ‘study centres’/tutors/home tutors!

Parents do need to have a supervisory role to ensure that the ward is putting in some pre-decided study hours, but beyond that it is unfair for a school to expect parents to suddenly develop an expertise in all subjects.

Hence the following guide lines need to be followed while assigning home-work:

Home-work should be assigned to ensure that what has been done in class is reinforced, concepts taught are strengthened and students are given the opportunity to explore further knowledge on the chapter/topic/story at hand.

The home-work assigned should be of adequate difficulty to be challenging enough for the student, but, at the same time, should be such that the student can finish it comfortably with no external help.

Parents do need to be able to supervise the home-work successfully, but without any stress about the assignment.

The length of the home-work should not take away from the student, the time to do other home/personal activities.

Parents, by and large, like their wards to get home-work. For one, it keeps students busy for at least a couple of hours every evening, for another, they do like to keep abreast of what is happening in class. I have noticed, over the years that parents like the traditional methods of assigning home-work—as in a pen/paper assignment. They think less of home-works like doing a crossword puzzle, watching a good TV show, just reading, or doing an experiment in the kitchen!

So, on the whole, home-work should be given for it suits all stake holders. However, it needs to be monitored carefully so that meaningful work is accomplished, not just pages filled for the sake of filling them.

How has the approach to homework changed with the advent of technology?
One of the most important outcomes of the advent of technology in schools is that parents can now view homework assignments.

Further, homework has acquired an element of fun to it for teachers have endless resources available to them to use for making assignments more meaningful and interesting.

The learning outcomes remain the same but now teachers have a large selection of intriguing and innovative assignments at hand that have turned homework tasks to something much more than mere drudgery.

Today’s classrooms are also filled with students from diverse backgrounds, all with their own unique learning styles and needs. Meeting the demands of such a classroom can prove difficult, even for the most able teacher. Now a teacher can actually set assignments in any media, suitable to a child’s specific needs, keeping the same learning outcomes in mind as those of the rest of the class. No one’s self esteem is hurt or damaged and a student with a different learning style feels as much a part of the class as anyone else.

How do schools and children approach homework nowadays?
By adding technology to school classrooms, homework has undergone a makeover in schools and at home. For instance, speaking and listening, which traditionally took place in lessons because of the reliance on the teacher, can now take place outside class, in the home by sharing MP3 files.

Students can record, correct, and generally gain more confidence in handling such tasks for purposes of grading. This encourages reticent learners and allows the teacher to analyse skills in detail, without leaving students feeling exposed in a classroom setting.

Digital learning can also create a seamless feedback loop between teachers and students.

In a non-digital environment, students complete their homework, hand it in and get it back a few days later, marked with comments that the teacher hopes they will read and absorb. This process is problematic in two ways. Firstly, if a student has misunderstood the task or found it too hard, the teacher will often not discover this until they have moved on. Not only has the learning opportunity been lost, but time has been wasted and the student may have had a frustrating and demoralizing experience. Secondly, many students just look at their marks/grades – or the amount of red pen on the page – to find out how they have done, before sticking the work in a folder never to be looked at again.

But with the use of technology, like say ‘Google Classroom’, there is an option to allow for differentiated guidance. By issuing students with a deadline to submit a first draft (which can be an introductory paragraph, an essay plan, an attempt at the first few questions and so on), teachers can give feedback at a midway point in the homework process. By being able to see which students are having problems and what those problems are, the teacher can clear up misunderstandings, provide extra support or even alter the parameters of the task. The piece of work is then sent back to the student to complete – and as they continue working they naturally engage more effectively because of the feedback. Difficult concepts can also be revisited through apps and experiments can be viewed on YouTube as many times as a student needs.

Moreover, homework no longer needs to be a solitary activity; it can be interactive, social and even global! Without the constraint of location, homework can be collaborative; not only with other members of the class and teachers, but with students in any part of the world. The possibilities are endless – imagine a project on environmental issues taking place across continents.

What are the alternatives to homework used by teachers/ schools?
1. Homework can be posted digitally so that it can be accessed from anywhere and can even be completed, graded, and returned digitally. This method also provides a range of accessibility options for students with disabilities, such as screen readers in Google Classroom.
2. Learners can be helped to organize their thoughts with the help of mind-mapping tools which are free and easy to use. This is a skill that would benefit every student and save him/her from laborious and tedious note taking and making.
3. If the teacher needs to communicate something to the students, a recording of the instructions can be made and e-mailed.
4. There are apps available that allow a teacher to write questions, notes, or problems on the screen and then record audio to explain what is happening. This can then be shared online for instant access for students anywhere or saved and sent as an attachment for access at a later stage.

Learning beyond the classroom can be very different in a digital world. Homework can be recalibrated as a process that is more meaningful and more engaging. It can become an authentic extension of learning, with students supported and guided in ways that were previously not possible.

Ms. Komal Singh
Principal – Learning Paths School, Mohali. The author can be reached at our website

Ms. Komal Singh started her teaching career in 1979 at DAV Public School, Chandigarh. She moved on to being a teacher at Yadavindra Public School, Mohali and eventually ended up serving as the Vice Principal of the same school. She was then selected to head The Millenium School at Mohali an initiative by Educomp in the year 2007 and continues to head it, now called Learning Paths School. Ms. Singh has also trained extensively with Cambridge University and is an examiner for their entire range of exams, right from YLE to IELTS. With extensive experience as an educator, Ms. Komal Singh sheds light on the changing trends in homework tasks given to students.

Article as published in “Mentor”, November 2016, Vol.10 Issue.6

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