Sunday, August 27, 2000

Does homework work? If it enhances class, most educators say

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        From math drills to research papers to bug collections, homework assignments today often require large chunks of students' time.

        But hours of effort don't necessarily mean hours of learning. Parents need to look at what type of assignments are coming home.

        “Is the homework meaningful or just busy work?” asks Pam Sayler, principal of Walton-Verona High School. “I don't care if it's only 20 minutes, if it's busy work, I'm not for it.

        Meaningful homework enhances what goes on in the classroom, says Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri and author of The Battle Over Homework. It's a reinforcement of the skills and concepts learned during the school day.

        That may include repetitive drills like spelling lists, vocabulary words and math worksheets. But students also need assignments that help them connect what they've learned in the classroom with real-life experiences outside of school, Mr. Cooper says.

        “The best strategy is to mix it up,” he says.

  Parents, students: Use our email form to tell us about your homework experience.
        Parent Kathy Ruschman says the best homework assignments turn on a lightbulb over her 13-year-old son Joel's head. They help him to better understand what he's studying and get him excited about what he's learning at Little Miami Junior High, she says.

        “Like for a ballgame, you have to practice,” Ms. Ruschman says. “But it shouldn't be used as punishment.”

        Kids should engage in meaningful learning after school beyond teacher assignments, such as independent reading, watching the Discovery Channel, going to the library or doing research on the Internet, says Ann Boyle, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Princeton City Schools.

        Princeton also encourages interactive “lifework,” such as learning measurements by cooking with the family, Ms. Boyle says.

        Homework should not be an avenue to introduce new material that the teacher didn't have time to get to in class, says Thomas Guskey, a professor of educational policy studies and evaluation at the University of Kentucky. Even for older students, who are more capable of learning things on their own, homework should complement something already discussed in class.

        “Homework is not a good initial teacher. You can't expect kids to learn things from homework that they haven't learned primarily in school,” Mr. Guskey says.

        For elementary students, effective homework should involve the parents, Mr. Guskey says. Parents who participate in the homework process not only monitor their children's progress and what they're learning, but also show kids that they value education.

        But parents should stay involved in nightly homework even for high schoolers. “Their role becomes one of an interested supporter rather than an active partner,” Mr. Guskey says.

        If parents think their children are spending too much time on homework, they should look at their approach to assignments, Ms. Sayler says.

        “Having the right study skills can make the difference.”


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