Too much poorly assigned homework may impact negatively on any student. If a teacher neglects to consider commitments and time frames of the students, homework may become something to hate, dread and ultimately something to simply avoid.
If a primary age child (in Australia, this is a child in the 5 -11 age group) is given too much “overnight” homework, the child may be crushed emotionally. This could be a young child’s first taste of stress worrying about understanding the topic, completing it on time and completing it effectively.
Overnight homework should be allocated sparingly. If the child is in a club or sporting group, requiring participation after school, the added stress can be enormous. Poor parents driving their children around to satisfy outside commitments, may also be caught up in the stress of overnight homework. Somewhere, they need to find time to supervise homework. There is just too much demand on commitment and duty for the whole family where this kind of homework is concerned. And a child still needs time to be a child with some freedom to choose to play.
Overnight homework, for a primary child, should be restricted to “a little” practice of the essentials Maths, English and clear writing skills. This practice should simply be a relevant extension of the day’s work, not an addition for the sake of setting homework.
Longer homework, such as a project on dinosaurs, should be given a longer time frame for completion at least a week so that outside school commitments can be factored into the timetable. In that time, some of this work should be done in class time, so that the teacher may monitor the understanding, direction and progress of each student. This will minimize failure and avoid an emotional sense of incompetence which may carry over to future projects.
High school aged children (from 12-18) need separate consideration. Students, 12-14 year olds, should have some homework. As a high school teacher, if work is required, I always give a warning ahead of time and ask students to inform me of any commitments or problems that may affect their submissions. Alternative times are negotiated where needed. Assessment tasks are a special case. Students are given a plan, each term, when these more formal tasks are due with specific dates. Planning, in this way, allows students to arrange their time responsibly. This is an important skill for later life when more adult time management may be required.
In this high school age group, when hormones are awry and emotions high, it may only take a little poorly allocated homework to push this age group into unhealthy depressions and low self-esteem modes. This MUST be avoided at all costs. Students must feel they are part of their learning; and that includes the setting of homework. Negotiation is valuable to all concerned, including parents. Parents have the opportunity to alert the teacher to problems prior to the due date. This may be done via a note, in the student’s diary, to the particular teacher concerned. There is always a way to keep everyone happy AND get the work done!
Finally, there are the senior students, under pressure to perform academically. These students need a special form of homework.
The following comments particularly apply to English studies, but could be adapted to other subject areas. If they are less able students, I follow the pattern for setting homework as per the juniors. However, the high flyers are given direction only how to organise their home study and how to develop their own notes on topics studied; this includes brainstorming headings in class that require detailed notes. What is happening is the students are setting their own homework levels! They create their homework and work out when and how it is done! I know whether this homework is completed effectively by the level of participation in class discussions. I invite the students to show me their notes, recommending ways of setting them out for formal assessment study. To understand topics more effectively and offer viewpoints or even ask questions, students need to be responsible for their own notes.
Senior students are those most likely to suffer high stress levels from poorly allocated homework. Once they feel they are behind, then all manner of anti-social behaviour patterns may develop. The need to learn evaporates, and the student is in trouble. However, if the student is given the reins in the homework department, then many of these problems are minimized. It is far easier to monitor how the student is coping and deal with problems immediately, before they are out of hand.
In conclusion, homework can be a weapon or a comfy security blanket. The difference lies in the thoughtfulness, by the teacher, in planning how and when the homework is allocated.