The ability of a student to handle work outside of the classroom is really what the education process is about. Homework should be considered practical application of learning. It is easy to hand feed a student information and guide them through assignments in person. It it simple to outline and prepare material already digested for the student. What real application, however, does this serve?
The primary goal is that a student learns how to learn. This may seem ridiculous, but it is an important point. Especially in modern culture, we are not often faced with enough challenges. Just like wild animals born or kept too long in the zoo, certain abilities can be stunted or completely lost.
This has always been a part of our survival as a species. In our modern setting, most necessities are easily accessible. Even in the classroom, there is comfort that knowledge and materials can be easily obtained through the teacher. At home, the student should be working on methods to do these tasks alone. They should be developing strategies to acquire knowledge, not just for the present assignment, but on how to complete future challenges. In essence, they should be becoming better learners. The student needs to learn to sort through vast material and isolate the most productive and relevant information. It is also important that the student begins to understand limitations and time management.
Self motivation should start developing, which is a crucial part to learning in general. Even in a controlled setting, a student needs to stay motivated and understand the value of knowledge. Material, at times, can provide direct relevance. For instance, I will always remember reading Frederick Douglass’ narrative. Not only is such work applicable to many class settings, but his accounts stress how valuable access to information and learning can be. The student can gain a respect in general for learning and the access they currently have to educational material. There is also a clear example of what motivation, desire, and knowledge can do for any individual.
I remember, as well, having a class once during my MA where homework was not checked. The teacher allowed us to be our own teachers in essence. For some of us, we pushed harder and found the class very rewarding as we took that responsibility. For others, oddly at that age and level, they were completely unable to cope with the sudden lack of direction. They often did not bother doing assignments that were not checked. The quality of their work in general declined. A transition needs to occur at some point during education.
Students must finally start taking responsibility for their own work and progress. This is especially important with our current focus on standardized tests. Students, more than ever, must use time outside of class to develop areas that no longer have time allotted in constrained school systems. They must also see that education is not about testing and small standards, but that it is about something much larger. It is about their personal growth and empowerment.
Students go from the controlled world of observation blossoming into mature adults able to conduct their own future learning and hopefully even to guide others. Students must first fully develop problem solving, find inspiration, and finally be guided into maturity. This is the ultimate goal of our education. Both teachers and students need to remember that quality homework is the application of this learning without which the final stage cannot be reached.