Why does it matter?
Homework isn’t just about rote learning or filling in the blanks. The question “Does your homework help you learn?” investigates whether students experience their assignments as more than busywork.
The five hallmarks of good homework
Cathy Vatterott suggests the best homework tasks should exhibit five characteristics. Here’s an overview of Vatterott’s tips for making sure homework adds value rather than just keeping students busy.
Homework should have a clear academic purpose. Explaining why students are being asked to spend more time on something makes sure a teacher knows “their why” in the first place and can help build buy-in with students.
Some traditional homework assignments may seem inefficient. If so, retire or reinvent them to avoid busywork and cumbersome assignments. For example, instead of asking students to build a model U.S. Civil War-era garrison, ask them to write a point of view diary entry from a character of the times.
Customizing tasks to fit student learning styles and interests makes it so that a task belongs to a student, not a teacher. High-quality homework is an opportunity to create a personal relationship between students and the content they are learning.
It is important to abandon the one-size-fits-all approach and differentiate so that students feel competent completing homework. Struggling students may require a lighter load, less complex problems, fewer steps, or less reading. The amount of work assigned is often the largest barrier to students feeling confident in their ability to do their homework. A task that takes some students 15 minutes could take another student 45 minutes. Thinking about homework as time-based instead of task-based is a helpful differential tool to make sure homework is meaningful for all students. You might introduce a task to a class by saying something like, “Answer as many questions as you can in 30 minutes; work longer if you like.”
Presentation matters. Students make decisions about whether or not to do a homework assignment based on their first impressions of a task. Though it might not seem important, the way homework looks can compromise its actual merit.