Applied Psychology

Is Homework an Outdated Concept or A Necessary Process that could be Enjoyed?

Feb 16, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
Is Homework an Outdated Concept or A Necessary Process that could be Enjoyed?

To have or not to have, that is the essence of the homework debate. It’s a hotly debated topic; centred around how much actually benefit from homework and at what grade, if any homework should even be given, is appropriate to start a homework programme in?

The reality is that there is evidence and good reasons to support both sides of the debate. What does seem to be a major tipping point in the value of homework, is the amount of homework a child’s expected to do. For many years one guideline used was ‘a total of 10 minutes of homework per grade’. Practically this means that a grade 1 learner would have 10 minutes of homework to do. While those in higher grades, for example grade 9’s would have 90 minutes (an hour and a half) per day.

“Both ‘giving’ or ‘not giving’ homework has evidence to support their arguments.”

Currently, there seem to be two extremes. The first is where the amount of homework has gradually become more and more, such that even grade R kids are expected to do it and grade 1’s are given hours of homework as well as some for the holidays. The second is where homework is scrapped completely. Effectively, are we overenthusiastic and sinking the ship by overloading it? Or is it a case of missing the value thereof and so throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

What’s the Point?

understood correctly. If managed properly, the homework process can be an encouraging experience for a child. Even when it’s frustrating. However, if badly implemented, from either the home or school side, its daily requirement could become agonising.

3 Reasons Homework can be Good

  1. Creating a Rapport: Ideally homework helps to establish a good rapport between learners and teachers. It enables a teacher to see how much of their lesson has been understood. Ideally, it should give a learner an avenue to request assistance on something they don’t quite understand. 
  2. Involving Parents: Within a home context, homework can assist parents better understand the progress that their child is or isn’t making. Additionally, where they may need to provide support or ask someone else to assist their child. In other words, it can be an effective mechanism of actively involving a parent in their child’s education.
  3. Fostering Positive Habits and Necessary Skills: Homework assists with creating good study habits and teaching kids grit. It can also assist them in fostering diligence, self-discipline, self-motivation and taking responsibility for their actions. Additionally, it can contribute towards helping a child better understand how to practice planning ahead to be punctual e.g.: When an assignment requires research to do and has a submission deadline.

3 Reasons Homework is Potentially Harmful

  1. It can be Pointless: If a learner doesn’t understand what has been explained in class, then doing homework based on this class is very likely to be pointless, especially if their out-of-school context isn’t conducive to receiving assistance. Alternatively, if a teacher doesn’t have the time to mark it properly and provide good timeous feedback, then the purpose of it reenforcing what’s been learnt and assessing understanding has been lost. 
  2. Cause Discouragement: When the amount required to be completed is unreasonable, it can stifle the enjoyment and curiosity of a new subject such that they no longer want to learn it or even go to school. Adding to this dynamic, it can also be a source of tension and conflict both at home and at school, which creates dread instead of encouragement to learn.
  3. Creates Perverse Incentives: The irony is that while it’s good for children to be taught cooperation and teamwork, too much homework can result in encouraging cheating. Kids copy off each other to complete work in time and then reap the rewards from work that isn’t theirs. 

Why help Kids with their homework?

For most learners, homework isn’t optional. As a result, they’ll likely need the assistance and support of adults in their endeavours to be successful, especially initially. Therefore, understanding how to better assist them and continually encouraging them to persevere with it becomes quite important.

How to make the Experience Easier

While completing their homework is the learner’s responsibility, it doesn’t mean that they won’t need to be assisted and encouraged along the way. Decreasing the amount of conflict and stress surrounding homework time is possible, when those overseeing, and those doing, it team up to come up with a plan on it will be done.

“The Homework Experience can be negative or positive depending on a range of factors.”

6 Steps to Creating a Homework System

1. Establish a Sequential Routine

So that your child knows that once they get home this is the order in which things happen. You can vary the amount of time allocated to each activity eg: Snack, tv, playing outside and homework, according to what time is available. You can also combine activities, such as snack and tv time, if you’re pressed for time.

2. Create a Homework Zone

So that there’s a quiet space with minimal distractions that can be used when homework needs to be done. Ideally it should be a dedicated space, but it can also be an area where homework takes precedence over anything else when it needs to be done.

3. Have a Schedule

One that can be stuck up somewhere and updated continually with due dates of assignments and assessments, so that your child and you are both aware of what needs to be done and by when. For daily homework, have them make a list of everything to be completed. Decide on an order to do it in and have them tick it off. Guide them and help them to both understand why and how to plan their timetables.

4. Establish Terms & Conditions

Do this ahead of starting a new homework programme. This way both you and your child will understand what’s expected of them, as well as what your role is and what responsibilities you both have. 

5. Set an Example

By having them see when you are doing admin type things, such as balancing a household budget or drawing up a to-do list and then ticking things off.

6. Praise and Encourage

Notice what they are doing, when they successfully complete things according to their plan and acknowledge when something has taken grit to complete. If they’ve drawn something or come home with a good report card, put it on the fridge and proudly draw people’s attention to it.

2 Ways to Re-enforce Your System

1. Incentives

Many kids need to be incentivised. Ideally that incentive should be to obtain a good grade but often the daily monotony of homework isn’t aided by this kind of goal. An easy and simple incentive could be to plan an enjoyable activity, that will happen once homework is completed. Sometimes having a more elaborate incentive scheme with a longer time frame is helpful. For example, one with an accumulation of points which build towards a specific reward that’s jointly discussed and agreed upon ahead of time. Having milestone smaller rewards along the way can keep bolster motivation.

2. Penalties

Agreeing upfront on what the consequences of not doing homework, or doing it in a sloppy manner, is important too. If you have a reward system involving an accumulation of points, then deducting points is one way of penalising. A loss of a privilege is another one eg: tv time

Remember, implementing any system requires building new habits for everyone. It may take a little bit of time and extra effort to get things working properly. You may also find that you’ll have to tweak things along the way. Hopefully if you have more than one kid doing homework, then you can implement an overall system with more individualised aspects to better account for each childs temperament as well as age. 

A Necessary Process

If helping families to better nurture the inherent natural curiosity and desire to learn of kids is something you’re interested in, then working in the field of child psychology could be a great career for you. The range of courses at SACAP will help you prepare for successfully assisting kids in overcoming challenges and achieving their best. SACAP offers full-time and part-time degrees on four different campuses across South Africa: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. As well as online learning options. Online learning has two options, Online Live or Online Flexi. For more information, enquire now.

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