If students feel like they “have” to do homework, we’re not creating an environment where they go home and want to better themselves.
By Steven Sandor | February 6, 2023
Many of our readers are parents. And, many of those parents dread when their kids ask for help with their homework. Johnny needs help with Grade 10 math, but neither mom nor dad can remember those equations.
Do kids in Canada get too much homework? The answer isn’t easy. So, we asked an expert.
Professor Gregory Thomas isn’t 100 per cent dead set against home-work. But the University of Alberta Faculty of Education professor feels that any homework a student receives, whether it be junior high, high school or in post-secondary, has to have a purpose. It can’t be a case of giving a student 20 math equations for the sake of doing 20 math equations.
Thomas says homework should be used to help students “build a mindset” towards a life of studying outside of work hours, because that’s what modern workplaces expect out of employees. But he says there is a big difference between “study-ing,” where students use their own initiative to understand material, and “homework,” which is often the repetition of things they already understand. Studying is the product of self-motivation, which we need to encourage in kids; homework is the product of rote.
“How do we prepare people for not just study in universities, but also for lifelong learning?” says Thomas. “We need to develop students who can learn well, and also create the conditions where they know they are going to need to continue to learn.
“I think we have to teach what it means to study at a much earlier age than we do now. If a student comes home from Grade 6 and spends half an hour going over something that they did in class, that’s probably more valuable than them spending half an hour doing a routine set of algorithmic math questions.”
That means creating an environment where students are engaged to do their required studying at home, rather than feeling like “Oh no, more homework.” If students feel like they “have” to do homework, we’re not creating an environment where they go home and want to better themselves.
“It’s not great teaching if teachers are assigning homework to students because they haven’t got it done in class,” he says. “I’ve always been a big believer that if something is important, that gets done in class. It should be important enough to study in class, when you have a teacher who can help you.”
He also thinks that students have more “stressors” than ever before. Sports and other extra-curricular activities take more time out kids.
“If you’ve got soccer on Tuesday, but also three hours of homework to do, you have a decision to make.”
He said teachers have to acknowledge this reality. And, Thomas believes those extra- curricular activities give kids the “soft skills” that many employers will look for down the road. Knowing how to work in a team can be more beneficial than knowing all of your functions and equations.
So, teachers need to understand there’s a balance between school-work and the students’ lives outside of school.
What does he recommend?
That schools provide study areas where kids can go after school, knowing that some kids don’t have positive work environments at home.
That students understand their homework has a purpose – that it will help them prepare for a coming lesson or test.
Give students reasonable schedules. Set up homework schedules so students can also plan other important parts of their lives.