Do Israeli teachers give too much homework? That was the question I was recently
asked. To answer, I had to find out how much homework Israeli teachers give, and
whether children and parents find it excessive.
The interesting thing
about homework is that it is one of a few topics in education that has the
ability to put a wedge and cause conflict between students and teachers,
students and parents and teachers and parents. Given the amount of energy that
some parents, children and teachers spend arguing over homework, this is a
question that needs answering.
I began my quest for the answer by asking
a variety of people what they thought. I asked children of different school
ages, parents, teachers, professors of education and one mayor.
answers did not surprise me, although the similarity of the answers did. All
said that some teachers do give too much homework and some don’t.
Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, said he couldn’t answer the question as the mayor,
but as the father of six children he felt that some, but not all of his children
had much too much homework.
Elizabeth Karvonen, a colleague of mine at
David Yellin College, said, “It’s a muddle. There’s no
Sometimes they get nothing for a week and sometimes five
subjects in a day.
When I was in school in England there was a homework
timetable and recommendations to parents about how long it should take (e.g.
half an hour of history on Mondays and 20 minutes French on Tuesdays and
Thursdays) I tried suggesting we do this in the school I worked in Israel and
everybody just scoffed.”
Dr. Karvonen raised a problem mentioned by many
of those that offered their thoughts. While each teacher might believe they give
an appropriate amount of homework, they don’t often consider that other teachers
give homework, too. The total thus sometimes becomes a load far for too great
for many students.
Is homework even necessary? In a special report,
“Special Topic / The Case For and Against Homework,” Robert J. Marzano and Debra
J. Pickering describe a new book that questions the value of
“[I]n The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our
Children and What We Can Do About It, [the] authors criticized both the quantity
and quality of homework. They provided evidence that too much homework harms
students’ health and family time, and they asserted that teachers are not well
trained in how to assign homework.
“The authors suggested that
individuals and parent groups should insist that teachers reduce the amount of
homework, design more valuable assignments, and avoid homework altogether over
breaks and holidays.”
Abigail Moskovits, an Israeli high school and
middle school teacher and parent of school-age children, offers a slightly
“Here is my double standard: I expect all of my students
to do their work, even if it is hard for them. As a teacher, I see homework as a
way to fill in the academic gaps. So, if it is hard for them, it is that much
more important that they do it.
“As a parent, if the homework is too
hard, I tell my children to give it their best shot but not to sweat it because
I want their leaning experience to be a stress-free, fun one. I want them to
enjoy going to school and not see it as a place where they are being beaten
“Now, as a teacher I would never want my students to have negative
associations with school or with what I am teaching, but I also expect a certain
amount of effort on their part and that effort is evidenced only through
classwork and homework.”
My conclusion is that the inconsistency of
homework assignments makes it difficult for many children to learn. Here are
some things teachers should do to make homework more consistent and useful. If
your child’s teachers give too much homework, suggest to them the following:
Homework should always include choices. Choice is the most important motivator
for students to learn from any assignment. The first choice is what days
homework will be given. I recommend three nights of homework for any subject as
a maximum, and the students as a class get to pick which nights.
second choice is which questions to answer. Whatever the number of questions a
teacher assigns, it can be cut by a third or half by letting the students decide
which they want to answer. If there are five questions, let each student pick
any three, if there are 10 questions let each student pick five.
benefit of this is that each student must review all questions anyway in order
decide which to answer, the teacher has less to correct, and motivation is
2. Make the homework interesting.
repetitions and drill type questions should be minimal. Ask questions that
require thought, creativity and challenge.
3. Make sure that all teachers
work together to be sure that the total load for each night is
4. If a parent tells you that her child is getting too much,
listen to her.
Never, never say something like, “Well, that’s what I give
all my students and they have never complained.” Parents only care about their
child, and they know best about whether their children are struggling or
If a child is struggling with his amount of homework, reduce the
choice by one question, i.e. choose any four to choose any three.
teachers in Israel follow these critical suggestions, the battle over homework
will be greatly reduced, the arguments will cease and children will
Next month: How parents can make their homes homework havens where
children have the greatest chance for finishing their homework.The
author is the director of the graduate program in behavior disorders at David
Yellin College in Jerusalem and the author of Discipline with Dignity.