Israelis discuss passionately emotionally charged issues such as religion,
politics and... homework.
Homework? Homework might not seem to rise to
the level of an emotionally charged issue, but for parents with school-age
children, homework is one of the few issues where home life is directly affected
by decisions made in school, and school life is similarly affected by what
happens at home. One of many parents’ major complaints about school is the
amount of homework given to their children.
Even within the education
community, there are many who question the value of homework.
Bennett’s and Nancy Kalish’s 2006 book, The Case Against Homework debunks the
myth that giving kids homework improves their educational outcome. Much of the
homework we give children serves no educational purpose.
however, one principle that no one can reasonably debate: Students hurt
themselves when homework is assigned and they do not do it. Their grades may
suffer if homework is involved in determining them.
The attitude of the
teacher can be negatively affected. And such students might not understand the
following day’s lesson, thus falling further behind. There are enough students
in Israel who refuse to do their homework to the point where their education is
A major part of the problem is the difference between finishing
homework and learning from it.
Obviously, completing assignments without
learning from the experience is useless. This devalues learning for the student
and builds negative attitudes about school.
Thus, pressure – the most
common method of convincing students to do homework – is
Techniques such as coercion, threats, rewards and
punishments might result in some students completing assignments. I believe we
need to reach a higher standard: students actually learning from their
assignments. In a few cases, simply completing without learning might be a
reasonable goal. These cases include students with special needs.
are several ways to increase the rate of homework completion, ways involving
changes in the way the school assigns homework and changes in the way parents
encourage their children to do it.
Let’s first look at what the school
can do. Why not offer students more choices? Choices give students a feeling of
control, but also require that they behave responsibly. The more real the
choice, the greater the investment by the student to honor it. It is a very
There are two types of choices that can be utilized in
homework. The first is allowing students to choose which questions to answer,
between a third and a half. This gives the students a feeling of control, as
well as cutting back on the teacher’s time spent correcting it. Ironically
students typically answer all the questions in the process.
way to utilize choice is to allow the class to decide which days they have
homework. Giving students a choice of days once again increases their control,
and lets them plan their time more effectively.
Both forms of choice
increase the chance that students will complete their assignments. They offer
control, inherent fairness and proportionality (a reasonable amount of homework
CONDITIONS AT home can also have a powerful effect on whether or
not homework gets done. We all know that the resistance to doing something we’d
rather not do is mostly manifest in getting started.
Think of any project
around the house, from doing dishes to organizing a closet. It is hard to start,
but once we get going, we usually finish.
The following suggestions are
designed to set optimal conditions for starting: • Set up a homework area. This
is ideally a well-lit, comfortable space with a desk or table outside the flow
of traffic. Allow minimal snacking; a glass of milk or juice might be all that’s
needed. Minimize distractions.
Do not allow other family members in the
area during homework time.
• For most students, the television should be
off. If friends call or visit, they should be told that the child is not
available at this time and when they can return the call or visit.
is okay if the child works better when listening.
• Set a regular time.
Homework works best when it begins at the same time every night, but for many
homes that’s not possible. In that case, try for the same time each Monday,
• Require the student to sit at the work area for the
amount of time required. For example, if there is an hour’s worth of homework,
the child sits for an hour. This requires some communication between the teacher
and parent to determine how much time is needed. Obviously the time allotted is
a guess, but when the teacher and parent work together, most guesses become
If the student is doing homework in more than one subject, pick
one to start with • The parent need not insist the child do any work; just sit
for the allotted time with the school materials and proper supplies. This
strategy works on two levels. First, most kids would rather do anything than
nothing; homework is better than boredom. Second, as I have previously noted,
doing homework is not the biggest problem; starting it is. Once a child begins,
he or she is likely to continue unless there is a learning or clarity problem.
As long as they have to sit there, eventually they learn that they might as well
finish their assignments. Different students learn this lesson at different
speeds, so don’t give up too soon.
THESE CONDITIONS maximize the odds
that a child will get into the habit of doing homework on a regular basis. For
those who do not have parental supervision to establish this pattern, setting up
homework study groups with three or four children at a home with a volunteer
parent is a wonderful substitute. If that’s not possible, perhaps the school can
establish homework study clubs after school or during the day with the help of
willing teachers or elderly volunteers. This works best when students choose to
attend, rather than when their attendance is mandatory.
are a starting point not only for increasing homework completion, but also for
increasing learning and allowing the removal of barriers that inhibit these
Now all we need are some answers to religion and
The writer is a professor of education at David Yellin College
in Jerusalem and the author of 20 books on issues related to behavior,
discipline and motivation.