The Purpose of Homework

April 23, 2019

Since I was a young person with a voice and opinion I have always been happy to express my views. One I held very adamantly for many years were my thoughts on homework.

Since I was made to sit SAT exams at 10-11 years old, if not sooner, my schools have given me homework, which was like school work, but you had to do it in your free time.

As a child I never understood this, surely it was a schools job to teach me, why would also need to do it at home? When I was feeling blunt I'd just proclaim school should teach me better so I don't have to work at home.

This was a stubborn viewpoint I held for many, many childish years, unfortunately one I now come to regret.

Make no mistake, I was a nerd and loved school (still am, still do) but the idea of answering maths questions when I could be playing was frankly abhorrent, leading to many missed deadlines and unfinished worksheets, after all the punishment for giving up my time to do work was afterschool detention, which it felt like was what they were already asking me to do...

However, after 11 years in the education system, I think I may have just figured out homework, and more importantly the skills it develops.

In an ever-evolving work environment, the expectation to work at home, partially or fully is increasing, with teachers responding to questions and emails outside of work hours. And this requires a certain level of self-control; to be in comfortable, familiar surroundings knowing you need to work whilst avoiding distractions.

Homework, however trivial it may seem at the time, shows commitment, dedication and self-control, as well as time-keeping and meeting deadlines — all vital skills for life.

By not completing homework, some students (definitely not me), may find it a challenge to complete a project in steps and stages when given a long time to complete it. It can often feel like it's not the priority, leading to the stereotype of a student cramming the night before an exam or a University student writing their dissertation in a coffee-fueled all-nighter to hand it in moments before the deadline and then collapse immediately after; behaviours which guarantee what you submit is not your best work, what you're capable of.

As I sit in trepidation, watching the days till my first exam tick away, I realise not only does the concept of how to revise escape me but so does the mindset. Years of avoiding homework now cause the same approaches to revision. People who work from home often have a separate office, a place they go specifically to work so that they can associate the rest of the house with comfort and family, not another place work is completed. For me, school has been that little office and outside of school has been the comfy couch in the living room. So now, with merely 3 weeks till my first exam, I'm still trying to overcome a simple mindset issue, being distracted by the most trivial thing in my home when I'm trying to revise.

So far, whilst I've been meaning to revise I've worked for hours in the garden cutting weeds, I've tidied and reorganised my room, thoroughly cleaned the house, including exterior windows and found my self faced by many other trivial distractions a school environment is thankfully free from, an unusual and underrated luxury I only now appreciate as I try to remember Macbeth and Christmas Carol Quotes.

But homework is only a precursor, a foreshadowing, of the level of revision actually needed for GCSE's and A-Levels. Homework builds the vital foundations that allow for effective revising and home learning at later stages — but these benefits arent promoted.

The common technique used to make students complete homework is the threat of detention, an easy to administer treatment but by no means the most effective and realistically only works for a small number of students, as the others realise no matter what, they are still losing free time at home.

Perhaps this begs the question, is it time we use a new technique? Instead of threatening young people into completing home learning, why don't we tell them its purpose? Its benefits? If I understood why teachers set me homework (not only would I stop thinking they're cruel monsters who hate children), I would do it wanting to reap the benefits. At least, idealistically, that's what I'd like to think I'd do, though realistically being offered an incentive, a reward couldn't do any harm.

This was used at my school once, it was a scheme where for everything good you did, homework, classwork, behaviour, etc. teachers could award points that could be spent on a minifridge or a guitar, or a variety of other items -stationary, vouchers, that sort of thing. It was brilliant! I still didnt understand why i had homework but who cares when you can win stuff! Each sheet of homework got me closer to that fridge!

But then my school ended the scheme and went back to the age-old detention deterrent. And when that happened, as a class, the amount of homework being returned dropped, children aren't necessarily bothered about a 30 minute detention in the future, when they could play now and do the homework then, it felt like the punishment was the same as what they were already asking you to do.

At the end of this, what I hope to have communicated is a sense that homework is important but the way it's presented to the young people having to complete it doesn't communicate this. If the students were told the benefits of homework, why they were being asked to do something, perhaps they'd be more inclined to do it.