The Trouble With Homework

Excerpts from a New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul:

Do American students have too much homework or too little? Neither, I’d say. We ought to be asking a different question altogether. What should matter to parents and educators is this: How effectively do children’s after-school assignments advance learning?

The quantity of students’ homework is a lot less important than its quality. And evidence suggests that as of now, homework isn’t making the grade.

“Spaced repetition” is one example of the kind of evidence-based techniques that researchers have found have a positive impact on learning. Here’s how it works: instead of concentrating the study of information in single blocks, as many homework assignments currently do, learners encounter the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time.

A second learning technique, known as “retrieval practice,” employs a familiar tool — the test — in a new way: not to assess what students know, but to reinforce it.

Another common misconception about how we learn holds that if information feels easy to absorb, we’ve learned it well. In fact, the opposite is true. When we work hard to understand information, we recall it better; the extra effort signals the brain that this knowledge is worth keeping.

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